Pattern Recognition: Happy National Tartan Day


April 6 is National Tartan Day. In its honor, Richard Press shares some thoughts. For more Tartan Day coverage, visit our fraternal site

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The Heyday of Ivy, the period after World War II until the civil disorder of the late 60s, regarded costume with contempt, at least at J.Press. Understatement was the order of the day. Conspicuous self-advertisement was looked upon with contempt. Employment of tartan embroidery was a tad too ethnic, even though derived from “roamin’ in the gloamin bank O’ Clyde.”

Tartan was more ethereal when worn by the Grace Kelly debs from Smith and Wellesley since their days in Farmington. It was perhaps a trifle too effeminate for the bulls at DKE or the tables down at Mory’s.

During Spring Break perhaps a guy would wear a Black Watch tie and cummerbund at Piping Rock, or tartan walk shorts with knee socks in Bermuda. Likewise, for weekends spent at the Biltmore Bar or Stork Club, one could indulge in a tartan vest, blazer, gray flannels, studiously sporty white OCBD, and appropriate flat knit tie. Black Watch trousers, on the other hand, paired best with a blazer for Sunday bloodies at The Oak Room.

But there were limits, and breaching the boundaries of blue-blood taste was beyond the fringe. Only the great unwashed from the Main Streets of Middle America — the rubes that had never heard of St. Grottlesex — wore blatant tartan just as they drank Old Overholt and ginger ale while the right people drank Dewar’s at 21.

It may sound snotty, but the truth is much of the clothing snobbery of the time was indeed rather snotty. The sophistry of who-wore-what tartan was indeed derived from the Anglo-Saxon propriety of past generations observing the Eastern Seaboard Episcopalian taste of the favored few — served mainly by Jewish servitors on bended knee.

It was a different era. Pictured is a J. Press Black Watch blazer of recent vintage available to anyone, even if not to everyone’s taste. Which is rather the point. — RICHARD PRESS

22 Comments on "Pattern Recognition: Happy National Tartan Day"

  1. Wearing tartan boxer shorts as usual.

  2. John O'Groats | April 6, 2015 at 11:24 am |

    Wait, how is it legal to turn your nose up at tartan display while swilling scotch?

  3. While rye and ginger ale may still be considered less elegant than other drinks, I can attest that Old Overholt goes very nicely in a Manhattan and a Sazerac. No need to spend double for fancy rye unless you are sipping it; Old Overholt works perfectly in a mixed drink.

  4. Tartans! I remember back in the day tartan pants were available in both cotton and wool. I own several Corbin pair in the 60s.

    Which reminds of one of my favorite images of our Richard Press.

  5. Bags' Groove | April 6, 2015 at 5:30 pm |

    Polka-dot with tartan? Good grief.

  6. “Conspicuous self-advertisement was looked upon with contempt.”

    I’d agree that a lot of “preppy” garb we see nowadays–including pink pants and printed critter bowties–is hideous. Easily filed under “Conspicuous self-advertisement.” Even Dewar’s-sipping Episcy’s indulge nowadays. (sigh).

    That said, the tartan of a hard-fighting Scottish infantry, consisting of darker shades of navy and green, is subtle and tasteful. Cautious and stoic, even. Like a good Scot.

    The same can be said for Forbes, Campbell, and the many variations of Gordon.

  7. I sleep under a Gordon tartan duvet cover! 😉

  8. I never would have believed that a striped shirt and a Churchill dot navy tie could complement a Black Watch blazer, but that is a very muted Black Watch tartan . Having said that, if I were to wear a Black Watch blazer–which is most unlikely–I would only wear it with a white shirt and a solid black knit tie.

  9. Sounds like a winning combination, Old Trad. I, like you, would almost certainly never wear a Black Watch jacket, but if I were to, I would stick to a solid shirt, either white or blue, and probably a navy blue knit or grenadine tie.

    It seems to me that the right Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders tie could work with this jacket, and that certain patterns in a bow tie could work, but the foolproof option would be a solid tie.

