Today, in honor of International Tartan Day, associate editor Chris Sharp shares another tale of sartorial esoterica.
* * *
Three thousand thirty-three miles separates Cape Cod from Scotland, yet this dune-covered land has its own tartan. You will not find it in any official tartan registry, but it was once one of the items offered by prominent peninsula outfitter Puritan Cape Cod.
Puritan Cape Cod has been a part of cape life since 1925, but it was 64 years before the Cape Cod Tartan was born. The tartan was the vision of Milton L. Penn. Known now as a dapper nonagenarian and Puritan’s elder statesman, Penn was actively involved in merchandising, buying and marketing for Puritan when the tartan was created.
“In the early 1990s plaid was popular,” Penn tells Ivy Style. It was during the winter of ’91 when Penn was on his way home from a buying trip that he conceived the Cape Cod Tartan. The tartan would be rendered in four colors, each representing a feature of the Cape Cod landscape.
A 1993 advertisement in Cape Cod Life magazine describes the tartan as a “fine wool fabric, weaving together the colors of green scrub pines, smooth white beaches, deep ocean blues, and rich cranberries right out of the bogs.” The wool was produced in Rhode Island by the now defunct Worchester Mill, and the wool was used in a host of women’s items. Men were left with trousers, driving caps and ball caps. “We had a double-faced Portuguese cotton flannel produced also that we used for neckties,” remembers Penn. That tie was made in the US by the Boston firm of Joe Price & Son.
Penn intimates that the tartan was both commercially successful as well as embraced by the Cape Cod community, as evidenced by a request to have it be part of a tartan blessing ceremony. The Cape Cod Tartan items were sold for four years, Penn recalls. One can blame macro-fashion trends for their disappearance. Tartan is just “not as popular anymore,” says Penn.
The Cape Cod Tartan endures in memory and in the wardrobes of those the Penn family outfitted. Like most of the kit we cherish, there is a quixotic self-satisfaction in being a keeper of the flame.
So I will slip into a Chipp jacket rendered in a T. Addie & Sons Shetland, don an old Cape Cod Tartan tie, and nurse a single-malt scotch in the full knowledge that not a soul will ask me about my tie.
If they did, I would smile ever so slightly, buy them a drink, stare across the abyss of 25 years, and tell them the story of how the character of Cape Cod was captured in cloth. — CHRISTOPHER SHARP