The #OutlanderEffect

I first began noticing the influence of Scottish dress and textiles in mainstream fashion/clothing back in 2012 when I wrote my “Scottish for Christmas” post at Worn Through. Karl Lagerfeld had just released the Edimbourg Pre-Fall 2013 collection for Chanel, which clearly harkened back to Scotland during the era of Mary Queen of Scots, and the sheer amount of tartan to be seen in American Christmas decorations gave me an excuse (at last!) to talk about my pet research topic in my column for Worn Through.

Since then, it has been hard to ignore the increase in the amount of tartan and plaid in the shops where the rest of us shop (as opposed to a Chanel boutique). I should know, because I buy a lot of it.


It started gradually, of course. Then quite suddenly, every fashion retailer from Forever 21 and Target to LOFT and JCrew had a wide range of garments made from fashion, suiting, and “public” tartans. Trousers, dresses, tops … you could pretty much be dressed head-to-toe in plaid (I would have done, but my mother said she would disown me). But by far the most popular item by my reckoning is the “blanket scarf”. It has pretty much become an autumn/winter staple. I’m sure the blanket scarf exists in other patterns, but tartan of some kind seems to be the predominant choice.

Then this past season or so, the ghillies began appearing. I mentioned this in passing in my Kilted Colloquy post, and ever since I’ve had various friends send me links to the ghillies or ghillie-inspired shoes they have found while shopping:

via Roxie, as found at Payless

“Ghillie” is even a category you can search for at Zappos:


The trend is so wide-spread, I spotted them in the June edition of a Japanese fashion magazine I like:

Page 17, Classy June 2016

Despite four years now of watching for plaid during the holiday season, I have to say that this year the shops rather overdid themselves (even I began to think you can indeed have too much of a good thing):


Plaid is the dominant pattern on every catalogue I collected or was sent, from LL Bean to TOMs. The “Scottish” trend seems to have extended itself into Fair Isle/Lopi style sweaters (as seen in the LOFT catalogue, upper right) just in case other people are feeling a bit overwhelmed by checked fabrics.

I have a few theories about what the source of this trend might be. The first, obvious explanation is the “trickle-down” effect in fashion, discussed by my friend, Fuzzy Lizzie, at her blog, and scathingly explained by Meryl Streep’s character in The Devil Wears Prada:


The Chanel Pre-Fall 2013 collection made exquisite use of just about every traditional Scottish fabric and pattern you can think of: tartan, tweed, fair isle, and argyle being the most dominant. And there were a huge number of shawls and oversized scarves on the runway. This is quite possibly the source for those ubiquitous blanket scarves.

However, in re-examining the runway photos, I cannot find ghillie-inspired shoes. Instead, pointed-toe ankle boots and doc-marten-esque lace up boots were worn. Feel free to correct me if I’ve missed ghillies somewhere.

Option two: fashion is already recycling the trends of the 1990s and early 2000s.

This is not the first time Scottish dress has influenced mainstream fashion, and it probably won’t be the last. We saw Alicia Silverstone and Stacey Dash wearing tartan mini-kilts in Clueless, and Linda Evangelista and the other supermodels wore tartan for Isaac Mizrahi, Vivienne Westwood, Ralph Lauren, Alexander McQueen and other designers throughout the ’90s and early ‘Naughts.

Vogue 2006

You can see that Evangelista is wearing lace up, ghillie-inspired shoes. It’s one of those trends from my youth that I had completely forgotten (and wish I hadn’t been reminded of … I really thought I’d be older before things I used to wear reappeared at the mall). So perhaps the 90s are now retro?

Third: there is the possibility that this is mainstream fashion yet again borrowing from the cultural outliers as they did with Hippie, Punk, and Grunge style previously — only now it is (shudders) the hipsters who have brought plaid back to the fore.

I very much doubt it, though.

For one, buffalo plaid is the predominant hipster pattern, and much of what I’m seeing in fashion is genuine tartan, with complicated setts and twill weaves — or even the trompe l’oiel of a twill weave.

