The Dress Act 1746, also known as the Disclothing Act, was a part of the Act of Proscription which was introduced by the government after the defeat of the 1745 Jacobite Rising at Culloden. Contrary to popular belief, it did not ban tartan.
Additionally, the Act of Proscription has been falsely credited with the banning of bagpipes, the speaking of Gaelic, and gathering family members together in public. None of these were officially outlawed.
The Dress Act made it illegal for men and boys to wear the highland dress, including the kilt, north of the Highland line, which ran from Perth in the east to Dumbarton in the west. Women were exempt from the ban on wearing highland clothing as too were men who enlisted with a highland regiment in the British Army.
With specific regard to tartan, the Act did not ban it but restricted its use for upper coats and jackets. The suppression of highland dress did however mean that in many cases the link between highlander and tartan was broken by the time that the Dress Act was repealed in 1782.
First-time offenders in breach of the Act would find themselves imprisoned without bail for up to six months while a second offence would be punished by transportation to the colonies for a period of up to seven years.
While regional tartans existed at the time of the Act, tartans specific to individual clans were not invented until the early 19th century by lowland weavers looking to capitalise on the growing interest of the Scottish highlands.
Article XVII (Dress Act) of the Act of Proscription:
And be it further enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That from and after the First Day of August, One thousand seven hundred and forty seven, no Man or Boy, within that part of Great Britain called Scotland, other than such as shall be employed as Officers and Soldiers in His Majesty’s Forces, shall, on any Pretence whatsoever, wear or put on the Clothes commonly called Highland Clothes (that is to say) the Plaid, Philebeg, or little Kilt, Trowse, Shoulder Belts, or any Part whatsoever of what peculiarly belongs to the Highland Garb; and that no Tartan, or party-coloured Plaid or Stuff shall be used for Great Coats, or for Upper Coats; and if any such Person shall presume after the said First Day of August, to wear or put on the aforesaid Garments, or any Part of them, every such Person so offending, being convicted thereof by the Oath of One or more credible Witness or Witnesses before any Court of Justiciary, or any One or more Justices of the Peace for the Shire or Stewartry, or Judge Ordinary of the Place where such Offence shall be committed, shall suffer Imprisonment, without Bail, during the Space of Six Months, and no longer; and being convicted for a second Offence before a Court of Justiciary, or at the Circuits, shall be liable to be transported to any of His Majesty’s Plantations beyond the Seas, there to remain for the Space of Seven Years.