It’s easy, when confronted by the wealth of unique and striking traditional dress for Scottish men, to forget that ladies also appreciate the opportunity to show off their Scottish heritage! You have already read our post about men’s kilt outfits styles. In this post we will have a look at some of the traditional and modern options available to the fairer sex when it comes to Highland wear, perhaps you will find the perfect outfit idea for yourself, or be inspired to treat the special lady in your life to a Scottish gift!
Firstly, and most anciently, is the arisaid. This garment is more or less the female equivalent of the gentleman’s Great Kilt, simply a long length of wool tartan fabric which the wearer pleats and arranges herself each time it is worn. This belted plaid is normally worn longer in length than the men’s version, and usually features a linen shift or tunic worn underneath for modesty, as the skirt joins at the front rather than overlapping as does a man’s kilt. It can be worn in a variety of ways, using the upper portion of the fabric as extra skirt material, a cape, hood, or sash. The airsaid is most commonly seen at Renaissance fairs, re-enactment groups, and some Highland Games nowadays – but this garment has also inspired designs for more modern garments as well.
Another very traditional style is the ladies outfit known as Aboyne Dress. This particular style has been adopted by female Highland dancers for certain dances, and a civilian version can also still be seen at ceilidhs, Burns Suppers, and other traditional gatherings. The dancers version features a traditional kilted (meaning pleated at the back only) skirt, very similar to the male version, white blouse, velvet embroidered waistcoat, and tartan sash. Dancer’s Fancy tartans are popular for these outfits; these are tartans, often clan or family ones, which have been redesigned to suit female dancers, with bright colours and white backgrounds to ensure they stand out on stage when being judged competitively. The casual version of this outfit is almost the same, but will probably feature a longer, softer kilted skirt, more suitable for country dancing and socialising.
These outfits however, though very attractive and historical, may not suit the majority of modern women. Many ladies prefer instead to simply add a touch of their or their husband’s clan tartan in the form of a traditional accessory. These can take many forms, but most popular of all, is surely the tartan sash, as worn in the Aboyne Dress outfit detailed above. The tartan sash has a nuanced style of wear for such a simple item, with different pinning arrangements conferring information about the wearer. Following extensive research, the Lord Lyon King of Arms has authorised several methods as being particularly meaningful, and although these do not have legal standing, adherence to tradition is appreciated. The first method is used by female clan members, either unmarried ladies, or ladies who have married in and adopted the clan tartan. It involves gathering the sash from left to right diagonally across your chest, and pinning it at your right shoulder. The second method is the same but from right to left, and is used by the wives of clan chiefs, or the wives of Scottish Regimental Colonels. The third main style is to wear the sash draped over your right shoulder, then pull it over and pin it, or tie it in a large bow, at your left hip. Traditionally this approach is reserved for married ladies who have decided to retain the use of their own clan tartan, but it is quite a popular look in general. Dancers also have their own method of wearing this accessory, pinning the sash on the right as normal, but flicking both loose ends to their back and tucking them into the waistband of their skirts, or a special belt, to ensure the sash does not interfere with their dancing. Members of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society wear their sashes on the left by dispensation from Queen Elizabeth II, in recognition of their special status among Scottish dancers, and are the only dancing group permitted to do so.
Coming right into the 21st century we now look at newly designed ladies garments proving popular. As these are much more recent designs, it cannot really be said yet how they will stand the test of time, however these attractive options are certainly leading the way in the upswing of ladies wearing tartan that can be seen at present! One of the most popular new designs is the ladies Billie skirt. This short, kilted skirt has a flattering wide waistband, where the tartan is set on the bias, and is short enough to appeal to younger wearers! The Stacey skirt is a similar invention, but the waistband fabric lines up with the rest of the skirt, and it tends to be cut a little longer. Hostess skirts are also popular; this is a mid- to long-length skirt, pleated at the back, with a long sash style fringed belt. Tartan corsets are also now being seen as a great opportunity for young Scotswomen to introduce tartan to their wardrobes without going down the path of kilts and stuffy blouses, as so many assume traditional clothing must be.
Lastly, we cannot discuss ladies Highland wear without looking at Scottish weddings! As more and more men decide to wear traditional Highland clothing for their nuptials, so the ladies are following suit! With a huge range of wedding dresses that incorporate tartan now available, from the very modern, to traditional airsaid inspired designs, blushing brides of all persuasions are now celebrating their Scottish origins at their weddings.
Overall, ladies have many, many options for ways to introduce a touch of Scottish pride into their daily or special event outfits, possibly even more so than men! Although the traditional garments may not be particularly well-developed for modern use, these outfits are still a lovely way to evoke the romance of past eras, and the more modern designs also available mean that even the average Scotswoman can wear her clan sett with flair!
