Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Is the Carolina tartan an "official" or
A. People often assume that for a
tartan to be "official" or "authentic" a tartan must be recorded with some
body in Scotland such as the Scottish Tartans Authority or the Court of the
Lord Lyon. The reality is that the Lord Lyon has no jurisdiction over
tartan -- the Lyon Court is a heraldic Court. And bodies like the
Scottish Tartans Authority, the Scottish Tartans World Register, and the
former Scottish Tartans Society simply maintain records of tartans but have no
authority to proclaim a tartan "official" or not. That is up to the
governing body of whatever the tartan is meant to represent. For a clan
tartan, this would be the chief of the clan. For a state tartan, it
would be the government of the state. Both North Carolina (1991)
and South Carolina (2002)
have passed official legislation adopting the Carolina tartan. So yes,
the Carolina tartan is the official tartan of the Carolinas!
Q. Who can wear the Carolina tartan?
A. Anyone who wants to! There are no
rules or regulations regarding who can wear what tartan. But since
tartan is symbolic, people usually choose to wear a tartan that has special
meaning to them. In the case of a state tartan, it could be that you are
a resident of the state. But it could also be that you were born in the
Carolinas, even though you may now live elsewhere. Or perhaps you have
ancestors from the Carolinas. Or maybe you took your honeymoon on the
Outer Banks, or your annual summer vacation to the Smoky Mountains, and simply
fell in love the region. No matter your reason, when you choose to wear
the Carolina tartan, you are identifying yourself in some way with the region.
Wear it with pride and honor! The Carolina tartan is currently worn by
at least two pipe bands in the Carolinas (the Cross Creek Pipes and Drums and
the NC State Pipes and Drums), as well as many individuals in both states.
Q. Is it unusual for two states to share
the same tartan?
A. No other two American states share in the
same official tartan. While this is unusual, it is not unprecedented.
Many states share other symbols. For example, both North Carolina and
Virginia have the cardinal as their state bird and the dogwood as their state
flower. It is also not unusual for the same tartan to be used by more
than one entity. The same tartan is used by the Russell, Hunter,
Mitchell, and Galbraith families (all unrelated). The Black Watch
regimental tartan is also used by the Clans Campbell, Grant, and Munro.
North and South Carolina share a common history and culture, and the residents
of these states feel a bond of kinship with one another. Therefore it is
more than fitting that these two kindred states should share the same tartan.
Q. Who designed the Carolina tartan?
I've seen both Micheil MacDonald and Peter MacDonald's name listed in
A. Peter MacDonald is the son of Dr. Micheil
MacDonald, and both were involved in the creation of the Carolina tartan.
Micheil MacDonald had the original idea for a Carolina tartan, but the actual
design was done by Peter. See the
Story of the Carolina Tartan.
In the original record of the tartan recorded by the Scottish Tartans Society,
Micheil MacDonald was listed incorrectly as the designer. This was
repeated in other sources, such as the 1992 book District Tartans, by
Dr. Gordon Teal of Teallach (then president of the Scottish Tartans Society)
and Dr. Philip D. Smith, Jr.
Q. I've read that the Carolina tartan was
taken from a coat worn by the Royal Company of Archers in the 1730s.
Does this coat still exist and can it be seen today?
A. No, this is incorrect. The basis for
the Carolina tartan design was taken from a pre-1800 sample of hard tartan in
the Prince Charles Edward Stuart tartan, a forerunner of the Royal Stewart
tartan. The shape of the sample indicated that it was probably from a
piece of clothing, likely a coat. It is known that the Royal Company of
Archers wore tartan coats in the eighteenth century, like
this one in the National Museum of Scotland collection (external link).
However, no one knows what garment the actual sample used was from, and it
really doesn't matter. The intent was to use a tartan that may have been
connected to King Charles II. See the
Story of the Carolina Tartan
for more details. Mention of the Royal Company of Archers coat was made
by Dr. Micheil MacDonald to James Kerr of the St. Andrews Society of NC while
the two were discussing the design of the Carolina tartan. It was then
somehow recorded in the Scottish Tartans Society records that the sample used
was actually taken from a RCA Coat c. 1730 and this mistake was then repeated
in other sources, such as the 1992 book District Tartans, and the 2004
reference The Compendium of District Tartans by Matthew A. C. Newsome
and James A. Bullman.
Q. Does the NC State Pipes and Drums wear
a different tartan than the Carolina tartan?
A. No, they wear the Carolina tartan, but
woven in very muted colors. See the article on
Tartan Colors for
pictures and more information. In their 1999 three-volume Tartans
reference, Philip D. Smith, Jr. and William H. Johnston listed the muted
version of the Carolina tartan as the "Raleigh Pipe Band" tartan, which has
led some to mistakenly assume the NC State Pipes and Drums wear their own
"I just want to thank whoever researched the
Carolina Tartan and developed this web site for doing an outstanding job! I
learned so much. I am with the NCSU Pipes and Drums and was impressed that you
had information about our version of the Carolina tartan." -- Emily Sprague,
NC State Pipes and Drums
Q. Where can I purchase the Carolina
A. Unfortunately, demand for the Carolina
tartan is not as high as it is for the common clan tartans such as MacDonald,
MacKenzie, or MacGregor. Therefore the tartan mills do not support this
tartan from stock. This means you are not likely to walk into a tartan
shop, or approach a vendor at a Highland Games, and see products in the
Carolina tartan on the shelf. However, it is possible to have small
lengths of the Carolina tartan woven to order, even just enough for a single
kilt, and most reputable Highland Dress retailers will be glad to offer this
service to you. Some Scottish goods suppliers in the Carolinas have also
at different times had various gift items produced in the Carolina tartan.
You may want to ask some of the Scottish merchants listed in our
what they have available in the Carolina tartan.
Q. Are there different, individual tartans for the
states of North and South Carolina?
A. Yes and no. A small company in
Scotland has designed and is currently marketing tartans named "North
Carolina" and "South Carolina" but neither have any official standing with the
states. They are simply fashion tartans, though many have been misled by
the promotional claims being made by the company. For further
information see the article on