The warmer months are coming, and so is the wedding season. As it’s considered to be one of the most important days in one’s life, it’s usually carefully planned and thought-over in every way possible. If you or your partner has Scottish ancestry, it might be a great idea to get married in a Scottish style!
The groom’s outfit is a quite complicated one, but the one that shines the brightest is of course the bride! There is a vast array of wedding dresses on offer, but the one for a Scottish Wedding should be special. Traditional whit or ivory might suit you well, but what about a tartan dress? Which pattern should you choose? When to start planning? What about the guests?
Read about Tartan on the Catwalk
At kilted weddings, both the bride and the guests wear the tartan of the groom. It was thought of as a sign of respect and honouring his clan, but nowadays it’s not as obligatory as it used to be, especially at marriages between a Scottish bride and a foreigner. There are a variety of options – every guest can come wearing their own tartan, and the bride’s “transition” from one family to another can be marked by a traditional ceremony of pinning the tartan. The member of the groom’s family, usually the groom himself or his mother, pin a rosette or a sash in her new clan tartan to the wedding dress. Today it is sometimes done the other way round – if a groom with no clan is being accepted in the bride’s clan.
The other option is wearing one of the universal tartans – there are plenty to choose from. Each one has its own meaning, so you may do a little digging into the subject and choose the one that suits you and your partner best. In fact, you can even design your own tartan. It’s a pricey choice (if you hire a designer rather than make your own pattern, this can cost around £1,000, but it’s the weaving of fabric that is usually the most expensive undertaking), but on the other hand – you may be establishing a new tradition for your family, and besides having your own pattern is always an original choice, designating family identity and being a one of a kind souvenir from this special day. The tartan might be used also as a nice accent in your flat or house – the accessories in the family tartan will make your home look cosy and warm like nothing else.
Bring back the memories of The Royal Wedding!
But what about the dress itself? There are plenty of designs available here too. The 2015 trends vary – according to the brides.com portal, on one hand we have over the shoulder necklines, on the other – tulle in every possible form. The colours also tend to be unconventional – the pastel versions of every kind of colour seem to be appropriate this season, especially soft browns and blues. The other interesting trend is wearing a cape – and that’s a perfect way to show off your clan adherence! The trend opposite to the over the shoulder necklines is the collar – made of see-through fabrics or in the form of a strap around the neck, exposing the shoulders. This glam style is also in fashion, being a tribute to elegance, while at the other end of the catwalk we can watch dresses in a totally relaxed and nonchalant style, being appropriate for a beach wedding or if you want to have a ceremony in a less formal style. The other styles that seem to have the fashion gurus’ approval are deep V’s, cutouts, elements made of feathers, flouncy sleeves, turtlenecks, laser-cut floral patterns, crop tops, fringe, metallic fabric, corset bodices (another great idea to combine with your tartan!) and sheer skirts. As you can see, there are a huge range of styles to choose from – and the tartan patterns fit perfectly into many of these. If you want to show off your heritage, the kilt and Scottish-related shops are worth visiting – they might have your perfect tartan dress, but… you’ll have to be patient. These dresses are usually at least made to order, if not to measure – and that means that it takes time to prepare them and you should leave extra time for fittings once the dress arrives. What is more, if you did design your own tartan, or your clan’s pattern is quite rare, you have to bear in mind that it’s again the process of weaving that will take most of the time (it might be even several months), so if you are considering this option you have to make up your mind quickly and order the dress in advance. When ordering a brides dress, you may also consider buying the whole wedding outfit, with a matching kilt for the groom and all the accessories. It is usually a bit cheaper since it’s a set, so it may be a bit of relief for your budget.
Read How to Make a Kilt
Remember that the dress doesn’t have to be flashy and catwalk-like – if you prefer a more modest style and like making practical purchases, you can always wear a simple, knee-length tartan dress. This solution has many advantages – it’s significantly cheaper, the dress can also be worn during other occasions, and the whole outfit is certainly more comfortable. This can be perfect if you have a small ceremony for the closest family and friends.
Whichever dress you choose – you have to feel good while wearing it, be yourself and be proud of your Scottish heritage!
While the idea of doing sport in a kilt might seem mad at first, and in fact it is – at least without some improvements – as doing exercise while wrapped in heavy wool with a kilt pin would be uncomfortable at best and downright dangerous in some situations! But it turns out that there are some crazy people who want to do sports in a truly Scottish way – and there are special kilts for them too!
A sports kilt differs from a traditional one in several ways: firstly, it’s made of lightweight fabric, so it is much more comfortable and easy to wear, and of course you’ll get less sweaty. Usually it is not made of wool – using synthetic fabrics means that you can wash it in the machine without any problems, which would be impossible with a kilt made of real wool. Secondly – they usually feature Velcro fastenings, sometimes with an elastic waistband to make the fit even more adjustable and comfortable for strenuous activity. There are no buckles or straps, but of course you can wear any kilt accessory you want along with it – even a sgian dubh if you find it convenient (and safe). The third thing is how down to Earth and practical these kilts are – they are much cheaper than traditional 5 or 8 yard kilts, so it is far less of a worry if they get dirty or damaged during outdoor sports and other pursuits.
So what to look for to find the perfect sport kilt in terms of both comfort and attractive appearance? We’ve got some tips!
Pay attention to the fabric. Most sport kilts are made of poly-viscose, which ensures that they are light, non-allergenic, and easy to care for. Sometimes however, sport kilts are made of microfiber – if you choose this type you have to be careful while ironing the garment, as too high a temperature will make the fabric melt. Microfiber is also extremely lightweight, so bear in mind that you might have some problems with controlling the material when the wind blows!
