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It is said that manners are what makes us rise above mere survival, and it is to this end that the following information is dedicated.


Black Tie -

Formal Highland attire is in order whenever the invitation on an announcement reads "Black Tie" or "Scottish Evening Wear" requested. For men, this means the equivalent of a tuxedo. The sartorial elements include a kilt, either white hose or other solid primary color kilt hose, tartan kilt hose, red and white, red and black or blue and white diced kilt hose and flashes*, white tux shirt (with studs and cufflinks, if appropriate), black or solid coloured bow tie and one of the formal style kilt jackets such as the Prince Charlie coatee, regulation doublet, or the new day/evening jacket known as the Argyll coatee. This type of jacket is particularly appropriate for an individual who doesn't want to spend a fortune on several different coats as it can be properly worn for both day and evening wear.

Many Scottish-American men here in the USA and elsewhere, who wear Highland attire were, and still are, greatly influenced by the late Charles "Scotty" Thompson's book, "So You're Going To Wear The Kilt". Once upon a time, it was just about all that was widely available here. I later had my horizons widened by reading articles by Bob Martin and many other books. For quite awhile, the conventional wisdom offered by Scotty Thompson was "white" kilt hose as an alternative for evening wear. "White" meant either cream or white.

Back in 1992 when I wrote this series of articles which were entitled "WEARING HIGHLAND ATTIRE", I did so because at that point, I disagreed with many points that Thompson was offering in, "So You're Going To Wear The Kilt". One of the issues was that of white kilt hose with evening wear. I would show up at black tie events wearing Argyll or diced kilt hose and there might be two or three other men there turned out similarly. Most all the other men had on white kilt hose. Then I remember Diarmid Campbell, the then editor of the "Clan Campbell Journal", decrying the use of "white" kilt hose and suggesting the use of solid colored kilt hose instead. When I wrote my articles, I took this up, I wrote: "...either white hose or other solid primary color kilt hose, tartan kilt hose, red and white, red and black or blue and white diced kilt hose and flashes...".

I KNEW that the proper hose was Argyll or Diced but I knew many were restricted by budget. I kept the white hose in this article but offered the better alternative of solid colored kilt hose or better yet, diced or Argyll (tartan) hose. Originally, I suggested "primary colors" but this was misunderstood. I certainly meant to include green. What I was trying to say is to wear the darker colored kilt hose like navy blue, red, yellow, bottle green. What I was trying to do is get people to distinguish between those solid colors and the mixed colors like lovat greens and blues that, to me, appear to be for daywear use only. Some have opined that these go well with the colors in their "ancient" tartans...but I am not convinced. (Now in 2008, one can buy kilt hose in nearly every color and hue. The limitations in the 1980s and early 1990s were significant.)

White/cream kilt hose are certainly wide-spread in use and general availability. However, except in pipebands and athletics they seem to have a certain geek factor. I liken them to wearing white socks with a dark suit or a tux! There are some men who wear cream kilt hose with an Arran jumper and this seems appropriate as it is being used in the context of color.

In general, I personally believe it is time to do away with the use of white/cream kilt hose. They do not work (generally there are exceptions) for daywear and are equally inappropriate for evening wear. (Although, my sensibilities are not assaulted by this practice as they are with the widespread use of the so called "kilt shirt"!)

The sporran should be a formal type with a silver-mounted cantle-top and fur pouch or a full fur and animal mask type. There is also a day/evening combination sporran that looks best when worn with the day/evening jacket, but, in my opinion, looks a bit out of place with the Prince Charlie coatee. A wide black leather belt with a silver buckle is currently in vogue. Alternately a black or tartan vest (sett cut on the bias) can be worn instead of a belt.

There is a current trend to wearing high waisted tartan trousers with formal style Highland coats, especially the "Prince Charlie" style. These are either worn with a kilt belt or braces and a waistcoat.

For the ladies, formal Highland attire means either a hostess kilted skirt (long to the floor) with a fancy lace trim blouse or an evening dress (either long or tea length) with an optional tartan sash and brooch. One very attractive combination I've seen of late is an evening dress done up in tartan taffeta and velvet. In Scotland, it is traditional for younger lassies to wear white evening dresses with full skirts and tartan sashes for Scottish Country Dancing. As they become older, they graduate to black dresses.

The ladies should wear their tartan sashes on the right shoulder unless they are a clan chief or a colonel of a Scottish regiment, or the wife of a clan chief or colonel of a Scottish regiment, who then wear it on the left shoulder. The exception to this rule is Scottish Country Dancers who wear the sash on their left shoulder for convenience and safety sake. The rules for a lady's sash apply for both day and evening wear.

White Tie -

White tie for men means the formality equivalent to "tails". This requires a kilt with tartan or diced hose, white pique shirt and vest with white studs and cufflinks, and a Prince Charlie coatee or regulation doublet. The day/evening jacket is not appropriate here. Another option, and there are many for this level of formality, would be one of the white collarless shirts with lace jabot and cuffs with one of the more formal type coats such as the Sheriffmuir doublet. The sporran should, again, be like that worn with black tie, except that the day/evening sporran is not considered appropriate for this level of formality.

