Scottish Kilts

Through the Ages – Scottish Tartans and Kilts

People have worn kilts all through the ages. Romans and Egyptians, Irish and Scottish have the kilt in their history as well as many other civilizations and countries.

It seems that men wore kilts as they were easy to make and required little or no stitching. A six-foot piece of material was cut and then wrapped around the body, belted at the waist and slung over a shoulder, tied or secured with a pin.

Women would have worn skirts or kilts as well in cooler countries whilst in warm places such as Egypt they actually wore very little!

The Scottish kilt is an instantly recognizable feature of a nation that many count as their own through ancestors.

The kilt was known in Gaelic as philabeg and was worn in a very basic way. It was made of wool and was a very warm, versatile and hardwearing piece of clothing that could double as a blanket for those cool Highland nights.

The actual kilt was designed in the 1800’s as the old style was deemed to be impractical. A plaid with pleats sewn into it was designed and became popular with most people.

The kilt that we recognize today was actually created by English tailors during Queen Victoria’s reign and it’s popularity is something that has grown as time has passed.

The Scottish tartans are a way of identifying which clan you belong to. After the fall of the Stuart Clan in 1688 the English Government decided that they should take more of an interest in the affairs of the Highlands.

In 1707 the Act of Union took place and the wearing of plaid reached to the Lowlands. The people of the Lowlands had previously not worn plaid but took to doing so, as it became a symbol of nationalism.

By 1747 the Government was very wary of a Highland uprising and introduced the Dress Act which meant that wearing any Highland dress in public was an offence.

Anyone caught wearing a kilt or any form of plaid was punished with a six-month imprisonment followed by a seven-year exile to an overseas work farm for a second offence!

The Dress Act was finally repealed in 1783 and the people were free to wear their plaids again. So much time had passed however that many of the traditions that went along with the Celtic Highland Dress had been forgotten and altered.

Wearing plaid was no longer a normal everyday way of life for the Highlanders and many started to wear it for special occasions or just to display their nationalistic feelings.

Many English began to wear plaids as a fashion experiment and soon people the world over were wearing kilts and plaids just because they thought it was a quaint thing to do.

Everyone now wants to have a history to their lives and something to be proud about and the romance and mystery of Scotland, it’s pipes and clans, it’s hills and lochs appeal to people the world over.

Many Canadians, Americans, even Japanese have their own tartans and some sports teams have developed their own plaid!

Tartans or plaids have been used by the Celts for many thousands of years and stripes and checks were possibly used to signify rank among the Scoti who settled Western Scotland in the 5th Century.

The Scottish tartans and plaids might also have derived from French cloth called tartaine, which is said to have been introduced to Scotland in the middle ages.

It is not entirely clear how various Clans developed their own plaids but it seems that it was a natural way to differentiate one Clan from the other in the days when Clan would fight against Clan.

William Wilson was a supplier of cloth to the Army. He lived in the Lowlands and developed different patterns of plaid that were given numbers but became popular in certain areas of Scotland and were then adopted as that areas or Clan’s tartan.

Many of these tartans were adopted by Clans and took over from the ancient ones that they had worn for many years. A lot of tartans that were worn by Clans at battles such as those at Sheriffmuir or Culloden have been lost forever.

With continuing and growing popularity, many tartans are now available in ‘ancient’, modern, hunting and dress styles and most British surnames can be associated with a Clan and a tartan.

The Scots still wear their plaids and kilts with pride and this tradition has been embraced by people the world over.

What you choose to wear under your kilt however is another matter…

Join us soon for another Through the Ages.