Sport kilts are very popular among athletes of Scottish descent, although the Highland dress may cause some problems while doing certain sports, such as running or gymnastic endeavours. Think thoroughly about what activities you want to do while wearing your sports kilt – the athletics, they are best suited for things such as weight-lifting, hiking, or casual team sports such as football. On the other hand, your sports kilt doesn’t have to be limited to the playing field – many men find this garment extremely comfortable as leisure wear, and wear the sport kilt on a daily basis.
Look out for pockets! They say that the kilt without a sporran is called a skirt, but wearing it while doing sports would be pointless or even a hindrance. That’s why sport kilts tend to have several pockets, sometimes one of them in the front at the usual place of the sporran. The placement, style, and number of pockets will differ between kilts, so it’s best to figure out for yourself the ideal configuration for your needs.
A sport kilt might also be an interesting and practical alternative to a casual kilt – with all the pouches and an elastic waistband it could be a perfect choice for a party or a night down the pub. There are various options available – alongside the men’s kilts you will also find kilts for kids, ladies tartan sport dresses etc, so you can be pretty sure that you will find something that will suit your taste and needs. These garments are also usually available in a wide choice of tartans, so it’s likely that you will be able to wear your clan’s colours – though universal tartans are always a good back-up option to keep in mind!
Nevertheless, we wouldn’t recommend it as a replacement for a traditional kilt – wearing such a kilt during official, formal events will be perceived as inappropriate. But if you don’t have any wedding or serious celebrations ahead of you and you’ve never had a kilt before – a sports kilt might be the best purchase possible! As a more comfortable and less pricey version of the traditional Highland outfit, the sport kilt may become your favourite garment for years!
It’s been a while since 2015 started; which means the party has fully begun! We hope that you’re going to have lots of fun this year – same as we plan – and we’d like to encourage you to emphasise your Scottishness every night you can! Don’t worry; you don’t have to wear a full Prince Charlie Outfit with a fly plaid, which would probably ruin the evening for you. The elegant 5-yard and 8-yard kilts aren’t always the best choice either, due to the limited comfort of wearing these traditional but heavy garments. Jackets, waistcoats and formal shirts are also not always required – you can enjoy your Highland charm without any restrictions thanks to the marvellous party kilt, a Scottish innovation growing in popularity.
Don’t think of party kilts as a cheaper version of the traditional ones, the garments are in a completely different class from one another, and their usage is not only a matter of comfort, but also of etiquette – you have to follow some savoir-vivre rules. The party kilt and casual kilt are lighter and more easy-to-wear, and this has some consequences. Firstly, as indicated by the name – they are only appropriate for parties, sporting events and everyday casual wear – but absolutely not for a wedding, or other occasions where formal attire is required. The “light kilts” are made with less fabric of a lighter weight, so as a result give less warmth, the “swing” is less impressive and they also have shallower pleating. Moreover, they are cut more or less at the same waistline of trousers, while traditional kilts raise a couple of inches above the hips. This is the price you have to pay (uh, well, they are financially much cheaper…) for the freedom of cool comfort and movement during the party of your life.
Which to choose? The selection, as you may suspect, is broad. Nevertheless, as these kilts are considered to be a cheaper option, it’s easy to get fooled by a dishonest seller and get a product of poor quality and even poorer finish. Remember – this is still a kilt, not a skirt! And it has to be done properly. You might have also a problem with choosing a tartan – and as the party kilts are usually manufactured only in a limited range of patterns, you may find that your clan tartan is not available. There is a solution to this – choose from the vast array of universal tartans which may be worn by all the people of Scottish descent. The ones that you may consider, among the others, are Black Watch, Jacobite, Scottish National and Pride of Scotland. We especially recommend the Heritage of Scotland and World Peace tartans. Generally Royal and Balmoral Tartans have restrictions and can’t be worn by everyone, but tartans such as Royal Stewart and Earl of St Andrews have no such limitations. There is also a range of so called district tartans which refer to specific districts or cities. They are usually worn by those who want to underline their place of origin, or their local identity.
Read how to make a kilt
Thinking about appropriate accessories? As we mentioned above, a party kilt is not formal attire, so the finish of the outfit should be casual too. Probably the best pick for a Scottish styled top would be a ghillie shirt. Some wear the party kilt along with a simple t-shirt, or even a wool jumper for daytime wear, but as it is a matter of taste, we leave it up to you. More traditional accessories such as casual leather sporrans and tammy hats are also absolutely acceptable. Hose looks perfect, although there are many options and variations that you may consider here – not necessarily the traditional one with flashes. The popular choice of heavy boots and some warm, longer socks might not appeal to everyone aesthetically, but if done with taste can look stylish and “cool” – certainly better than grubby trainers or out-of-place overly formal footwear. As this is the party version, don’t hesitate to try to stand out in the crowd and make some innovations –good taste is your only limit here! Additional accessories such as dirks and sgian dubhs can stay at home – you don’t want to hurt yourself or, even worse, someone else! We also strongly advise to abandon the idea of wearing a fly plaid along with a party or casual kilt. Firstly, it really doesn’t look that nice with informal attire, secondly – it swings, slides and can be very annoying, so if you value comfort it’s better to go to the party without it.
Read about worldwide influences on kilts and tartan
Whatever you choose to wear, the most important thing is to be yourself and to feel comfortable. We wish you all best for 2015, and hope you have a wonderful time at all the parties this year is sure to bring – wear the kilts with pride!
