Scholar Examines the Rhetoric of Style

In his latest book, “A Rhetoric of Style” (Southern Illinois University Press, 2008), Professor Barry Brummett, chair of the Department of Communication Studies, examines the many roles of style in politics, society and culture. There’s even an examination of gun-culture style and its rhetoric in the United States.

One example from the book tells the story of Scotland’s Sir Walter Scott and his masterful handling of a delicate affair in the early 1800s that had a lasting impact on politics—and Scottish fashion.

In 1822, Scott hosted a party for George IV, the recently crowned king of Great Britain. With the Scots examining their identity and their relationship with the British, and George IV coming from a rather short dynasty that began with the German George I (who didn’t speak a word of English), the event had the potential for political disaster.

The savvy Scott—who had a keen understanding of the power of style—instructed the various Scottish clan chiefs to attend the party wearing kilts and regalia made from their clan’s tartan.

While most of the clans had kilts, few of them had tartans to designate their individual clan. So Scott told them to invent something, which they did. Likewise, Scott commissioned a special royal tartan design for King George IV to wear to the party.

The clan-specific tartans were an instant hit, the Scots adopted the system as if it had been passed down through the generations and the “Royal Tartan” was incorporated into the monarchy’s regalia.

Thanks in part to Scott’s strategy of style, political ties between the north and the British were strengthened. To this day, Scots wear their clan-specific tartans for special events and British monarchs wear their Royal Stewart tartan for such events.

Edward Schiappa, author of “Beyond Representational Correctness: Rethinking Criticism of Popular Media,” predicts “A Rhetoric of Style will become a ‘must read, must cite’ book for scholars and students interested in style and especially style in popular culture.”