“But can you sit down?” A less demure take on tartan

Notes from a morning in Portland, Oregon, during which I consider adding more tartan to my wardrobe.

I leave the café where I have been perusing Scottish-American taxidermy online and trot out onto Hawthorne Boulevard. A sausage dog lollops by, wearing a fetching Royal Stuart scarf. I see tartan everywhere all of a sudden.

As I’m loping the couple of blocks down to the bus stop, I screech to a halt beside a window full of yet more tartan attire. It’s a window full of garments ideal for those wanting to perfect the club wear-fetish wear crossover look. I’m about to continue on my way, but my gaze falls on some mini-kilts. I do another slow breeze by. I am going to need some tartan attire if I’m going to fit in, in this world, I reason, and the traditional floor-length options are not really me, despite what the customers of the Kilt and Thistle might think.

On my third nonchalant skulk past, I duck in and find myself amid racks of a few tartan mini-skirts with more safety pins than seem strictly necessary. I’m quite relieved when I see they’re only available in small and miniscule sizes. I am neither.


Feeling almost as out of place here as I did in the world of hostess kilts and velour vests, and feeling like I have to now try something on in order to pretend I’m entirely comfortable in this environment, I scoop up a couple of kilts and an armful of army cut white shirts with tartan collars and ties and skulk off to the changing rooms.

As I attempt to work out where all the zips and catches go, and frown at my reflection in the mirror, I hear rustles and thumps from the cubicle next door.


“I love it!”

“But can you sit down?”

There is a pause. Then a lot of squeaking.

“Maybe I could just stand all night?” comes the dubious answer.

I struggle out of the tight tartan-adorned shirt that I had hoped would reflect my rich heritage, narrowly avoiding stabbing myself with the kilts’ thistley plethora of pins.

On the bus back downtown, two hippie teens with dinosaurs recently inked over all available limbs and plastic croc shoes croon an operatic version of The Lion Sleeps Tonight. They both wear hats that curl round unruly mops of hair like lazy snail shells, and shorts over loose leggings. I am momentarily distracted from their belligerent duet by a guy who gets on the bus wearing lime green, tight patterned Capri pants, a teased 80s Sigue Sigue Sputnik faux-hawk and clown shoes. It’s like the bus that fashion forgot. I could have got away with wearing pretty much anything from my recent shopping excursion, although I might’ve had to stand for the duration of the journey.

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