What Is The Kilt? (Traditional Scottish Clothing)
When you think of Scotland, you probably think of three things: haggis, bagpipes, and kilts. Although these are stereotypes, they unquestionably shape the nation’s identity and history. The most visible of them all? It has to be the kilt—a staple of Highland dress for men. A “true Scotsman” wears his kilt with pride and honor because it represents his heritage and tradition. This Scottish clothing icon is still worn at weddings, christenings, and military parades.
But how much do you know about the history of the kilt? What Is The Kilt?
We consider ourselves tartan virtuosos here at Lochcarron. As a result, we like to think we know a thing or two about kilts.
As a result, we’ve compiled a brief history of this distinctive Scottish garment.
What is the kilt?
A skirt-type garment with pleats at the back that originated in the traditional dress of men and boys in the Scottish Highlands in the 16th century.
Since the nineteenth century, the kilt has been associated with Scottish and Gaelic cultures.
Kilts are frequently made of tartan-patterned woollen cloth.
This Scottish outfit is typically worn at formal events, but competitors also wear it at the Highland Games. These heavy athletics, dancing, track and field tournaments are held every weekend in the Scottish summer in a variety of islands, towns, villages, and cities across the country.
SEE MORE: The History of Scottish Clans & 10 Most Common Scottish Surnames
Kilts are recognized all over the world as the Scottish national dress. They are a symbol of patriotism and national identity, with deep cultural and historical roots. Scots proudly wear kilts as a tribute to their heritage all over the world.
However, this was not always the case.
For many years, the kilt was widely regarded as savage garb, confined entirely to the Highlands. The Lowlanders, who make up the majority of Scots, thought this type of clothing was barbaric. They despised those who wore it, calling them’redshanks’.
The word ‘kilt’ derives from the Scots word ‘kilt,’ which means to tuck clothes around the body. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the Scots word is Scandinavian in origin, deriving from the Ancient Norse word ‘kjalta,’ which means pleated.
The question is, how did these tartan skirts become so popular?
How did it develop?
The kilt, like most other pieces of clothing, has evolved over the centuries. The kilt we know today (the small kilt) has its origins in the late 1600s, as the ‘great kilt’.
The kilt itself has a history that dates back at least a century.
The magnificent kilt
The belted plaid (Breacan an Fhéilidh) or great kilt (Feileadh Mr) first appeared at the end of the 16th century as a full-length garment whose upper half could be worn as a cloak draped over the shoulder or brought over the head as a hood.
The belted plaid had many advantages due to the inclement weather and treacherous terrain of the Scottish Highlands. It was warm, allowed for movement, served as a cloak against the elements, dried quickly, and could provide adequate over-night blanketing. You may recognize this early version of the kilt from Mel Gibson’s award-winning film Braveheart, in which his character, William Wallace, a staunch patriot and defender of Scottish liberty, proudly wears a belted plaid to demonstrate his dedication to the Scottish cause.
However, this portrayal is grossly inaccurate because the great kilt did not exist until around 300 years after Wallace’s death.
Still, it gives you an idea of what this large piece of blanket-like fabric looks like.
The Little Kilt
The modern knee-length tartan kilt closely resembles the small kilt or walking kilt, which did not emerge until the late 17th or early 18th century.
The small kilt or walking kilt (fèileadh beag), essentially the bottom half of a great kilt, became popular in the Highlands and northern Lowlands by 1746, though the great kilt (or belted plaid) remained popular.
Who made the kilt?
Although not without controversy, a letter published in the Edinburgh Magazine credits Thomas Rawlinson, a Quaker from Lancashire, with the invention of the modern-day kilt. Rawlinson, an English ironmaster who was described as a “man of genius and quick parts,” hired Highlanders to work at his furnaces near Inverness.
His workers wore the great kilt at first. Rawlinson, on the other hand, thought the belted plaid was too ‘cumbrous and unwieldy’ for smelting iron ore and making charcoal. On the basis of efficiency and practicality, he designed a kilt out of the lower half of the belted plaid to function as a separate garment with pleats already sewn in. The small kilt, also known as the walking kilt, was created.
The kilt was worn by Rawlinson and his business partner, Ian MacDonnell (chief of the MacDonnells of Glengarry), with the clansmen following their chief’s lead.
The tartan skirt-like garment quickly became popular.
Rawlinson’s kilt is notable for being the first documented example of a small kilt with sewn-in pleats, which are a distinguishing feature of today’s kilt.
