Spectators of this weekend’s Tartan Day Parade in New York City would do well to refresh their knowledge of traditional Scottish dress before the sound of bagpipes fills the air. A tartan, as LIFE explained to readers in 1947, “is a cloth bearing a pattern of overlayed checks in several bright colors.” A plaid, contrary to popular usage, “is actually a blanketlike piece of tartan worn over the shoulder.”
National Tartan Day, observed annually on April 6 in the United States, commemorates the anniversary of Scottish independence, declared in 1320. Six centuries later, LIFE profiled the country’s landscape, economy and traditions, touting Scotland’s most celebrated exports — among them whiskey, golf, tweed, herring, ships and bagpipes.
Tartan Day also recognizes the contributions of people of Scottish descent to the United States, and as LIFE added to its list of fine Scottish goods, “Another major export has been men.” Andrew Carnegie, James Gordon Bennett and Alexander Graham Bell, to name just a few, “left their needy land to win high fame elsewhere.”
Hans Wild’s photos for LIFE, and the hundreds of outtakes never printed, capture the intricate detail of Scottish culture down to the shearing of a wooly sheep and the fingering on a traditional bagpipe melody. Pride, in both national heritage and familial lineage, courses through the images. It was, after all, a matter of serious — and legal — business, as the magazine laid out clearly: “A person who wears the crest of a clan of which he is not a member may be fined £8 6s 8d.”
Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LizabethRonk.