The Dos And Don’ts Of Wearing A Kilt
Cape Town, South Africa, 2003. Photograph by Mr Gary Houlder/Getty Images
How to wear Scotland’s most famous article of clothing. Underwear optional.
Scotland’s most famous item of clothing hit the headlines in mid-April when One Direction’s Mr Harry Styles wore a kilt during a concert in Glasgow. Was this an act of cultural appropriation, or a heartfelt tribute? Did he nail it as an outfit, and can other non-Scots follow his lead and wear a kilt, at a wedding for example?
Mr Harry Styles at the SSE Hydro, Glasgow, 14 April 2018. Photograph by Mr Wattie Cheung/Camera Press
The original “great” kilt (filleadh mór in Gaelic) was a 6m length of cloth worn around the shoulders and fastened at the waist with a leather belt. It became popular with Scots in the Highlands, a then wild and undeveloped region with little contact with the rest of the country, in the 1600s. In the 18th century, the “little” kilt (filleadh beg) gained popularity, and that is the form worn today. In the past, the kilt was so central to Scots identity that between 1747 and 1782 the British government made it illegal for anyone but soldiers to wear one, in a bid to suppress nationalist feeling.
Now that wearing a kilt is no longer a political act, who has the right to wear one? The surprising answer, apparently, is everyone. Generally speaking, Scots are happy to share the kilt with the world, perhaps because it, like whisky, is so indubitably Scottish that its cultural potency can’t be diminished. Mr Kyle Blair is a sales assistant at Kinloch Anderson, Scotland’s foremost Highland dress supplier and kilt-maker to HRH The Prince of Wales. When asked who can wear a kilt, his reply is succinct and unequivocal. “Anyone.” Mr Blair does not regard the wearing of kilts by sassenachs (English people) or other non-Scots, as cultural appropriation. His only caution is that it’s important when choosing a fabric for a kilt to respect private tartans that belong to one family or organisation and instead go for an “open” tartan that’s available to all comers. Any good kiltmaker will be able to provide guidance.
Prince Charles at Muick Falls, Glen Muick, Balmoral Castle Estate, 16 August 1997. Photograph by Mr Tim Graham/Getty Images
Sharing the kilt with the world is made much easier because the codes around how it’s worn are relaxed to the point of being non-existent. MR PORTER readers know there’s an etiquette attached to the wearing of black tie or morning dress, but when it comes to kilts, Mr Blair says “there’s no right or wrong answer”. There’s usually a wide variety of outfits on display at any Scottish wedding, and men can and will wear what they like.
It’s not just the outfits that vary. The garments do, too. No kilt jacket, the short tailored jacket traditionally worn with a kilt (1), needs epaulettes, but any kilt jacket could have them. Black barathea (a weave of wool used for formal garments) jackets (2) are worn in the evening, but green velvet jackets are equally appropriate. For guys used to having firm rules that govern what they should wear, this freedom can be challenging. So here are a few suggestions for what to wear with a kilt. It might feel like a reach for a non-Scot, but personal experience tells me that wearing one is a great way to get attention.
Whichever outfit you go for, don’t forget the sporran – avoid cheap metalwork and go for dark brown leather – sgian-dubh (an ornamental dagger) and some sort of kilt pin.
As for what to wear under a kilt, we suggest you stick with your regular underwear until such time as you get used to the inadvertent exposure that can come from wearing a knee-length skirt. Better to concentrate on finessing your outfit, and enjoying the acclaim that will ensue, because this is a 300-year-old garment that’s highly relevant in 2018. Just ask Mr Styles, who was widely lauded for his recent foray into Scots fashion.
A gathering of the clans
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