Love them or hate them, it can’t be denied that bagpipes are the quintessential sound of Scotland. In this blog post, prepare to learn more about these “instruments of war”, used to celebrate, commemorate and even intimidate, throughout much of Scottish history!
Although bagpipes are thought to be Middle Eastern in origin, possibly dating back as far as 4000 BC, the instrument spread throughout Europe during the early part of the second millennium AD. Unsubstantiated claims for their use in Scotland date from around 1300, but the first concrete evidence of “warpipes” being used in their traditional role on the battlefield comes from writings about the Battle of North Inch in 1396. This early association with the military has always stayed with the bagpipes; their penetrating notes were used to unsettle the enemy, and communicate with allies. The unique construction of bagpipes means that the high pitched and VERY high decibel shrills and skirls emanating from them can be heard for several miles, and with their aggressive tones they quickly supplanted the horns and trumpets which had been previously popular.
Modern pipes are made of four main sections; the blowpipe, chanter, bag and drones. Traditionally, the bag would have been made from a full animal pelt, in the distant past goats, sheep, even cows and dogs were used to make this part of the bagpipes! In modern times, thankfully it is more common for synthetic materials to be used for the bag – with a fabric covering often made from tartan – either the official band tartan, or the regional sett, or for soloist pipers their own clan design. The bag is a reservoir for air blown by the piper; as the bag is continually squeezed under the piper’s arm while playing the air is forced out through the drones to create sound. Five sticks emerge from the bag, three drones, a chanter and a blowpipe, and we will look at the role each of these plays now.
Read about Orkney
The blowpipe is used to inflate the bag; the pipe will prefill the bag before he starts to play then continue to keep filling the bag while playing. The blowpipe is usually made from hardwood though the exact wood type varies, and new techniques in the manufacture of this essential part of the instrument mean that pipers can fill bags more easily – leading to a smoother sound and more ease of playing. Unusually for a wind instrument, no reeds are played by the mouth directly, the blowpipe is just a filling device, and the reeds are contained within other areas of the pipes.
Also made from hardwood, the Great Highland Bagpipes has three drones – two tenors and one bass. Essentially, the drones create the music when the pipes are played; each one has a reed contained within and they can be tuned to different keys. As the air escapes the bag a constant low “droning” noise is heard, the distinctive noise of the bagpipes and the reason for this part’s name! When the bag is squeezed harder, more air escapes, increasing the volume and pitch of the drone, with the tone differing depending on the piper’s finger position.
The chanter is the most well-known part of the bagpipes, and is essential for player input. Held by the piper in both hands, the chanter is a long stem drilled with holes acts as the finger-board. As the player moves his fingers to cover or uncover the holes, the airflow within the instrument changes and the notes differ, just like with instruments such as the clarinet or flute! It was traditionally made from Scottish woods such as holly or laburnum, then later from exotic hardwoods such as cocuswood or ebony, though nowadays synthetic materials which are easier to maintain are also popular. Chanters can also be purchased with a mouthpiece attached, separate from the bagpipes themselves, as practice instruments.
Learn About Tartan Colour Meanings
Using a practice chanter can be essential for new players. Playing the pipes properly is a whole body effort – you must blow air into the pipe constantly, squeeze the bag under one arm at a controlled level to ensure the air is escaping at the desired pressure, and keep up with precise patterns of covering and uncovering the holes of the chanter to create notes – all while keeping the drones balanced on your shoulder and making sure no part of the unwieldy and large pipes slips or is dropped by accident! Understandably, this is very difficult to master all at once, so practicing just on the chanter allows the piper to thoroughly learn the finger movements required without the pressure of managing everything else all at the same time. As they gain more experience they can move onto using the full pipes, though many pipers will return to the practice chanter when learning a new piece of music until they are confident of their performance.
Bagpipes are often played in Scotland as part of an ensemble of pipers and drummers. All the pipers play the Great Highland bagpipes and provide the melody and complexity of the music, with the mixed drum corps providing the rhythm from a selection of snare drummers, tenor drummers and one (or occasionally two) bass drummers. Musically, the band follows the direction of the pipe major, though when on parade the drum major may be responsible for leading the band on their route and keeping time with a mace. The pipers almost always play traditional arrangements, but the drum scores are often composed by the drum major himself – and the drummers are judged not only on performance, but also on how well their drumming complements and suits the traditional sections played by the pipers during competitions.
It is in pipe bands that the bagpipes military roots can be seen most clearly; with drums and pipes being truly historic in their use on the battlefields, to provide direction or convey commands, to boost morale or to strike terror into the hearts of enemies. All battalions of the Highland Regiment still have pipers, and the practice has also been adopted by many other Regiments, not to mention civilian entities such as police forces, fire brigades or universities.
Read about Kilt Accessories
As a solo instrument the Great Highland Bagpipes are also popular, from christenings to weddings, ceilidhs or funerals, even in modern times no Scottish life event is complete without a piper. Soloist pipers play an especially important part in traditional weddings, where they will often compere the event to keep things running smoothly (especially during the speeches!) as well as playing the bride down the aisle, providing accompaniment as the happy couple leave the church or registrars, and again when they enter the reception to be welcomed by their friends and family.
As Scotland continues to develop and grow into a strong 21st Century nation, the bagpipes continue to be a vital and vibrant part of its citizens lives; traditional soloists are everywhere, in our personal lives, working in partnership with Highland dancers, or even busking on the streets of our beautiful cities. Pipe bands bridge the traditional and the modern with innovative drumming and amazing displays of virtuoso technique. Even more encouraging, the pipes have been adopted by modern musicians in rock bands – or rather rock music has been adopted by pipers! With groups such as the Canadian Real MacKenzies, or Scotland’s own Red Hot Chilli Pipers blending electric guitars and punk vocals with the traditional sound of the bagpipes, it can truly be seen that this instrument goes from strength to strength and is one of Scotland’s best-loved and most defining features!
