Both the above figures are by R.R. McIan in 1842 and the
barefooted Sinclair girl on the right is wearing, not an arisaid,
but a plaid scarf. The 1842 notes attached to this illustration
read: " The figure is a Highland girl and that she is unmarried we
see indiciated by her hair being bound by the stem or snood. She is
also barefooted, the want of covering being no mark of low
circumstances, but agreeably to a practice still very common. Her
gown is of a blue home-made manufacture; a mixture of linen and
wool, which forms a very economical and pretty material. A plaid
scarf of about three yards in length, is worn over the head,
falling down gracefully before. This was usually fastened by a
brooch of silver, brass or copper, on the breast and ladies were
wont to indicate their political principles by the manner in which
it was worn."
Most arisaids were not thought to be tartan but were usually
plain with a coloured border, or striped as shown on the rather
more affluent - see the buckled shoes - Urquhart lady on the left.
The comments on the Urquhart figure said "The arisaid was
usually of lachdan*, or of a saffron hue, but it was also striped,
with various colours according to taste."
At the risk of being accused of gender bias, it has to be said
that in Highland Dress, the human species seems to have reverted to
Nature's simple ways with the male being dressed in multi-coloured
splendour and the poor female being relegated to a relatively drab
role. The wearing of a bulky kilt is not the most flattering of
fashion items for women and with the loss of that centrepiece of
Highland Dress, the choice of traditional day wear is limited to
conventional clothing either in tartan or with a tartan
theme. When it comes to 'evening dress' the situation improves
fairly dramatically with the option of inspiring tartan dresses or the much simpler tartan sashes.
Highland women wore something very similar to the men's plaid
called the earasaid, the English form of which is arisaid. (pr:
arisade). It was much finer and longer than the plaid and reached
down to the ground and would be worn over a thick, long-sleeved
petticoat. The arisaid was usually white with larger and brighter
patterns than the men's.
A woman would pleat the arisaid just like the man pleated his
plaid. She would then fix it around her waist with a belt and wrap
the spare material around her shoulders and fix it with a pin in
the front. There was usually enough material left to form a hood
that could be pulled up in bad weather. On top of the arisaid she
would often wear a tartan shawl called a tonnag. The arisaid was
warm and comfortable and was excellent for wrapping up babies and
keeping them cosy against their mother's body.
It's said that some women would doze off in church hidden inside
the arisaid hood which upset the clergymen so much so that some of
them tried to stop women wearing it at all.
A married woman wore a kertch (in Gaelic - breid caol. )
This was made of linen and was like a modern headsquare: it was
rolled from one corner into the middle and the thick band which was
made was put round the head and pinned into the hair to stop it
falling down. The remaining triangular piece of linen would hang
down onto the neck. Women who weren't married wore what was called
a snood (Gaelic - stiom. ) which was a length of ribbon
which passed under the girl's hair at the back of her head, and was
tied in a bow on top. A married woman's hair would often be curled
in locks, tied with ribbons and allowed to hang down on her cheeks.
Some women wore a 'mutch' which was a frilled bonnet. At
one time, a fashionable lady might have worn pleated stockings
called osain, no doubt warm but hardly flattering in that
theymade her legs look like big tubes.
*Lachdan - dun, tawny, bronzes, sallow etc.
The figure illustrative of the Mac
Nicols, represents a Banarach or Dairy-maid, who bears in her hand
the vessel called cuman, which receives the milky tribute of the
fold. The dress is such as usually seen among young persons; the
chief peculiarity is the Tonag or Guail-leachan, as it is otherwise
called, from being worn over the shoulders.
It is, as represented, a square piece of tartan resembling a
shawl, but smaller, and is a useful article of female attire both
for warmth and protection from the rain. The pattern is from a web,
home-made by Mrs. Cameron, wife of the schoolmaster, of Kil, in
Morven. The silver brooch fastens it in front, an ornament prized
by both sexes in the highlands, often valuable, and transmitted as
an heirloom through many successive generations. The striped
pattern in her dress is much esteemed by the smarter Cailleagan,
and the colours are often rich and very tastefully blended.
* lachdann -ainne, a. Dun, tawny, swarthy, dingy, khaki,
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