  10. This tightass outfit is screaming for a traditional blue OCBD with forest green, navy blue or black knit tie or perhaps deep blue/green muted Ancient Madder bow tie. Throw out the fake formal white handkerchief instead with navy blue, dark green plain silk or slightly Madder slightly mismatched with the tie carelessly dangling out of the breast pocket just as the Duke of Windsor might have been regaled. He may have been a cad, but he wasn’t a stiff.

  11. Red looks good with Black Watch.

  12. Philip Mann | April 8, 2015 at 1:37 pm |

    A propos knee-socks. Anybody know where I can get cotton knee socks with the turnover at the top to wear with (Bermuda-) shorts?

  13. Mainline Philly | April 8, 2015 at 1:40 pm |


    “Tightass” is what authentic Trad style is all about, thank God.

  14. This, gentlemen, is why we call Squeeze “King Richard the Forty-Fourth.” Knowledge, experience, and style that leaves mere mortals gasping.

  15. Burgundy always looks great with Black Watch. I’m thinking solid or striped blue or pink OCBD, standard Atkinsons Irish poplin stripe Grenadier Guards (Burg & Navy) tie. Charcoal grey flannels or maybe Brit tan cav twills, cordovan belt and shoes. An actual Black Watch regimental tie always looks good with a BW jacket.

  16. Pocket square? Mild yellow ancient madder of course. 😉

  17. “Tightass” is what authentic Trad style is all about, thank God.”

    Uh, no, it’s not. That is just the excuse most people who don’t have a sense of style use…

  18. @E
    “Tightass” is the term used by high-fiving, fist-bumping dudes and bros to describe gentlemen who choose to dress like gentlemen.

  19. “Tightass” is the term used by high-fiving, fist-bumping dudes and bros to describe gentlemen who choose to dress like gentlemen.”

    Maybe in your neck of the woods. Not in mine. I hear much more deragatory slang from meatheads and their ilk. Most don’t comment at all.

  20. I have this blazer from O’Connell’s. It is a very muted plaid–from a few feet away you can hardly see it. Of all the jackets I have, guess which one garners the most compliments from fairly sophisticated people. This one.

    I think I can be forgiven this slight sin, living as I (and you) do in a world of cargo shorts and backwards ball caps. I could also mention the shoddily dressed men I saw at the opera last Saturday night, but you already know where this is going, and I think I’ve already made my point.

  21. Evan Everhart | February 8, 2018 at 10:03 am |

    I’ve got a vintage wash & wear one with all the right details from the early 60s, I’d figure. I’ve worn it with a white pin-point oxford BB tab-collar shirt, pale gray H. Freeman summer weights, and cordovan chisel toe wing-tips with navy blue socks and a deep cognac lizard skin belt, my tie was a basic (but very dark) guardsman’s tie. I wore mine with a burgundy edged hand-rolled creamy silk pocket scarf with mostly edge showing. This also works very well with a navy grenadine or silk knit – I have tried it with a deep pthalo green ancient madder with blue and mustard neat paisleys, and its gotten very good responses as well.

    @ Don: I too have noticed that at a distance the pattern is hardly noticeable, and typically enjoy watching as the my friends at church or the store approach me, and the rich pattern becomes more apparent to them – the changing expressions on their face are quite priceless. I must further concur with you, that the black watch sport-coat is one of my garments which gets the most positive reactions from people.

    @ MAC: I like your idea of the Black Watch regimental tie….Hmm!

    I think Black Watch is my favorite tartan as it is the most subdued, and yet not boring or boorish, and simply looks wonderful with/on everything, like OCBDs, sport-coats, trousers, belts….I’ve even seen it on socks before, though I did not bite that particular bullet….

  22. Evan Everhart | February 8, 2018 at 10:51 am |

    Correction to my previous comment; my Black Watch tartan jacket is not a sport-coat, it is indeed a blazer. Somehow, I always manage to push that from my mind. Maybe because I hate the buttons but haven’t found any appropriate metal ones with which to replace them…

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