As we continue to share with you all aspects of Scottish life from places to visit, to important festivals and sporting events, to the ins and outs of Highland wear; we thought you would like to learn some of the “behind the scenes” aspects to kilt-making so you can celebrate this wonderful garment with a new-found understanding of the hard work and traditional methods that many kilt-makers still use to this day!
Once you have selected your tartan cloth, the next step will be taking your measurements. Every kilt maker will take at least two measurements – your waist size, and your drop (overall kilt length). They will probably also take your hip size as if this is larger than your waist it will affect the overall construction, and perhaps also the fell length – this is the vertical distance between your waist and hip measurements.
Read About How To Wear A Kilt Outfit
Next, the kilt maker will determine the exact length of fabric required, firstly by calculating the expected pleat depth. For a standard knife pleated kilt, each pleat will be a full sett deep and have approximately one inch of fabric showing, so your precise pleat depth will be determined by the sett size of the tartan you have chosen. The sett size is the size of one iteration of the repeating pattern which makes up the tartan. For example; a tartan with a sett size of 6 inches will use 7 inches of fabric per pleat, a tartan with a sett size of 8 inches will require 9 inches of fabric per pleat. Kilt makers will also add extra pleats, or extra depth on certain pleats to accommodate a client who wishes to have a full traditional kilt made with more fabric, such as 8 or 9 yards. But, for our purposes today, it is sufficient to stick with the first situation.
Once pleat depth is determined, the kilt maker will multiply this value by half of the hip measurement, and add the full hip measurement (as the front of the kilt has two overlapping aprons, remember), plus an extra 15% for any adjustments required to centre the pleats, add an apron fringe etc. This will be the required length of fabric. Let’s look at two examples:
Gentleman A has a hip measurement of 34 inches, and has chosen 13oz Lindsay Modern tartan, which has a 6.5 inch sett size. Each pleat needs 7.5 inches of fabric, this times 17 (half of the hip size) gives 127.5 inches. Adding on the original 34 inches, for the front aprons, gives 161.5 inches, and the extra 15% for adjustments and other requirements gives a final length required of about 186 inches, or just over 5 yards – perfect for a standard kilt. The kilt maker could also add extra pleats by making the visible portion of each less than an inch, to make this a full 8 yard kilt.
Learn About Tartan Colour Meanings
Gentleman B however, has a hip measurement of 38 inches and has chosen 16oz Black Watch tartan, with a sett size of 8 inches. Each pleat will require 9 inches of fabric, and 9 multiplied by 19 equals 171 inches. Adding to this the full 38 inch hip measurement gives 209 inches, then an extra 15% on top for adjustments gives a final required length of 251 inches, or just under 7 yards. In this instance, the kilt maker will be required to reduce the number or depth of the pleats to allow the kilt to be made with the usual 5 or so yards of fabric – or encourage his client to go for a full 8 or 9 yard kilt and add in extra pleats and depth.
As most tartans are woven at double-width, around 55-60 inches depending on the mill, for the vast majority of people less than half of that width will be required for the length of the kilt. Therefore, kilt makers will often purchase half of the final required length and cut it lengthways, sewing the two pieces together and hemming the top to give the actual required length. Excess width will now be trimmed off, to make the fabric as wide as the required kilt length, this excess will be kept for making the waistband and sporran loops.
Once this is all done, the real work can begin. The fabric will be laid out flat with the selvedge at the bottom and, working from right to left, the kilt maker will mark the various sections as needed. The first mark will be for a few inches of excess left to hem the under apron, then the under apron itself is marked, and will be half of the initial hip measurement. Then the reverse pleat is created – this pleat is folded from right to left at a slight angle and prevents the rest of the pleats from fanning out too much around the side of the kilt, giving a smooth and tidy silhouette to the finished garment. After the reverse pleat has been marked, the rest of the pleats follow. These are measured straight along the lines of the fabric from selvedge to hip, then angled in towards the centre at varying degrees from hip to waist (if the waist is smaller) and are followed by marks for the over apron; again (if all the measurements have worked out correctly) a bit of length will still be left to allow for the final finished hem and fringe.
Read About Measuring for a Kilt
Now all of the pleats will be folded and pinned, then pressed to ensure they are all lying straight and flat as required. Often the final pleat will be up to double the depth of the others, again to prevent unwanted flaring. At this stage many kilt makers will baste along the bottom and middle of the pleats – basically putting in two rows of a long running stitch which can easily be removed later to make sure nothing slips out of place while the work continues. Once the pleats are all pressed and temporarily secured the kilt maker can move on to actually sewing everything properly into place.
Firstly he will sew along the top of the pleats, just a quarter of an inch from where the waistband will be, then the very edge of each pleat will be carefully stitched down onto the pleat beneath for the length of the fell. This important step will prevent the kilt from flaring out over the wearer’s rump which can give a skirted appearance, and is one of the key features of a true Scottish man’s kilt. Next the pleats will be steeked, basically a horizontal line of stitching is added from the inside, about an inch above the fell line, to further stabilise the pleats. Now too the slit for the under apron strap to pass through is created, usually the edge of the second pleat from the left is used and it will be hemmed sturdily to prevent this from becoming a weak point.