For the ladies, white tie means long evening gowns with the option of a silk tartan sash and brooch.

A note on medals worn with Highland attire: With Black Tie, military mini-medals are worn on the left lapel of the coatee or doublet and only if the occasion is a general public, or in our case, Society event. For private parties they are not worn unless the host specifically requests them.

With formal coat, all medals may be worn in the miniature form but correctly on the left lapel only. Ribbons, campaign ribbons, unit citations, or full-size medals are never worn with formal Highland attire! I might as well mention now that miniature medals are for formal attire only and are not worn with day wear. The only time medals are worn with daywear are for parades and by this I mean full-size medals, not minis and not ribbons. The Scottish-American Military Society (SAMS) approves of the use of ribbons with daywear on the military service shirt. I prefer Highland attire kept as simple as possible. For general daywear there are much simpler ways of showing your pride in the service to country. A simple lapel pin of the branch of service would be one fine way. Each may suit himself in the matter. The exception to this rule is the Medal of Honor, which is worn around the neck in its full-size form for day or evening wear.


As with evening wear, there are differing levels of formality with daywear. Remember to always wear the correct attire for the occasion. For occasions where men will be in morning suits or "cut-aways" the Highland garb needs to be a more formal form of daywear. The sartorial elements include a kilt; Argyll jacket (this is the same day/evening jacket mentioned in the previous article); white or coloured dress shirt; silk tie; off-white or solid colour kilt hose; flashes; leather, animal head, or fur sporran with brass trim; waistcoat of matching material for the jacket; gillie or brogue-style shoes. The sgian dubh is tucked into the right sock as a final touch. This type of dress is worn on the more formal occasions where evening wear is not appropriate. Some examples would include: church services, Kirking of the Tartans, daytime receptions, morning or afternoon weddings, etc.

Regular daywear or what I like to term sportswear is a bit less formal is more familiar. Besides the kilt, there is the kilt jacket which is most often seen in various shades and types of tweed. All shades of kilt hose and flashes are seen and are appropriate as long as they don't clash too badly with the kilt and jacket. The same holds true for the shirt, which should be dress-style, and I find the oxford cloth shirts look better with the tweed jackets. However, any style dress shirt is appropriate and you can even go for tone with one of the check-type tattersall shirts or, a tiny gingham check often looks just fine.

Any leather dress or casual shoe in either black or brown is fine, along with a leather sporran. It should be noted that many authorities on Highland dress believe that shoes should only be black, but in my opinion this is a lot of nonsense and is purely a military custom. Of course, the animal head fur sporran is also very appropriate with this style dress. In cold weather, a plaid is folded and worn draped over the shoulder. A belt is not traditional with daywear, however, since the early 1970s, belts have grown in popularity with this form of dress. I would advise that you invest in a brass buckle if you are going to wear the belt with daywear. The silver buckle should be reserved for either morning wear or evening wear. Daywear is worn on those occasions where men would probably wear blazers, sports coats, or business suits. This is the proper dress for Highland games, whiskey tastings, informal dinners, informal dances, etc.

In very hot weather it is certainly appropriate to remove the coat, wear short sleeves or roll the sleeves on a long sleeve shirt, and even remove the tie. In fact, the kilt is not so much hot as some of the accoutrements, such as the wool kilt hose and heavy tweed coats. In very warm weather, it would certainly be appropriate to don cotton soccer socks rather than heavy wool socks. There are now proper kilt hose being sold that are made of cotton and are very cool. Even removing the socks and wearing sandles in very hot weather is fine.

Proper wearing of Scottish Highland attire is essential. I must emphasize that we are wearing modern Scottish national dress not a costume!

Through wearing of Scottish Highland attire, we can feel a part of our common Scottish heritage and our own Scottish ancestors. However, I must caution against anything that resembles a historical costume unless you are part of a re-enactment group. One of the worst items that I've seen is the Highland or gillie-style kilt shirt -you know the ones - with the open Byronic collar that closes with a lace and the billowed, Bishop-style sleeves. I know I am treading on some people's toes, but in my opinion these shirts are inappropriate and are best left to re-enactors. If you are going to take part in a re-enactment, that's fine, but it should be remembered that this is not modern Scottish Highland attire. [Since first writing this article in 1992, I have not changed my mind on this point! Now in 2002, ten years later, these are available in all the colors of the rainbow and are just as inappropriate as they ever were! These shirts were never worn in the Jacobite period from which they take their name. Rather, a similar type shirt was worn in the "Romantic" era of the early 19th Century.]

One should be careful not to mix formal wear with daywear or vice-versa. An example of this is being in daywear and wearing a jewelled, silver-mounted dirk, or a half-belted plaid and brooch. An even worse example would be to wear a formal doublet or Prince Charlie coatee with daywear, which would be just as ridiculous as wearing a tweed jacket with evening wear. Tennis shoes with formal wear is pretty bad too!