My opinion? This is the #OutlanderEffect. 

Lagerfeld started it, the 90s resurgence expanded it. But it was Outlander that acted as the catalyst from runway to the average person’s closet.
Despite the controversy surrounding the clothes when the first half of season one premiered, Outlander‘s costumes were the most talked about costumes that season on television, I believe. And goodness knows both the television show and the costumes are popular — when Terry Dresbach did an event at the FIDM Museum in Los Angeles, the demand for tickets crashed the museum’s site.

And to paraphrase The Guardian, when they reviewed Boardwalk Empire back in 2011: “To prove itself a true classic, [a television show] surely only has to do one thing – influence our wardrobes.” This was a reference to how Mad Men became a sort of popularity yard-stick because of the way it affected our wardrobes, but the question is whether an historical fantasy series could do the same. I think it has.

First, there’s the timing. The real increase in tartan, etc., happened the autumn after the show premiered: Autumn 2014. Admittedly, it could have taken that long for the hipster horridness craze, or the Chanel Pre-Fall 2013 collection to trickle down. But media moves much faster these days than it did even when The Devil Wears Prada premiered. You can not only livestream the fashion week runway shows but order what you want off the runway as you watch on your computer. As Carrie Fisher (I still haven’t finished crying) brilliantly summarised our era: Instant gratification isn’t fast enough.

Second, the blanket scarves. Specifically, one of the main ways in which Pinterest and various fashion/style blogs recommend wearing them:
via stylebyjoules, found through Pinterest.

In case you need reminding of where we first saw this particular way of wearing a shawl/blanket scarf:


Coincidence? I don’t think so.

What about the ghillies and the fair isle? Those don’t feature in Outlander! No, they don’t. You’ve got me there. But, that’s why I referred to Outlander as the catalyst. Chanel’s Edimbourg whetted our collective appetites (if it even registered on people’s radar), but almost no one wears EXACTLY what is on the runway – Daphne Guinness is the exception not the rule; and I’m sure it’s the 90s turn for a revival (le sigh). With the latter two aesthetics rattling around the zeitgeist’s subconscious, if you will, Outlander premiered and seems to have brought everything into focus. Or at least into a more generally accessible focus.

The #OutlanderEffect is most obvious in HOW the fashion is being worn, rather than the specific pieces. The blanket scarf, and specifically the blanket scarf worn as Claire wears her arisaid, did NOT happen in the 90s, nor was it featured on Lagerfeld’s runway. That is pure Outlander. Like it or not, historical accuracies and inaccuracies aside, as The Guardian said, that’s proof of damned good costuming. And as a Scottish textile addict, I and my wardrobe are pretty happy about it.

What are your thoughts? Where do you think the increase in Scottish inspired fashion comes from? Outlander, Chanel, the 90s, or another source entirely? Have you seen the effect in your own wardrobe? Feel free to agree, disagree, or share any other theories or conclusions in the comments!


5 Comments Add yours

  1. Marjorie says:

    Just to add to your angst, the 90s WERE 26 years ago. Welcome to adulthood!

    1. I refuse! That being said, I wonder if it is safe to wear my kilt out of doors now, and I think I owe myself a pair of ghillies. 🙂

      1. brenna says:

        I feel fully qualified to shake my fist and yell at young whippersnappers to get off my lawn, now.

        Always wear the kilt. Always. And you definitely need the ghillies. 😉

  2. Some of the boots in that Chanel collection were pretty much Lagerfeld’s meshing of boots and ghillies. My favorite was this style with two different plaids and a gray suede.

    1. brenna says:

      Aha! I need to track down some images. I would have sworn there were some version of ghillies in the show, but then of course couldn’t find them when I was writing. Thanks for pointing that out! It alters my theory a bit.

      Maybe it was Lagerfeld that brought Scottish textiles and garments back, but then Outlander made them accessible to the general public?

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