The Secret History of: the Scottish kilt
With the exception of the Loch Ness monster, no other Scottish icon is as enigmatic and contentious as the kilt. Read on to discover why
DESPITE SUGGESTIONS TO the contrary in Braveheart, the kilt is not the timeless, ancestral dress of all Scotsmen. Before it was enshrined as part of Scottish national dress in the 19th century, it divided opinion across the country. The majority Lowland population tended to think of it as barbaric, calling its bare-legged wearers ‘redshanks’, while Highlanders in turn saw trousers as ‘unmanly’. The wearing of kilts in Scotland was banned after the Jacobite rebellion of 1745; until the ban was lifted later that century, the penalty was six months’ imprisonment if caught, while repeat offenders would get seven years’ transportation to the colonies. The kilt’s return to official favour came in 1822, when King George IV paid the first visit to Scotland by a reigning British monarch in almost two centuries. The much-caricatured king was encouraged by the Romantic writer Sir Walter Scott to wear a kilt – although the skin-coloured tights he paired it with were a departure from Highland custom. Tartan patterns became formalised in the early 19th century. Since then new designs have been added, and the official Scottish Register of Tartans (yes, there is one) now lists thousands of patterns, including ones for Heineken, Domino’s Pizza and the Canadian Dental Association. If you want a kilt of your own, but can’t claim Scottish roots – let alone Highland clan ancestry – tradition still allows you to wear ‘universal tartans’, such as the Black Watch or Flower of Scotland. The one shown here, the Stewart Hunting tartan, associated with the royal house of Stewart, is an off-duty style and appropriate for anyone to wear.
Sporrans have been around longer than kilts have – these medieval-style pouches turned out to be a handy alternative to the pockets that traditional kilts lack. They also act as a strategically placed weight in windy weather. The average man’s kilt uses eight yards (7.3 metres) of fabric at 28 inches wide. For a good-quality one, expect to pay at least £300 – and that’s before you include accessories, like sporrans. and Highland games events. laws regulating offensive weapons.