The edge of the under apron will now be hemmed, as will the over apron. For the over apron however, a piece of excess fabric may be stitched into the hem so the raw edges run along the length of the apron. This raw edge is deliberately frayed, then trimmed neatly to leave a fringe. Then a cotton lining about one quarter to one third of the total kilt length will be sewn along the top edge, and down the apron hems; folded and tucked where needed to follow the shape of the kilt.
Read About Kilt and Tartan
A waistband will be created from the extra fabric cut off at the beginning, the final width of this will only be about half an inch and it simply gives a polished and tidy finish – ensuring no fraying will occur and maximising the lifetime of your kilt. From the same excess fabric two sporran loops about three and a half inches long and half an inch wide are made; these are sewn to the pleated section at the back, about a third and two thirds along.
The final step is to add the straps to the edges of the aprons, and the buckles to the pleated section, with the edge of the metal part just half an inch or so shy of touching the edge of the outermost pleat on either side. For a five yard kilt, two buckles are normally used, one each on the under and over aprons, but for 8 yards kilts many kilt makers prefer to use three, adding a second strap a few inches below the first on the over apron with its corresponding buckle to the right of the pleated section.
And at last your traditional Scottish kilt is ready to wear! We very much hope you have enjoyed this thorough explanation of how Scottish kilts are usually made, remember however that every kilt maker will have their own quirks and methods so this process will sometimes vary slightly! As always, we welcome all comments and discussion – perhaps there are some kilt makers reading this – or perhaps it has inspired you to find out more and learn to make a kilt for yourself!
Scottish kilts have a reputation that spreads across the globe! From adventurous ancestors, Scots have now put down roots worldwide and the diaspora has a strong presence in nations as diverse as Australia, Italy, the United States, Poland and Canada! But we haven’t only influenced other nations with our characteristic national dress and reputation for great hospitality – they too have influenced us. The kilt, and Scottish culture in general, is vibrant and modern; always changing in this fast-paced world, and always willing and able to adapt to new situations. Perhaps it is for this reason that kilts remain so fashionable and popular into the modern age!
Read about Kilt And Tartan
One often noted aspect of outside influences on the Scottish kilt is in design variances. Men don’t always want to wear the full, traditional version of the kilt, especially to casual events. Taking notes from American style jeans and military fatigues, utility kilts are fast becoming a popular alternative to the typical tartan kilt. Usually made from a plain coloured canvas or cotton fabric, utility kilts often feature elements such as stud fasteners instead of buckles, box pleats as standard (whereas for tartan kilts, knife pleating remains more common), and even side pockets to negate the necessity of wearing a sporran! Originally most commonly seen in black, and popularised by punk and goth fashions, utility kilts are now available in a range of shades such as khaki or tan, and are in fact very practical garments – allowing for high intensity or dirty activities such as playing sports, hiking, manual labour, and many other things, without worrying about ruining a precious or expensive garment as the traditional kilt tends to be!
Utility kilts are often cooler than traditional ones as well, an added bonus for hot climates or strenuous activity; but many people do still prefer that traditional kilted look. The Scottish diaspora in these hot places have found that using lighter fabrics than the expected 16oz worsted wool can relieve them considerably, and make it possible to wear the important tartan designs that are so meaningful to clansmen and women worldwide. Most commonly men will opt for 13oz wool, or a medium-weight polyviscose fabric as a smart and breathable alternative, although in East Asia and other very hot locations, 10oz wool, cotton and silk tartan fabrics have all been used for men and ladies to display their Scottish heritage. This has meant a change in how the kilt and other garments are worn of course, as very light fabrics cannot really be used to make kilts – but waistcoats, sarongs, even turbans! have all been made in tartan patterns to allow those with proud Scottish links to show their affiliations no matter where they are!
The tartans used in kilts and other garments are hugely important too of course. A hundred or so years ago very few patterns were in use, and by far the most common tartans to be seen were clan or “surname” tartans, linking a person directly to their family of birth. While clan tartans are still massively popular in the present day, many people can no longer trace which clan (if any) they precisely belong to, and might only know of a vague and distant genealogical link to Scotland. Due to this, tartans relating to one’s district, vocation, hobbies and many other aspects making up one’s personality are growing in popularity – with more and more of these registered every year. Naturally, these are especially popular among emigrant Scots who wish to adopt traditional dress while honouring the land that is now their families home, and may have been for several generations. The United States especially has a long list of American-specific tartans, many states have an official design registered for their district, likewise for the armed and emergency services, and many other corporations, universities and clubs are following suit.
In fact, one of the most popular “universal” (can be worn by anyone) tartans was not designed in Scotland; Isle of Skye is a beautiful design honouring the rugged landscape of Skye, but was in fact designed by an Australian (who traced her lineage back there and loved the island so much she eventually moved “back home”). World religions too are represented, with tartans designed to illustrate the faiths of Muslim, Christian, Sikh and Jewish Scots (among others) all being available. The way in which tartan, that most striking example of Scottish design, has been used to portray and represent all these wonderfully diverse different groups of people truly does show how varied and widespread Scottish influence has become, and in turn how Scottish culture and tradition has been shaped and influenced by the different cultures and countries which it has touched.
Do you have a fond memory of a time you influenced or were influenced by Scottishness abroad? Or perhaps you have a story about your life as part of the diaspora, living, possibly even born, outside of Scotland – while holding onto your heritage? As always, we look forward to your comments!
One thing is for sure, as much as we all love and respect the kilt and all its traditional and interesting accessories, it can sometimes be confusing how to put it all together. Kilt outfits are such a long held traditional form of dress in Scotland that people often make the assumption that the knowledge of how it is all worn will naturally already be known.
