Kilt history

The exact origins of the kilt are lost in the mists of time but what is certain is that the kilt is the world-renowned national dress of Scotland, a powerful symbol of Scotland's culture, history and national identity. Among national dress, the kilt is unique in that non-Scots have taken to wearing it as formal dress for special occasions, the only national dress that is worn in almost every country in the world by individuals not of that national origin.

The original kilt was a large, wrap-around kilt known as the feileadh mhór (philamore) or "big wrap". It was also referred to as the feileadh Breacain or the Belted Plaid. In the 1800s the kilt evolved into something like what is worn today. In Gaelic it is known as the feileadh beag (philabeg) or little wrap.

The original feileadh mhór was a plaid garment worn only by Highlanders. It consisted of about 6 yards of wool material about two yards wide. The word 'plaid', as originally used, does not mean tartan or checked material. In Gaelic, plaid is a blanket, not a distinctive checked pattern which is what we in North America mean when we use the word. Early versions were not in tartan because the technology to produce tartan was not yet available. The tartans of the time were limited to the rough browns and greens that could be produced from the natural dyes that were available at the time.

The feileadh mór was worn using a complex folding routine. It was first spread on the ground then the wearer laid on it before folding it around the waist and over the shoulders. It was held in place at the waist using a broad leather belt. It was a crude piece of clothing but extremely versatile in its uses for warmth, for carrying food and equipment within its folds, to a covering at night for sleeping.

The top part of the material that was worn over one shoulder left the other arm free to use a sword. In battle it only required the belt to be undone for the whole garment to fall off the body.

Originally the apron of the garment (the front part) was left unattached but when Queen Victoria modestly ruled that military kilts should fasten the outer apron to the inner, some regiments elected to use a kilt pin. Actually, the pin is only a decoration and should not be pinned through the two layers as it negatively affects the hang of the kilt.

Historically, the kilt's popularity was not always guaranteed. In August 1747, after the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie at the Battle of Culloden in the 1745 rebellion, the British government banned the wearing of the kilt (and the playing of the bagpipes, which was seen as an instrument of war) in an attempt to suppress Highlanders. The Highland Scots were feared and loathed by the English, who tried to strip away cultural identifiers around which the Highlanders might organize possible future uprisings. This law remained in force until 1783. During the ban the only ones who were allowed to wear the kilt were pipers in the military, and then only in the regimental tartan.

The kilt has now become adaptable to almost any occassion and its use is open to wide interpretation. It is commonly worn in Scotland at occasions like weddings and formal functions and is acceptable on all occasions where one would wear a dinner suit or tuxedo. It can also be found at football and rugby games and in casual everyday circumstances.

Many Scottish weddings are now conducted with the groom, best man and lots of the male guests in kilts, whether they are personally owned or rented for the occassion. When worn casually, it can be accompanied by a traditional Ghilllie or Jacobean style shirt, a wool sweater or even a tee shirt. Younger men can often be seen wearing thick woolen socks and hiking boots with their kilts, which may unsettle the traditionalists but reaffirms its wide spread acceptance.