What Unique Characteristics Define Reid Tartan Compared to Other Clan Tartans?

Tartan, with its rich tapestry of colors and patterns, has long been synonymous with Scottish heritage and identity. Among the vast array of clan tartans that adorn kilts and banners, the Reid tartan stands as a testament to the unique history and traditions of the Reid family. In this article, we explore the intricate details and symbolic significance of the Reid tartan, delving into its origins, distinctive characteristics, and how it compares to other clan tartans. From its deep red hues to its symmetrical design, the Reid tartan offers a captivating glimpse into the enduring legacy of one of Scotland’s most storied families. 

Historical Context of Tartan

Before focusing on the Reid tartan, it’s essential to understand the broader history of tartan in Scotland. Tartan, characterized by its crisscrossed horizontal and vertical bands in multiple colors, has been a part of Scottish culture for centuries. The patterns, known as “setts,” were originally regional rather than clan-specific. Tartans were woven locally, and the choice of colors and patterns often depended on the availability of natural dyes and local preferences. This meant that particular designs became associated with specific regions or districts rather than specific families. The association of specific tartans with particular clans began in the 19th century, influenced by the romanticism of Scottish history and heritage, particularly after the visit of King George IV to Scotland in 1822. This visit, orchestrated by Sir Walter Scott, was a significant event in the revival of Scottish culture and traditions. Scott’s efforts to stage the visit with grandeur included promoting the wearing of tartans, which led to a renewed interest in these patterns. The Highland Society of London played a crucial role in formalizing the connection between tartans and clans by collecting and cataloging traditional tartans and encouraging clan members to adopt specific patterns as their own. This movement transformed tartans from regional symbols into family emblems, embedding them deeply into the fabric of Scottish identity.

The Origins of the Reid Clan

The Reid surname, like many Scottish surnames, has multiple origins. In the context of the Reid tartan, it is most commonly associated with the Scottish Lowlands. The name “Reid” is derived from the Old English word “read,” meaning “red,” likely referring to someone with red hair or a ruddy complexion. This characteristic might have been common among the early members of the Reid family, leading to the adoption of the name. The Reids were not a clan in the traditional Highland sense, with a chief and clan lands, but more of a family or group of families. Despite this, they embraced the tartan tradition, and the Reid tartan has become an important symbol of their shared heritage. The historical records of the Reids show them as a prominent family in various parts of Scotland, particularly in Aberdeenshire and the surrounding Lowlands. Unlike the Highland clans, which often had extensive territories and were involved in significant historical conflicts, the Reids were more commonly found in roles such as landowners, farmers, and craftsmen. This more settled and less martial lifestyle influenced the development of their tartan and their family identity. The Reid tartan, therefore, is a reflection of the family’s history and values, emphasizing unity and continuity over the dramatic and often violent history associated with many Highland clans.

Characteristics of the Reid Tartan

The Reid tartan is distinct and easily recognizable. Its pattern and colors set it apart from other clan tartans, each element carrying specific significance.

Color Scheme

The Reid tartan is characterized by a striking combination of colors. The primary colors are red and green, with accents of blue and yellow. The choice of these colors is not arbitrary but rather steeped in symbolic meaning and practical considerations.


The predominant color in the Reid tartan, red is a bold and vibrant hue. It is believed to symbolize strength, valor, and warrior spirit, traits often associated with the Reids. The red in the Reid tartan is a deep, rich shade, giving the tartan a distinguished appearance. Red was also one of the more accessible colors to produce historically, using dyes derived from plants such as madder or from insects like the cochineal. This accessibility made red a popular choice for many tartans.


Green serves as a complementary color, adding depth and balance to the tartan. It represents the lush landscapes of Scotland and is often associated with life, growth, and renewal. The green in the Reid tartan is a dark, forest-like green, which contrasts beautifully with the red. Green dyes were typically produced using leaves, berries, and lichens, which were abundant in the Scottish countryside. The prevalence of green in many tartans underscores the deep connection between Scottish families and their natural environment.


Blue is used sparingly in the Reid tartan, usually as thin stripes that add a subtle touch of contrast. Blue can symbolize loyalty, wisdom, and the sea, which has always been vital to Scotland. The blue in the Reid tartan is often a dark navy or a lighter sky blue, both of which stand out against the dominant red and green. Historically, blue dyes were made from woad, a plant that was extensively cultivated and used in Europe before the introduction of indigo from Asia.


Yellow or gold accents are used even more sparingly, adding a touch of brightness and highlighting the intricate design. Yellow symbolizes light, energy, and warmth. The yellow in the Reid tartan may be derived from dyes made from flowers like broom or from lichens. These touches of yellow help to break up the more dominant colors and add a touch of elegance and complexity to the design.