However these garments and accessories tend to be worn fairly infrequently in modern times, even by the most ardent Highlander, and as they are so different from the usual clothing worn nowadays, it is easy to become confused. Today we will aim to dispel that confusion and explain the best and proper ways to wear your Scottish kilt outfit to look and feel great!
First of all, let’s look at the most important centrepiece of any Scottish outfit – the kilt itself. The waistband of a well-fitting kilt should rest at navel level, or slightly higher, and the selvedge should fall to NO LOWER than mid-knee when you are standing – many traditionalists prefer that the kilt falls no lower than the top of the kneecap, but it is not mandatory to wear it this short. However, a kilt should never completely cover the knee or trail onto the calf under any circumstances; this gives a sloppy and more “skirt-like” appearance to the garment which is (of course) not at all desirable. The other essential piece of information about kilts is of course that the pleats always go at the back! A very obvious piece of information you may think – and we don’t meant to patronise any of our dear readers by pointing this out – but if no one ever tells you, how are you supposed to know? And, as one of the most common errors that even a lay-person will notice, it’s worth mentioning to make sure you always remember this pertinent piece of information!
Next we’ll consider the hose. Traditional kilt hose are long, and the extra length should be folded into the turn-over at the top to make a tidy and padded cuff. There should be a gap of at least a couple of inches between the tops of your hose and the bottom of your kneecap – which is another reason it is important you shouldn’t wear a kilt that is too long for you. When wearing kilt flashes, always remember these go to the outside of your calf, and likewise for your sgian dubh, which is traditionally worn in the right sock, but if you are left-handed it would make sense for you to wear it on that side.
Ghillie brogue laces should be crossed around the calf once and then tied securely at the front or out sides of the legs (as long as both match!). Wrapping the laces around your leg too often can make the brogues look too much like ballet style shoes, and will likely lead to them sliding down, causing you to trip.
The kilt pin can also be a source of distress for many a kilted gentleman. All too often an enthusiastic Scot, getting fully kitted out for the first time, will tweak his kilt aprons into the perfect position and pin them in place with an ornate pin…only to hear a terrible rip the first time he sits down as the aprons try to separate and the wool is torn away from the pin. This type of damage is impossible to fully repair, so please always remember that a kilt pin should be secured through the top apron of the kilt only. A kilt pin is used simply to add a counterweight to the light apron on a kilt, and stop it from blowing around in all but the strongest of winds. They add a decorative aspect as well of course, so by all means choose something which reflects your tastes and style preferences – just don’t allow it to damage your kilt! Another way to minimise damage are to ensure kilt pins are changed or removed as infrequently as possible to avoid stretching the pin holes, or adding extra holes. These same guidelines should be used when considering the use of a fly plaid with plaid brooch, where the brooch should be pinned to the plaid but not your jacket, and used as a counterweight to prevent the plaid from slipping back and off your shoulder.
Finally today, we’ll look at the very uniquely Scottish sporran, the storage bag worn around your waist in place of pockets. These come in a huge variety of colours and styles, but should always be worn centred to the front of your body, with the main pouch of the sporran resting just beneath the pubic bone, or slighter higher if that is more comfortable. The sporran should be held up with suspenders around your belt or, more commonly, a sporran chain – which can be passed through the two belt loops at the back of your kilt waistband to prevent it sliding down. These belt loops should not be used for your kilt belt, which is a purely decorative item that should be placed over the kilt and not pass through any loops at all.
We feel this list is a pretty comprehensive overview of the common pitfalls to avoid when first learning the ropes of Scottish Highland wear, but if you have any questions please feel free to ask in comments as always, or if you have your own advice to give please do share it below!
As we get closer to the Christmas period, many Scots will be thinking of investing in a wool kilt for their loved ones, or for themselves. This traditional garment makes an ideal gift, versatile enough to wear for any special occasion or event (with Hogmany just round the corner, many Scotsmen will very much appreciate a new kilt to wear while ringing in the New Year!) but special enough to be appreciated for many years to come.
However, many people – even Scots – nowadays don’t fully understand how to accurately measure themselves for a kilt, or why kilt measurements and trousers measurements are not interchangeable. There’s nothing worse for a person to get excited about this special item which takes so much care and time to have made, than to have it arrive and find that the length is too long and skirt-like, or the waist is pinching and uncomfortable. So let’s take this opportunity to look at the three most necessary measurements for kilt-making, and how to determine your own measurements easily at home, so you can be guaranteed of the perfect fit.
The first and foremost measurement you will need, for any kilt from off-the-peg casual, to high-end made to measure garments as we are focusing on today, is of course the waist size. This is also the measurement which most people are likely to make a mistake on, due to assuming a kilt waist size will be identical to their trouser waist size. That situation is actually very uncommon, for a variety of reasons, and it is very likely that your true kilt waist size will be at least a couple of inches larger.
To accurately measure your kilt waist size, you first must decide where you want the waistband of the garment to rest. This should be at least at navel level, for most people this is a couple of inches above their normal trouser waistband level, but may be as high as just touching the bottom of your ribs. When taking the measurement stand upright and relaxed and use a soft tape measure to circle firmly around your determined waistband point. Don’t be tempted to overstate your waist measurement for the sake of comfort, as the buckles on a made to measure kilt will be set to equal this firm measurement on the tightest buckle, and allow you to loosen off by up to a couple of inches when required.
