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Tartan Ferret
White hose - an abomination!

How to wear the kilt

It's very easy for we rather straight-laced Scots to shudder at some of the sights we see at Highland games outside Scotland - kilted apparitions wearing everything they could find in the Hollywood wardrobes department and wearing it proudly, totally unaware that it may have reduced them to a figure of fun in some eyes. Now . . . it's not up to us to dictate how you should celebrate your roots, so please just look upon this basic advice from the old country as helping you to avoid provoking pitying looks or sniggers from any Highland forebears watching over you from that great Brigadoon in the sky!

The most important points to bear in mind before you even get measured up for a kilt are, that Highland dress is not a uniform (unless you're in a Scottish regiment or a pipe band) and neither is it fancy dress. You should look upon a kilt as an alternative to trousers and wear it accordingly. If you want to wear it with a summer T-shirt and bare legs ending in flip-flops, then feel free to do so. If you fancy it with a polo short and Nike trainers, then why not! Just as with trousers, how you wear it depends upon the circumstances; T-shirt and flip-flops won't go down too well at Granny's funeral and you would want to show appropriate respect by 'dressing up' somewhat: wearing long stockings (hose), smart shoes, sporran, collar and tie or open-necked shirt and - if the weather allows, a suitable kilt jacket. Similarly, when it comes to evening wear, you'll want to make an effort and look as smart as possible - both from a personal pride point of view and to do justice to your no doubt glamorously dressed companion. Here again, less is more. Festooning yourself with sword, dirk, targe, powder horn and - a cardinal sin - feathers in your bonnet, are not the way to go.

Now you will come across individuals in Scotland and the States who can be likened to barrack-room lawyers who seem to know everything about what you should and shouldn't wear and how you should do it. They want to preserve the old fashioned image of Highland dress and will regale you with their 'regulations' at the drop of a hat. Listen politely but don't be intimidated. Highland dress isn't preserved in aspic, it's a living, evolving fashion and adding one's own distinctive touches to it prevents us all becoming homogenised. . . . as long as the touches don't belittle the dress that you're wearing and cause offence to others who hold their heritage dear.

Space doesn't allow going into the finer details of each element of Highland dress so perhaps I can dip in here and there and mention some of the most frequent areas of confusion:
There shouldn't be any need to actually point out that a kilt is not a skirt, but having seen the embarrassing sight of a Canadian school pipe band visiting Scotland with the poor boys dressed in billowing TARTAN SKIRTS, perhaps it does need to be mentioned in passing.

It should also be mentioned that the pleats go to the back! Insulting your intelligence you might think? You wouldn't say that if you'd seen Virgin Atlantic boss Richard Branson ( a 'Brit') alighting from one of his trains in Edinburgh last year with his kilt on back to front! It got caught in a door handle, one of his aides claimed. As we scornfully say in Scotland: 'That'll be right!"

When it comes to those long stockings we call hose, ignore the fact that Sean Connery and thousands of Scots don't know any better and wear sparkling white - don't you do it! How this predilection came about can probably be blamed on kilt hire companies who, like Henry Ford and his 'any colour you like as long as it's black', offer you any colour you like as long as it's white! For them it makes sense and cuts down enormously on the stock they must hold. Aesthetically however, gleaming white hose destroys the look of Highland dress. Hose should be coloured and should blend in with the tartan being worn whether you're in day or evening wear. For the latter, black hose is probably the best since it's odds on that you'll be wearing a black jacket. Whitish hose is not taboo altogether - the off-white , creamy colour of undyed yarn goes extremely well with some kilts.

We mentioned feathers in one's bonnet earlier and should emphasise that it's viewed as the worst possible taste to wear eagle feathers in your bonnet to which you're not entitled. They're not fancy dress and have a long established significance in Scotland that shouldn't be trampled on. Here's what the late Sir Iain Moncreiffe of that Ilk had to say on the subject:

"The convention has long been established that a chief wears three eagle feathers, the chieftains of cadet* branches and Feudal Barons* wear two and the gentleman (armigers*) of the clan may wear one feather. The Sovereign, as Chief of Chiefs, wears four.") Lecture over!!!!

The subject of Highland dress can occupy a complete book - in fact the late Charles Thompson proved it by writing 'So you're going to wear the kilt?' and one piece of advice that many of us on this side of the Atlantic would disagree with is his assertion that 'At the very longest, the kilt should reach only to the top of the knee.' At that height it tends to lose its elegance and its admired swing and fills onlookers with trepidation in case the wearer should bend over too far. Which brings us to that well-worn music hall joke about what's worn under the kilt.

There are certainly Scottish regiments in which it is an offence to wear underpants or shorts unless special conditions aply - Highland dancing or hurricanes. In fact, the writer's father who was a drill sergeant in one such regiment had a car wing mirror fitted onto the end of his pace stick and would walk along the parade line to ensure that everyone was appropriately undressed!

However . . . we're skirting the main question here. Should male kiltwearers go breeched or unbreeched? Here's some advice from American Bob Martin, KIlt historian and kiltmaker of many decades experience.

Now, to the breeching of the kilt. The only good and sensible reasonfor the wearing of undies (and I do mean undies, NOT Bermuda shorts,basketball shorts, etc.) with the kilt is out of deference to someoneor something. Many men may feel, and with good cause, that should theirkilts fly up, exposing them to the world, it would be an embarrassmentto their wives or children.

Many men may wear underwear out of consideration for the generalpublic which, perhaps, might be embarrassed, especially here in theStates. The deference may be for the man's church, Or his employer, oreven for himself. Though a man may very well desire to wear his kiltunbreeched, he must be respected and not chided for putting his ownwants second. Some men, on the other hand, must wear underwear withtheir kilts for medical or physical reasons. Whatever the reason, noexplanation should be required.

Problems sometimes arise with kilt-wearers when people, mostly infun, attempt to find out for themselves what there is beneath the kilt.I feel these attempts occur mostly with the younger set of kilted men.With older men, the tries would be far fewer, if at all. I've never hadmy kilt touched by strangers with the thought in mind of seeing whatthere was to see. If one is rather embarrassed to wear the kilt inpublic, and shows it, then that one had best be prepared for suchonslaughts or leave the kilt at home. I believe one's self-assuredbearing has very much to do with the public's reaction to seeing thekilt. Of course, the entire affair can be handled by ignoring thesituation. After all, it's the other person's problem, not ours, isn'tit?

To supplement Bob's comments we would just add one further point - a rather distasteful one, but one that needs saying nevertheless. Many kilthire shops tell nightmarish tales of the state of kilts received back after being worn by unbreeched hirers. For new kilt-wearers, the skill of toiletting is not an instantly acquired ability and that frequently  leaves its mark!

*An armiger is a person entitled to bear heraldic arms i.e. he has his own coat of arms granted by a competent heraldic authority. Feudal barons are individuals who may have inherited - or bought - an old barony (a parcel of land gifted by royalty with the title of Baron.) Baronies can be bought and sold and the title of Baron passes with the property. Cadet branches are sub branches of the main clan.

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In the context of kilts, breeching refers to the wearing of shorts or underpants beneath the kilt.In early America an important rite of passage in the lives of small boys was the moment they wore breeches or trousers for the first time. In infancy and early childhood, boys and girls were relegated to the feminine domestic circle and were dressed alike in petticoats, gowns, pinafores, and caps. Sometime between the ages of four and seven, however, boys were encouraged to acquire a masculine identity as they donned clothing that set them apart, gave them physical freedom, and indicated their dominant social position. For more on this indelicate topic see 'What's Down Under?'





Chieftain's hat with two eagle feathers.


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