Forty minutes by the public bus to be transported a hundred years away from the Edinburgh of today. The mystery of Rosslyn Chapel is captivating. You just can’t pass it by. Starting from the legends and stories around this place and ending with its astounding interior, Rosslyn Chapel may be described in thousand different ways on a million pieces of papers. However, I know that many of you are here for just a few minutes, so let’s make it brief but quaint.
The Chapel was founded in 1446 by the William St Clair, the Prince of Orkney. Due to the fact that the construction plans have not been preserved, we do not know exactly what the chapel was intended to look like. However, the foundations uncovered in the 19th century showed that it was to be a large church rather than a chapel. Building work was stopped when William St Clair died in 1484. The Chapel is his resting place.
The whole Chapel is covered by sculptures and reliefs. I would even venture to say that there’s not an empty square meter on the vaults, walls or pillars. Reliefs are situated side by side, from the one below grows another above. Their diversity seems to be even more outstanding and extraordinary due to the “crowd” on the walls and ceilings. Rosslyn Chapel maintains the symbols of many different and somehow opposite cultures. You can admire bible stories as well as Pagan, Mason and Viking symbols. Therefore, in the neighborhood of the Christian cross, you will see an angel with pipes, Lucifer turned upside-down, David’s stars, astrological signs, some fruits, vegetables and flowers as well as a Robert Bruce’s heart held by William St. Clair himself. Unbelievable, isn’t it? But the most astonishing, in my honest opinion, is the Green Man sculpture. Or rather sculptures. Green Man is a form of a human face with leaves in his mouth, which is a Celtic symbol of harvest. There are over 100 Green Men inside and around the Chapel!
Tour guides tell a lot of stories and legends that concern Rosslyn Chapel. The most interesting is perhaps the one about the Holy Grail. According to legend, this most important of all holy icons rests somewhere in the Chapel, hidden by Knights Templar members who had emigrated from France to Scotland. The legend says the Sinclair family hid Templar and Masonic artifacts and documents, which they had brought to Scotland, in the vaults. This story also shows up in a famous Dan Brown novel The Da Vinci Code (2003) and after that also in the Hollywood blockbuster based on the book (filming took place at the Chapel in August 2005). Since then, the number of visitors has increased significantly, placing the Chapel among the most popular Scottish destinations.
Another story concerns the famous Apprentice Pillar. The legend says that during his journey to Rome, William St Clair literally fell in love with a pillar he saw. He thought it would be fine to have the same in Rosslyn and came back to Scotland with a model of that wonderful pillar. The master mason, who was asked to carve that centerpiece pillar couldn’t manage the task, and went to Rome in order to see it for himself. On his return, it turned out that his apprentice had finished the work. The master mason was so angry, jealous, and disappointed that he cracked the apprentice across the skull killing him. Rumor says that the apprentice is still present in the Chapel – as the carving of a man with the gash on his head…
A window on the south side of the Chapel hides (or maybe reveals?) another secret. Intriguing sculptures of corn and aloe vera indicate that these exotic plants had been known before Christopher Columbus returned from America. Some people suggest masons who were working in the Chapel were descendents from Vikings who in turn are often considered to have landed in the New World earlier than Columbus (for those of you who do not know yet: Orkney was a Norse land before becoming part of Scotland). On the other hand, some debunk this myth saying that these sculptures were added later.
If you are scared enough of listening legends, go outside and take a walk! Not only is the interior of Rosslyn Chapel worth praise, but the gardens and paths which it is surrounded by will let you rest your mind after the unbelievable lesson about this place. Rosslyn is not only the Chapel. When you look further you will find yourself in the Pentland Hills Regional Park, which is a 20 miles long range of hills. The Pentland Hills area is perfect for a one day trip, especially for those who live in Edinburgh or in its neighborhood. It’s absolutely popular among those who enjoy short mountain (or rather hill) tours and walking.
Rosslyn Chapel is open almost every day (except 12/24, 25 and 12/31, 1/1), the adult’s ticket costs £9. The Chapel’s authorities remind the visitors that due to the conservation work the building will be covered by scaffolding until December 2012. However, the Chapel doesn’t lose its charm despite this essential work.
The Rosslyn Chapel is spectacular and beyond one’s expectations. It keeps a number of long lost secrets. The Da Vinci Code has not truly revealed a single one, only raised the interest and speculations around Rosslyn’s mysteries. Is anything in the vaults? Should it ever be excavated at all? What are your thoughts? The debate continues…
The Rosslyn Chapel’s website: http://www.rosslynchapel.org.uk/