Likewise, don’t be shocked if the tape gives you a measurement of a few inches bigger than you expected – the majority of men find that their navel measurement is slightly larger than the upper hip measurement taken for trouser waists, even more so if they are used to wearing trousers from a company who practices so-called “vanity sizing” where the size shown on the label is a bit smaller than the actual measurement of the waistband. This is another reason why it is so important to check your actual waist size before ordering a made to measure kilt.
This measurement is also very important; the seat should be measured around your hips at the widest point, usually across the fullest part of your rear. This measurement means the kilt maker can ensure your kilt flares out enough at the hips to accommodate your movements when walking, while giving an attractive silhouette. Again, don’t be tempted to understate this measurement; if you do you could end up with a kilt which is too tight, causing stress and tears along the seams and pleats.
The length of the kilt is the item men most often get wrong. Again – this measurement is of paramount importance to ensure you get a well-fitting kilt – possibly even more so than the waist and hip measurements, due to how difficult it is to change the length of a kilt. The reason for this difficulty is due to the fact that the vast majority of men’s kilts are un-hemmed, replying on the fabric selvedge to prevent fraying. This means that a too-short kilt cannot be let down, but instead must be picked apart and entirely remade, using the excess fabric rolled into the waistband to add to the length, a very expensive solution. A too-long kilt can either be remade (which, as note, is very expensive), or have a hem added on – though many men don’t like the look of a hemmed kilt so the ideal is to just ensure the length is measured correctly first time!
The best way to do this is to have someone help. You should stand upright and look ahead, while they measure from the point at which you measured your waistband, to where you want it to fall to. A traditional Scottish kilt should fall no lower than the centre of the kneecap, and no higher than the top of the kneecap. For most people this is a very minor difference, so the measuring needs to be quite precise. The most common issue with kilt length is that they are too long, brushing the base of the knee, or even covering the knee completely and rest at shin level. This is easily avoided by measuring carefully though. If you have to measure your kilt length without help, the easiest way is to kneel on the floor in an upright position, holding the tape measure at waistband level, then allowing it to fall to the floor. This measurement will be roughly the middle of your kneecap, and certainly no lower, due to the way you are positioned.
Hopefully this short article has been of use to everyone who is considering treating themselves or a loved one to a special new kilt this Christmas time. The holiday season is a wonderful time to share gifts and appreciate family and cultural traditions, and so it is of course so important to keep our Scottish heritage and culture alive at this time also – passing down knowledge throughout the generations, and making sure our kilted gentlemen look just as great now as they always have!
As Scotland is a nation rich in history and steeped in long-held traditions, it can be difficult sometimes to discern the legends and myth from the truth. Some stories are so outlandish as to be easily identified for the tall tales they are – but some true stories are even more strange seeming! Rumours and myths regarding kilts and tartan are perhaps the most prevalent of all, so let’s examine some of these in detail, and see what the fact and fiction is behind these legends!
Let us begin by examining the confusion over the symbolism behind tartan; as this beautiful, traditional and varied cloth has caused many rumours and legends to spring up around it! First among these is the suggestion that the number of colours in a tartan highlights the rank or overall importance of the person wearing it. This is of course completely untrue, and is easily debunked with just a bit of forethought. For example, most people, when thinking of tartan, think of a clan tartan. The clan tartan is worn by all members of a clan regardless of rank – whether it has three colours or seven! And of course, the chief of clan Douglas is not considered less important than the chief of clan Stewart because he displays fewer colours! This myth may have begun in connection with certain colours in and of themselves denoting wealth, and therefore importance; a poor Scotsman could not have afforded to use saffron to dye yellow threads in his tartan, or to use silk for the pure white threads – however like many things about tartan and kilts, the true reasoning behind this legend is now lost to time.
Also lost to us, is the origination of tartan as a mark of your clan or family origins. Many people think that, to negate the myth that Scotsmen have worn tartan and kilts since ancient times, they have to take the complete opposite attitude and instead state that clan tartans and modern kilts are a pure invention by the quite recent Victorian era! However, the truth is somewhere in between; while the Victorians are certainly responsible for popularising tartan, kilts, and all things Scottish, it was always the case that many Highland clans lived in relative isolation, with all their neighbours being family and having a common tartan. Tartans of this era were what we would now consider “district setts”, that is, the local weaver for that area had his own preferred pattern and so everyone living in that district would wear the same tartan. For these small or isolated clans however, the lines between district and clan tartan were blurred – as the only people living in that district were all also related! It isn’t until the early 1700’s that some evidence is discovered for the possible realigning of tartans along clan lines, and it is not properly confirmed that tartans were now viewed in this way until the year of Culloden, and the subsequent Act of Proscription. This set back the development of clan tartans seriously, and during the Victorian revival of Scottish pride many clansmen had to scramble to find our “their” tartan, with this demand inspiring unscrupulous invention on the part of some weavers. However, it can be considered that the natural evolution of tartan was already heading in the direction we find ourselves today!
Another common trope amongst kilt aficionados is the belief that certain colours have a symbolic meaning. Again, the truth of this rumour lies somewhere between acceptance and denial; old tartans do not have any particular meaning based on their colours, though a meaning may have been later ascribed. Nowadays though many, if not most, modern tartan designers will explain their design choices in terms such as “I chose the blue to represent the Scottish loch near the families home, gold to represent the richness of their harvests, and red to represent the love amongst the family”, the fact is that there is still no fixed meaning for particular shades, and in fact several designers may variously describe the exact same shade of red (or any other colour) as signifying love, blood, rowan berries, or any other connotation!