Prior to Rawlinson
Of course, many Scots deny that the kilt was invented by an Englishman. Indeed, there is evidence that the kilt was worn prior to Rawlinson’s time. The portrait of Kenneth Sutherland, 3rd Lord Duffus, for example, appears to indicate an earlier use of the walking kilt. However, there are disagreements within the Historiographical community about the origins of the modern-day kilt, with some experts disagreeing.
Lord Dacre’s claims about the kilt, according to Michael Fry, an eminent Scottish historian, ‘prove absolutely nothing’. Fry claims there is evidence that Tartan was worn in the Middle Ages, but he also calls Lord Dacre a “not-so-reliable guide to Scottish history.”
As with any historical example, the accounts of who invented Scotland’s iconic symbol are inconsistent.
Which of the following accounts do you believe is the most plausible? In any case, the debate over this contentious and patriotically charged issue continues.
The 1746 Dress Act
The Dress Act of 1746 outlawed all items of Highland Dress, including the kilt, not long after its invention (or Diskilting Act).
To avoid the bloody battles of the past, the act was passed in the aftermath of the Jacobite Uprising in an attempt to suppress Highland culture and bring warrior clans under government control. An exception was made for the British Army’s Highland Regiments, which were given different tartans to help them be identified.
Anyone who violated the ban received a six-month prison sentence for their first offense. They were to be transported to any of His Majesty’s plantations beyond the sea for a period of seven years for their second.’
During the ban, it became fashionable for Scottish romantics to protest by wearing kilts.
The Diskilting Act was repealed in 1782, thanks to the efforts of the Highland Society of London. Kilts and tartans were no longer common Highland wear at the time, paving the way for new interpretations of Highland Dress.
As a result, a new Highlander persona was born. They became admirable, kilted versions of the ‘noble savage,’ no longer bare-legged, dangerous barbarians.
This romanticized vision of Scottish Highlanders was a reaction to urban and industrialization, as well as a celebration of the untamed wilderness.
Kilts of various styles
The kilt is well-known for its vibrant tartan designs. However, not everyone who wore one could afford such adorned patterns throughout history.
Depending on the wearer’s wealth, historical Scottish clothing was worn. They were either plain wool or colored in various check tartan designs.
Many of the original wearers couldn’t afford to buy elaborate designs. After all, this Scottish traditional dress was primarily used for practical purposes (not ceremonial as it is considered today).
Here are some additional examples:
The traditional garment, either in its historical form or in the modern adaptation that is now common in Scotland.
The Irish kilt, but in a single (solid) color, as worn by Irish pipe bands.
Various female school uniforms
Other Celtic nations developed variations of the Scottish kilt, such as the Welsh cilt and the Cornish cilt.
Let’s look more closely at the Scottish kilt…
The Scottish kilt is distinctive in terms of design, construction, and convention.
A tailored garment is one that wraps around the wearer’s body at the natural waist (between the lowest rib and the hip) starting from one side (usually the wearer’s left), around the front and back, and across the front to the opposite side.
This design includes the modern kilt, which is commonly seen at formal events, military parades, and Highland Games.
A traditional Scottish kilt is made of worsted wool and has a twill weave. The fabric now has a distinct diagonal-weave pattern. Tartan is a pattern that is woven in a specific sett or color.
This is where we step in. As tartan experts, we offer three different weights, each of which serves a different purpose.
Tartan can be used in a variety of DIY arts and crafts these days.
The tartan pattern, or sett, is perhaps the most noticeable feature of an authentic Scottish kilt. Individual clans or families have been associated with specific patterns for centuries.
Tartan patterns are now designated for organizations, societies, districts, and counties. There are also sections for universities, schools, sports, and individuals.
To wear or not to wear underwear?
It is widely assumed that a “true Scotsman” wears nothing beneath his kilt.
‘The reason is that it is very warm and cosy swathed in all that pure wool,’ writes Craig Murray for the Independent. It’s actually too hot down there. Underwear would be – well, sticky.’ The Scottish Tartans Authority, on the other hand, claims that the practice is “childish and unsanitary” and that “‘going commando’ defies decency.”
Today’s Traditional Scottish Dress
You may have seen men wearing kilts instead of trousers at formal events such as weddings, christenings, and graduations. There are even mini-skirt versions of the garment available for women.
Kilts are also worn at Hogmanay and the Highland Games in Scotland.
The Kilt is a long-standing and well-respected Scottish symbol. As a result, it is only fitting that its rich history be remembered and celebrated.
Topic: What Is The Kilt? (Traditional Scottish Clothing)
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