Pattern and Setts

The pattern of the Reid tartan is a symmetrical sett, meaning it repeats itself in a consistent, balanced manner. The symmetry of the Reid tartan is a hallmark of its design, creating a harmonious and aesthetically pleasing look. The creation of a tartan pattern involves careful planning and precise weaving to ensure that the setts align correctly, a process that requires significant skill and attention to detail.


The symmetrical design of the Reid tartan means that each color block is mirrored across the pattern. This symmetry is both visually appealing and symbolically significant, representing balance and harmony within the family. Symmetry in tartan patterns also makes the fabric easier to cut and sew into garments, ensuring that the pattern remains consistent across different pieces of clothing.


The proportions of the color blocks are carefully balanced. The red is the most dominant, followed by green, with blue and yellow providing accents. This proportional balance ensures that no single color overwhelms the others, maintaining the tartan’s visual harmony. The careful balancing of colors and proportions is a testament to the skill of the weavers who create the tartan, as even slight deviations can alter the overall effect of the design.

Crisscross Pattern: 

The crisscross design of horizontal and vertical bands is a defining feature of all tartans, but the specific arrangement in the Reid tartan creates a unique visual effect. The intersection of colors forms new hues and patterns, adding to the complexity and beauty of the design. Each intersection creates a new color combination, a characteristic that is particularly pronounced in the Reid tartan due to its bold color choices.

Comparison with Other Clan Tartans

To fully appreciate the uniqueness of the Reid tartan, it is helpful to compare it with other notable clan tartans. Each clan tartan has its own distinctive features, but there are several points of comparison that highlight the Reid tartan’s individuality.

MacGregor Tartan

The MacGregor tartan is another prominent Scottish tartan with a rich history. Its primary colors are red and green, similar to the Reid tartan, but there are notable differences.

Color Intensity: 

The red in the MacGregor tartan is a brighter, more vivid red compared to the deep red of the Reid tartan. This gives the MacGregor tartan a more striking and bold appearance. The brightness of the red in the MacGregor tartan can be attributed to the use of modern synthetic dyes, which produce more vibrant colors than the natural dyes historically used.

Pattern Complexity: 

The MacGregor tartan features a more complex pattern with additional lines and bands of white and black. This adds to the visual complexity and makes it more intricate compared to the simpler, more balanced design of the Reid tartan. The inclusion of white and black lines in the MacGregor tartan creates a more layered and textured appearance, adding depth to the design.

Historical Associations: 

The MacGregor tartan is strongly associated with the clan’s tumultuous history, including conflicts with other clans and their eventual proscription. This historical context adds a layer of significance to the MacGregor tartan that is distinct from the Reid tartan’s associations. The proscription of the MacGregor name and tartan by the British government in the 17th century, due to the clan’s rebellious activities, adds a dramatic element to its history that is less pronounced in the history of the Reid family.

Campbell Tartan

The Campbell tartan, primarily featuring blue and green, provides a stark contrast to the Reid tartan’s red and green.

Color Palette: 

The Campbell tartan’s use of blue and green creates a cooler, more subdued color palette. In contrast, the Reid tartan’s red and green, with touches of yellow, create a warmer and more vibrant look. The cooler colors of the Campbell tartan evoke a sense of calm and stability, reflecting the clan’s historical role as a stabilizing force in the Highlands.

Design Simplicity: 

The Campbell tartan is known for its relatively simple and elegant design. The Reid tartan, while also symmetrical, uses a more varied color scheme, making it appear more complex and dynamic. The simplicity of the Campbell tartan highlights the elegance and restraint in its design, making it suitable for formal occasions and everyday wear alike.

Cultural Symbolism: 

The Campbell tartan is closely tied to the powerful Campbell clan, one of the largest and most influential in Scottish history. The Reid tartan, while not associated with a traditional Highland clan, represents the unity and heritage of the Reid family, providing a different but equally rich cultural symbolism. The Campbell clan’s involvement in significant historical events, such as the Jacobite uprisings and the Glencoe Massacre, adds layers of meaning to their tartan that differ from the more personal and familial symbolism of the Reid tartan.

Clan Tartans

Clan tartans are distinctive woven patterns that symbolize the identity and heritage of Scottish clans. Each tartan features a unique combination of colors and setts (patterns of horizontal and vertical bands) that represent a specific clan, serving as a visual emblem of the clan’s history, values, and unity. Traditionally, these tartans were used to distinguish different clans during gatherings and battles, and over time, they have become a source of pride and cultural significance for Scottish families worldwide. Today, clan tartans are worn at various cultural events, such as Highland games, Tartan Day celebrations, and family gatherings, ensuring the preservation and celebration of Scottish heritage across generations.