Finally, let us discuss a couple of kilt outfit myths; firstly the idea that you cannot wear more than one tartan at a time. This one is almost correct – you should not wear the tartan of two different clans at once, and generally speaking for reasons of good taste you should probably avoid wearing other tartans simultaneously as well! Tartan colours can be difficult to match attractively and the clashing patterns don’t help! However, if you are wearing a standard clan tartan kilt you are permitted to wear the hunting version of the same clan tartan for your fly plaid – an odd exception but completely true! Last but not least, of course everyone has heard that old chestnut about what a “real” Scotsman wears under his kilt (not much if the rumours are true!). The simple truth of this statement is that, when kilts were first worn, undergarments were just very uncommon for the average man (or woman) to own! It wasn’t a particular choice or requirement, just an everyday fact of life. Nowadays we do of course have access to a far wider range of attire, and even the kilts itself has changed drastically in design, so underwear is perfectly appropriate – or even recommended! Male Highland dancers for instance are actually required to wear underwear when competing to ensure they don’t accidentally flip their kilt too high and embarrass the judges; and with their skill, athleticism and dedication to Scottish tradition, no one can deny that Highland dancers are the epitome of true Scotsmen! As one kilt enthusiast put it; “If you’re man enough to wear the kilt, you’re gentleman enough to think about the women and children around you”!
So readers, what are your favourite kilt myths? Were you ever taken in by one of these only to find out the truth later? We look forward to your comments!
Though kilts and tartan are hugely popular and famed worldwide nowadays, at one time it was illegal and severely punished for Highland clansmen to wear the traditional garments which Scots hold so dear in present times. This situation came about due to the Act of Proscription, which came into effect in August of 1746 and remained in force for 36 years, effectively destroying an entire generation of Highlanders custom and traditions – after this event the plaid and kilt were never again a part of everyday wear in the Scottish Highlands, a situation further impacted by the imminent Highland Clearances beginning in the 18th Century. However, a renaissance of Highland culture came about during the Victorian era, and although this misunderstood, or embellished certain aspects of the use of tartan in Highland life, this situation led to the admiration and protection of Highland wear through to the present times.
Great Britain was founded by the Acts of Union between the states of England (with Wales) and Scotland 1707. In their second rising, in 1744-45, a group known as Jacobites sought to overthrow the Hanoverian line of monarchs who occupied the British throne, by placing “Prince” Charles of the House of Stuart back on the Scottish throne, which would have effectively divided the nations once more, though this uprising failed. The Jacobites found their most ardent supporters amongst the Highlander clans of Scotland, and so the Act of Proscription of 1746 was an attempt by the English-based government of the time to suppress Highland culture and sense of clan unity, and forbade Highlanders to carry swords, speak Gaelic, play the bagpipes or wear any Highland clothing, or use any tartan style fabric in the making of garments – except among some military groups.
The punishment for multiple offenses was severe – transportation to plantations in overseas colonies (at that time places such as Australia and North America) may have only been for a period of seven years – but the punished would have been expected to pay their own fare to return to Scotland, an almost impossible task for the majority of poor, now ex-convict Scotsmen stranded in a foreign country. This wide scale punishment meted out against a very specific group of British citizens can be seen as the beginning of the Highland Clearances which really took grip in the 1800s, and, though estimates vary, resulted in a population loss of up to 60% among the Highland and Island areas by 1860.
During the time that Proscription was in effect, rumours abounded about methods by which Highlanders tried to retain their sense of clan identity – the most well-known in modern times being the ritual of the Kirkin’ o’ the Tartan. Although the history is very blurred, and there is a chance that this is a modern tradition, the story is interesting and a good illustration of the kind of lengths Highlanders might be expected to go to in attempting to remain loyal to their chieftain and to God – the only two sources of authority most Highlanders felt they owed fealty to (with this attitude being another source of concern for the British monarchy and government). The legend goes that, during the 36 years of Proscription, during the Sunday service at their local parish, Highlanders would secret a piece of tartan under their drab “English” clothing, for it to be blessed by their minister. The Highlanders would touch the hidden fabric at a pre-appointed time during the benediction, thus rededicating themselves to God and their Scottish heritage. This ritual is now once again popular, especially in among the diaspora populations of North America, although of course this is no longer performed in secret and instead is seen as a proud way to publicly declare your heritage, while remembering the difficulties faced by previous generations.
The ban was eventually lifted in 1782, due to the effects of the Clearances beginning to take hold in de-populating the Highlands, and because Highland clothing and tartan was no longer seen as a threat. However, within a couple of years, Highland landowners set up Societies with aims including promotion of “the general use of the ancient Highland dress”. The Celtic Society of Edinburgh, chaired by the author Walter Scott, encouraged lowlanders to join in this enthusiasm, and to see Scots as a complete nation where all members could take pride in, and wear, the kilt. These efforts had been so successful that, for the 1822 visit of King George IV, the kilt was strongly identified with pride and pageantry in the national consciousness, despite only 10% of the population now living in the Highlands. Also around this time, family or clan tartans sprang into use (prior to this tartans were associated with specific regions rather than clans – though the two did sometimes overlap).
After this point the kilt gathered momentum as an emblem of Scottish culture; King George IV appeared in a spectacular kilt, and his successor Queen Victoria dressed her boys in the kilt, and acquired Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire – cementing the Royal Family’s love and appreciation for Scotland which continues to this day. The kilt became part of the Scottish national identity and since then has only gained popularity world-wide, now holding the proud distinction of being one of the only forms of national dress still worn as everyday clothing. However, Scots will always remember the impact that the Act of Proscription had in subduing the original culture of the Highlanders, and fight to ensure that the kilt, and all other aspects of Highland dress, as are well protected as possible going into the future.