Monday, March 1, 2010

Return of the Maple Leaf Tartan

Maple Leaf Tartan wool tie MacCleod's, jacket by Brooks Brothers

On the evening of Sunday, February 28, after a triumphant but emotionally exhausting hockey game, Canada watched the lavish and creatively produced closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. These were the most extensively watched Olympics in history, and viewers were given an abundance of sensational images to remember.

The most ambitious and lavish musical production number had Michael Bublé in trim retro-lounge style shawl collar tuxedo similar to what Guy Lombardo wore in the 1960s, and statuesque female Mounties singing and dancing around him. This morphed into an extravaganza with gigantic 24 ft beavers and even taller board game lithographed metal style hockey players and intentionally kitschy souvenir style Mounty statues. The maple leaf chorines looked oh so Canadian, with overtones of Vegas and Mardi Gras for festivity and fun. A detail I noted in some outfits was use of the seldom seen Maple Leaf Tartan. The maple leaf dancing girls wore short kilts of this iconic plaid while the band accompanying Michael Bublé wore 60s style tuxedos of Maple Leaf Tartan with green satin buttons and shawl lapels. After years of not seeing it worn, it is wonderful to see garments in this patriotic cloth, a bit like reconnecting with a long lost, dear old friend.

Guy Lombardo wearing a tuxedo in the Maple Leaf Tartan

Around the time we got a new flag, 45 years ago this February, there was a wave of patriotic feeling as Canadians started to prepare for Montreal’s Expo 67 and Centennial celebrations across the country. In 1964, the new Maple Leaf Tartan was created by David Weiser to commemorate the new Canadian flag. While each province and territory has an individual tartan, the Maple Leaf Tartan is the only one representative of Canada. It is also used by the pipes and drums of the Royal Canadian Regiment.

Courtesy of National Defense

The four colours reflect the colours of the maple leaf as it changes through the seasons; green in spring, burnished gold in the early fall, deep red as temperatures drop, and brown after falling. The colours are distinctively rich and somewhat muted. The harmonious shades are considerably less strident than many modern tartans, but not quite as retiring as antique tartans made with vegetable dyes.

Maple leaf tartan, designed by David Weiser, 1963

During the 1960s clothing in the Maple Leaf Tartan was available for women, men and children. This clothing was widely promoted in Canadian department stores such as Eaton’s and Simpson’s. In this tartan there were also other products such as fine English fine bone china with a border of the pattern, and dolls dressed wearing outfits of it.

Currently, vintage pieces such as kilts, vests, narrow neckties, and sport coats are not that difficult to find, but after collecting vintage clothing for 20 years, I can see that there are fewer and fewer pieces of it available.

vintage Viyella shirt in the Maple Leaf Tartan

If you are interested in garments of the beautiful Maple Leaf Tartan, they aren’t available in department store as they were in the 1960s or even into the late 1970s. The best place to find fabric, scarves, kilts, neckties and other accessories of this relatively obscure tartan is at Scottish shops. I got mine at MacCleod’s Scottish Shop in Stratford, Ontario. Prices were reasonable and they were very helpful, courteous and prompt with ordering by e-mail.

Tartan fabric by the meter, including the Maple Leaf Tartan can be purchased inexpensively at fabric stores in Canada, such as Fabricland (170 stores across Canada), during the fall/winter season. Tartan fabrics in different fibers, synthetic, cotton, wool, and wool blends, are available at different price points and depending on what the material is to be used for.

The costume stylists and designers of the Olympic ceremonies are to be commended for reviving this iconic piece of Canadiana and including it in the memorable closing presentation. It couldn’t have been better and it couldn’t have been more Canadian. May it inspire greater love of country and encourage us to proudly wear Canadian symbols like the Maple Leaf Tartan.

Maple Leaf Tartan on the cover of the Toronto Star Magazine, March 6, 1965
vintage Garment tag, Highland Queen, circa 1965

© 2010 Square With Flair™


  1. Beautifully done, Mr.Square with Flair. Makes
    one feel that Canadians should have at least
    a few cushions in their native tartan. I do
    have four point Hudson Bay blankets - does that
    count? Louise

  2. I think you are ahead of your time.

  3. My Mum had a gorgeous peacoat of Maple Leaf Tartan when I was young, it eventually fell apart from much love and wear. Wish I could find another, I don't trust my sewing skills! And now it's officially our national tartan, sweet!

  4. where could one find a cotton blend of maple leaf tartan sold by the meter?

  5. I know where I can find a vintage Expo 67 canadian tartan jacket: in my closet. monaco66 at gmail!