Stewart Tartan

The Royal Stewart tartan is perhaps one of the most famous and recognizable tartans. It is predominantly red, like the Reid tartan, but with significant differences.

Royal Association: 

The Royal Stewart tartan is the personal tartan of the British royal family. This association gives it a level of prestige and recognition that few other tartans can match. The adoption of the Royal Stewart tartan by the British monarchy in the 19th century helped to popularize tartans globally, making it one of the most widely recognized tartans in the world.

Pattern Detail: 

The Royal Stewart tartan features a complex pattern with multiple colors, including yellow, white, and blue, woven into a detailed and intricate design. The Reid tartan, while also colorful, maintains a simpler, more balanced pattern. The intricate design of the Royal Stewart tartan reflects the opulence and complexity associated with the British royal family, making it a symbol of both Scottish heritage and royal authority.

Symbolic Meaning: 

The Royal Stewart tartan symbolizes loyalty to the crown and the historical significance of the Stewart dynasty. The Reid tartan, on the other hand, symbolizes the unity and heritage of the Reid family, reflecting their values and history. While the Royal Stewart tartan carries connotations of national identity and allegiance to the monarchy, the Reid tartan is more personal, emphasizing family connections and individual heritage.

Strength and Valor

The bold red of the Reid tartan symbolizes strength and valor, qualities that are highly prized in Scottish culture. This color choice reflects the resilience and courage of the Reid family, qualities that have been passed down through generations. The Reids, like many Scottish families, have faced their share of challenges and hardships, and the tartan serves as a reminder of their ability to overcome adversity and thrive. The symbolism of strength and valor is not just historical but also contemporary. In today’s world, wearing the Reid tartan can be a source of inspiration and motivation, reminding individuals of their inherent strength and the legacy of courage that they carry with them. It is a way to honor the past while looking forward to the future with confidence and determination.

Cultural Festivals

Scottish cultural festivals, such as Highland games and Tartan Day celebrations, often feature the Reid tartan. These events provide an opportunity for those with Reid ancestry to connect with their heritage and share it with others. Highland games, with their traditional sports, music, and dancing, offer a vibrant and dynamic celebration of Scottish culture, and wearing the Reid tartan at these events is a way to participate fully in the festivities. Tartan Day, celebrated on April 6th, is another important event that promotes Scottish heritage and the contributions of Scots and their descendants around the world. For members of the Reid family, Tartan Day is a time to wear their tartan proudly and celebrate their unique heritage. These festivals and celebrations help to keep the tradition of tartan alive and ensure that it continues to be a meaningful and vibrant part of Scottish culture.


The Reid tartan, with its distinctive color scheme and balanced pattern, is a unique and important symbol of the Reid family’s heritage. While it shares some similarities with other clan tartans, its specific characteristics and the symbolism behind it set it apart. Whether worn as a kilt, displayed in a home, or used in ceremonial contexts, the Reid tartan continues to play a vital role in celebrating and preserving Scottish culture and the legacy of the Reid family.


  1. What are the primary colors of the Reid tartan?

The Reid tartan is primarily characterized by its bold combination of red and green, with accents of blue and yellow. These colors are carefully balanced to create a harmonious and visually striking pattern.

  1. What does the Reid tartan symbolize?

The Reid tartan symbolizes the unity, strength, and heritage of the Reid family. The predominant red represents strength and valor, while the green signifies the lush Scottish landscape and renewal. Blue and yellow accents add depth and contrast, reflecting the family’s history and values.

  1. How does the Reid tartan compare to other clan tartans?

The Reid tartan is unique in its color balance and symmetrical design. While it shares some similarities with other tartans, such as the use of red and green, it distinguishes itself with its specific shades and the addition of blue and yellow accents. Each tartan, including the Reid, carries its own set of symbolic meanings and historical associations.

  1. When is the Reid tartan typically worn?

The Reid tartan is worn at various cultural and family events, including weddings, funerals, and Scottish festivals such as Highland games and Tartan Day. It is also popular in fashion, with items like kilts, scarves, and ties featuring the tartan pattern.

  1. Is the Reid tartan associated with a specific region in Scotland?

The Reid surname and tartan are most commonly associated with the Scottish Lowlands, particularly Aberdeen shire. Unlike traditional Highland clans, the Reids were more often landowners, farmers, and craftsmen, reflecting a more settled lifestyle that influenced their tartan and family identity.


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