The check shirt is a menswear staple, and rightly so. It’s an easy wear, works everywhere and looks a pinch more interesting than your block-colour button-down. But as the nights lengthen, it’s worth experimenting with something a touch less ubiquitous. And trickier to nail.
Though tartan was traditionally woven in wool, it’s evolved into a print that appears in all corners of menswear. Handy, since that kilt you were eyeing up isn’t the best way to fight the breeze.
1. The Tartan Scarf
The best way to introduce tartan is with an accessory you actually need. A scarf is an easy investment (in time and money) that nods to the trend without going the full Churchill dog. Try it over a navy trench coat for the office or with a Harrington jacket at the weekend. Although avoid one with a tartan lining unless you’ve got Groundskeeper Willie on your Pinterest board.
Opt for subtler tartans, with neutral base tones. A scarf that laces black, red and yellow over a grey background for its sett (the official name for the repeated blocks of colour) is easier to pair than gold, crimson and green.
“A classic combination of a tartan scarf teamed with a quilted jacket, a soft crew neck jumper and a pair of cords is timeless,” says Ian Bergin, director of menswear and accessories at Barbour. “A wax leather briefcase and some brogue boots would also make for a reserved, classic look.” So long as it’s not packed with your bagpipes.
Barbour Tartan Lambswool Scarf, available at END Clothing, priced £29.
2. The Tartan Tie
Busy ties dominate your look, so keep an eye out for muted tartans in textured fabrics that will minimise the pattern’s impact. “Tartan is great as the main focus of an outfit, but you need to keep the surrounding pieces simple,” according to the experts at Marks & Spencers. “Opt for a smart look, such as a plain coloured suit, perhaps black, or a velvet blazer that picks out one of the colours within the tartan.”
Boldly patterned tailoring is a definite no go, but don’t be afraid of a small splash of coordinating colour elsewhere – a simple fleck of colour in your blazer or plain pocket square is more than enough.
Abercrombie Modern Tartan Tie, available at Lochcarron, priced £19.99.
3. The Tartan Coat
You can upgrade tartan to your outerwear so long as you dial down what it sits over. “Tartan works well in moderation and works well when worn with dark colours,” says Luca Levi, CEO at Baracuta. “Be bold. Don’t be afraid of introducing the elegant Blackwatch tartan to casual outfits, such as a good pair of selvedge denim with sleek sneakers.”
Sticking to neutral tones with the rest of your look will allow any tartan jacket to take centre stage. Try Peter Werth’s take on tartan for a casual autumnal piece that you can throw on with your favourite denim with ease.
Peter Werth Wool Tartan Trench Coat, available at ASOS, priced £159.
4. Tartan Formalwear
You can wear tartan to events without the sporran. Darker setts are sophisticated, but give your formalwear an extra punch. “A tartan suit jacket is a pretty versatile garment, but there’s a tartan strength to suit any guy,” says Naveen Anthony, Founder and Creative Director at London-based tailoring label Helen Anthony.
“Darker tartans are a solid hero piece in a nine-to-five professional wardrobe, whereas bolder, more colourful tartan suit jackets make for a stamping statement piece in the typically dull colour palette of winter.” Just to hammer this point home, if you’re wearing a tartan tuxedo, keep everything else monochrome, please.
Michael Bastain Midnight Blue Checked Tuxedo Jacket, available at Mr Porter, priced £985.
5. Tartan Knitwear
If you’re fond of a patterned jumper, a tartan version is a great piece to transition into winter, injecting brightness without going Oxford Street lights.
To avoid looking like you’re ready for Christmas, pick a piece with a single print. “You should never wear two designs of the same scale together,” says Julian Fuller, head of menswear design at Debenhams. “This rule applies to tartan.”
Look for pieces with just a printed torso, such as Lyle & Scott’s signature knitted jumper. The plain arms and back echo the pattern’s neutral hues, helping to balance out the bold print. “I love to triple up on denim, but tartan is too big a statement to even double up on,” says Fuller.
Lyle & Scott Tartan Jumper, available at Lyle & Scott, priced £100.