The Kilt- The National Dress of Scotland

Blog 15 May 2014

It has been claimed that ‘a man in a kilt is a man and a half’. Some say a true Scotsman is a man who wears a kilt (we won't go into if they wear something underneath or not), and believe wearing one symbolises stature, power and even romance. 

There are two kinds of kilt one can wear, the ‘modern’ and the ‘traditional’ kilt:

The Traditional Kilt

The traditional kilt was the Highland man’s everyday clothing (a typical traditional kilt can be seen to the right). It was not the tailored, formal piece of attire that it is nowadays. It was originally a 5 metre-long piece of cloth that was belted at the waist and was known as the ‘féileadh mor’ in Gaelic, meaning the ‘big kilt’.

This ‘féileadh mor’ was confined only for the people of the Highlands in Scotland, where it fitted in perfectly with the climate and terrain of this vast area. It allowed for heavy movement for walking the mountain terrain and the cloth could easily be unfastened by the belt and used as a blanket at night time making it incredibly warm for the viciously cold winter nights.

The kilt was only worn by Highlanders of Scotland until the great revival in 1822, which saw the introduction of “Family” and “Clan” tartans, and became popular in the Lowlands of Scotland. These “Clan” tartans gave Scots a feeling of belonging, and has been passed down through generations.

In the mid-18th century the kilt evolved to the ‘modern’ kilt, a pleated skirt making it more practical. The Highland dress showed such a strong sign of stature, power and highland unity that after the second Jacobite uprising and the Battle of Culloden (which can be seen on our 2 day 'Loch Ness, Inverness and The Highlands' tour'), the Highland dress was banned by the government from 1746 to 1782. During this time it was only the armed forces which were allowed to wear the Highland dress. 

The Modern Day Kilt

The first evidence of the modern day kilt can be dated back to 1792, where the traditional kilt was given a 'tailored fit' with added pleats. This modern-day equivalent sped up the manufacture of the kilt, and led to the garment being introduced to the masses. The modern day kilt is usually worn to special occasion such as weddings, the Highland games and traditional Scottish ceilidhs.

Having lived in Scotland myself for nearly 5 years, I have discovered that some people really do feel a great sense of pride and national identity from wearing a kilt. It is also quite traditional to use you family/clan tartan or even your Scottish football team tartan. Have a look at a typical modern day kilt to the right!

Some facts you may not know about kilts

  • A modern day kilt is typically made of about 7 metres of material
  • There are over 4000 types of tartan to choose from when buying a kilt
  • The oldest tartan dates back to AD260 and is called the Falkirk tartan 
  • The first and only tartan to date that has been on the moon is the Macbean tartan, worn by Alan Bean on Apollo 12 in November, 1969.
  • Investing in a kilt can be very expensive, and can set you back about £500 when including accessories such as a sporran which is the Gaelic word for pouch/ or purse, flashes and the belt. One thing is for certain though, a kilt will last you a lifetime!
  • You will always see a bagpiper wearing the traditional Highland kilt. If you are in Edinburgh, you can spot a bagpiper on Princes Street near Waverley train station, and also at Glencoe on our Loch Ness tours from Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness.
  • Nobody knows who invented the first kilt but according to Colin Calloway, author of “White People, Indians, and Highlanders”, an English man invented the little kilt, also known as ‘The Feileadh Beg’ (the little kilt), which is the kilt which is still worn today. His name was Thomas Rawlinson and he ran an iron furnace in Inverness and he believed this ‘kilt’ would add safety and comfort to the workers in his factory