One of the biggest decisions a dancer has to make, after choosing a good teacher, is how to select a full competitive outfit. Every teacher has a different opinion on when his or her student is ready to dance in a competition, but when they do, your choices are endless.
Many years ago most dancers chose their family clan tartan so the choice was easy. However, in the late fifties, dancers started appearing in Dress Tartans with white backgrounds. These tartans were very limited – the Dress Stewart, Dress Macpherson, Napier, Dress MacRae, and a few others. I remember being delighted to obtain the Dress MacRae of Conchra with a basic light blue check with white, enabling me to make a fashion statement with my blue jacket amongst my fellow competitors! Gradually dancers started to change their outfits and we saw many more dancers in Dress Tartans with colored vests and jackets.
In the early ’70s, having expanded my business into all things related to Highland dancing (I had previously offered only Highland dancing shoes) I recognized a real trend towards the “white” Dress Tartans for dancers and started to research alternatives to the traditional Dress clan tartans. On a trip to D.C. Dalgliesh’s woolen mill in Selkirk, Scotland I suggested to Mr. Dalgliesh that he weave the Royal Blue Cunningham. From that point on Dress Tartans of various kinds became the norm.
Today, we have literally hundreds of these Dress Tartans being woven from various mills in Scotland and elsewhere. Picking a tartan relative to your particular clan is actually a thing of the past. Many dancers no longer have a family or clan tartan so they pick what they like. In my opinion, your first consideration is what vest/jacket color would flatter your dancer the most. The actual tartan may be somewhat secondary. Once you have picked the color you are interested in, peruse the many “tartans” that are available. I say “tartans” as many colors available today are not actually based on any tartan but are just attractive color combinations with no relation to an actual clan.
Another major consideration is the coloring that will appear in the hose/socks you will have made to match the tartan. Be very careful with this as one of the main reasons for choosing a Dress tartan is so that white diamonds will appear in the socks. This makes the dancer's foot and leg much brighter and, therefore, easier to see from a judge’s perspective. You will have a choice here too, whole diamonds vs. split diamonds, seamless vs. full-fashioned and the marled color, your teacher will be able to advise you with this but be sure to pick the one that will enhance your footwork.