Friday, 28 January 2011


I can't believe we've got to the last day of the party without talking in any detail about kilts!

I know the wearing of kilts fascinates the rest of the world, but why in the world do Scotsmen wear them?

Well, actually, they don't wear them nearly as often as you might think! Big party occasions like weddings and New Year, traditional events like Highland games, pipe band marches, or formal events where other people might wear evening dress, are the times you're most likely to see them in any quantities

They've become a symbol of "Scottishness", of patriotism, but it might surprise you to know that the original kilt looked very little like the Highland dress of today! Today's  kilts, grew out of a romanticized version of what was basically poor Highland peasant costume, and Sir Walter Scott generally gets the credit for "inventing" it!

The irony is that Lowland gentlemen, and noblemen, would at once time have despised the kilt as the garb of the Highland lower orders. It was basically a blanket, often brightly coloured, that could be slept under at night, and then wrapped around the body and pinned for day wear. And yet, in the early years of Queen Victoria's reign, it became fashionable for all Scotsmen from whatever region, including those of the highest rank, to wear a new, romanticized version of the once despised kilt. Why?

Basically, a resurgence of Scottish pride. The Jacobite Rebellion had somewhat unfairly tarred the entire Scottish nation with the same brush of disloyalty and rebellion. Highland culture, in terms of language and dress, was outlawed, and it was very hard for Scots  to thrive in this general atmosphere of mistrust. Victoria, however, fell in love with the Highlands, and with Sir Walter Scott's romantic view of Scottish history. At least partly as a result, the Scots as a whole adopted Highland symbols like the kilt, to represent their own patriotism, their newly rediscovered  pride in their own nation.

And if nothing else, you have to agree that they're fun :).


  1. Does 'Highland dress' = 'kilt'? Once a month for the last few years I've been sending out Summons to Masonic meetings that always include the injunction: "Dress: Highland dress, dinner jacket or dark suit with black tie, white gloves."

    For our formal meetings one or two Scots (and one or two Japanese or Chinese) show up in kilts, sporrans, etc., but many go for tartan trousers and vests.

    Is there such a thing as 'Lowland dress'? Also, am I right in assuming that the current proliferation of colourful tartans is relatively new, part of the Victorian revival?

    I'm having trouble focusing on things Scottish as I've just begun to dig into Karen Marie Moning's "Fever" series and am psychologically stuck in Dublin. :)

  2. Hi Jud!

    Good question! I think most people probaby equate Highland dress with kilts, but yes, you do occasionally see tartan trousers (trews) as an alternative. I suspect (although I'm open to correction!) trews to be a cop-out for men who just can't bring themselves to wear a skirt :), possibly because they believe their bare legs don't look good enough for public show!

    No, I've never heard of Lowland dress. Historically, Lowlanders would have dressed much like their English counterparts, so Highland dress is what makes Scots different - clothes-wise at least!

    Unfortunatley, I'm not an expert in the history of Scottish fabrics, but I think basic tartan designs, whether bright or not, were probably worn for as long as they could dye the wool. But the idea of particular tartan designs and colours belonging solely to particular clans, is certainly a Victorian invention.

    On the other hand, it seems perfectly possible to me that someone before this period might well have been able to recognize other people as members of a certain clan from their dress, just because the design or colours were common to a particular region where that family held sway. The rigid clan tartan invention might well have grown out of this. To my way of thinking :)


  3. Very interesting Marie. Thanks for sharing.

  4. I love kilts. Something about a guy in a kilt-- and then when they talk and that accent comes out I just want to well...find out what's under the kilt. *snort*

  5. :) There's a hint in the final picture, Brenda! Thanks for stopping by!


  6. There is something I like about a man who wearing a kilt.


  7. I love kilts. There is just something so sexy about them and the men wearing them. Thanks for the history lesson on kilts. It was fun.

  8. That last photo is one of my favorite "kilt"
    pictures! I'm so jealous of the other photos,
    Sean Connery and the other fellow have better
    looking knees than mine!

    Pat Cochran

  9. Loretta, there certainly is! :)

    You're weclome, She - glad you enjoyed it!

    And mine, Pat :(. Still happy to oggle other knees though :).


  10. The whole thing about tartans becoming identified with specific clans was due to Sir Walter Scott organising King George IV's visit to Scotland in 1822.

    Clan Chiefs then started to gather samples of tartans produced by weavers in the area they owned and claimed the patterns as belonging to that clan. The patterns would have been around a lot earlier than this as the weaves were used by weavers for generations, and were dyed with whatever was available locally.

    The creation of the different variations, such as 'ancient' were only introduced after the 1840s. 'Ancient' realistically means that the colours are more dull than the standard pattern. There are also dress tartans that contain white (is it is not supposed to get dirty), something that only came about even more recently.

    When thinking about Scottish Culture, the stereotype fitted the Highland people, Lowlanders are exactly the same as English culture.

    Most importantly, everything in the film Braveheart is wrong.