There is some question regarding the wearing of tartan ties with the kilt. In my opinion, a tie should be left up to the man's choice, with the only rule being the constraint of good taste. I, for one, like to see tartan ties with the kilt. There is an option of wearing a different tartan than the one in your kilt. You could wear your father's tartan in your kilt and your mother's tartan in your tie or, vice versa.

Tartan Argyll and diced hose are not appropriate for daywear or even the more formal daywear known as morning wear. If you want fancy hose to wear during the daytime, I would suggest having someone knit you a pair of the fancy cabled kilt hose with the ornate knitted hose tops. These can also be purchased ready-made or custom knit for the individual. [Or maybe not! Since I first wrote this in 1992, there is really no reason for not wearing Morning wear with tartan or diced kilt hose. In fact, I designed a pair of black and gray diced hose for Morning wear. These would be particulary nice to wear for a wedding with a silver or gray silk tie.

The flashes are often worn wrong and should properly come forward from the side of the leg, where the front edge of the flashes are in line with the laces of the shoes.

Cowboy boots and hats, baseball caps, and British Royal Marine pith helmets are among the types of clothing that are not mixed with Highland attire. However, there is nothing wrong with wearing deerstalker hats if you need sun protection, or "green wellies" or hiking boots if the outdoor activity so dictates.

The bonnet is another source of disagreement amongst experts. While my personal taste runs toward the balmoral with ribbons tied, the glengarry is also an appropriate style with the ribbons left untied. In any event, properly the only adornments should be the cockade, which may take the form of a Saltire cross and the Clan Chief's crest worn in a strap and buckle form or your own crest if you have one. It is also appropriate to adorn the bonnet with the clan's plant badge. Eagle feathers and lapel pins should not be worn on the bonnet. Eagle feathers shouldn't be worn period and lapel pins belong on the lapel, where the only constraint is good taste.(Although since I first wrote this in 1992 I have seen more and more men wearing pins on their bonnet.It seems to have become a place where folk seem to say, " is where I have been." So I guess through common usage they are "ok". One last word on bonnets - they always come off when you go indoors. It is in the worst of manners to continue to wear the bonnet indoors, especially in someone's home or in church. The only exception is when you are under arms. Examples of this would be carrying a flag in the Kirking of the Tartans, or while playing in a pipe band.

Scottish daywear attire for the ladies may consist of a tartan skirt and blouse, or more simply, any skirt and blouse or dress and a tartan sash. The tartan sash is really the hallmark of a lady's Scottish attire. It may be worn in may ways - usually draped over one shoulder and under the opposite arm, across the body diagonally, and pinned to the shoulder with a brooch or clan badge. However, of late, I have seen many of the ladies forming a rosette out of the sash and pinning this to the shoulder of the dress or blouse, with the long ends of the sash falling behind. This is an especially attractive way of wearing the sash and frames the brooch or clan badge very nicely with tartan. The rules for wearing the sash are that, by general convention, the ladies wear the sash on the right shoulder, with the exception of ladies who are clan chiefs or chieftains, colonels of Scottish regiments or their wives, or the wife of a clan chief who then wears the sash on the left shoulder. This is the fashion approved by the Lord Lyon Court in Scotland. Now, to confuse matters, the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society (RSCDS) makes it quite clear that all ladies should wear the sash on the left shoulder. I agree with the RSCDS. A sash worn on the left shoulder is less likely to get snagged or torn, or even worse, get caught and tear the dress when dancing or engaging in any other activity. In either case both are correct and represent differing points of view. Wear your clan tartan or your husband's clan tartan proudly.

I said in the last article and I'll say it again, ladies don't wear kilts, period. Kilted skirts and the long hostess skirts for more formal occasions are fine. However, any item of male Highland attire is just not worn by the ladies. These items include sporrans (the possible exception would be a sporran worn as a shoulder bag, which can be most tasteful and attractive), dirks, sgian dubhs, kilt hose and flashes, kilt jackets, etc. In my opinion, this holds true for women in pipe bands and when doing Scottish Highland dancing. A feminine alternative can always be found. In many of the Highland games in Scotland, women competing in Highland dancing are not allowed to wear the kilt in any form. Instead, they wear the Aboyne dress, which is a type of unofficial national dress.


At this point, I am going to begin talking about that mystery of mysteries - the kilt. How we got it, what it is today, and how to go about ordering one. I am going to try, as best I can, to de-mystify this kilt business, and as one who has worn the kilt frequently over the past eight or nine years, I feel that I am in a good position to address this subject.

The centerpiece of modern Highland attire is the kilt. A common misconception is that Highland Scots have always worn tartan kilts since time immemorial. In reality, the kilt is, by European standards, a relatively recent invention.

The racial extraction known as the Scottish Highlanders was a progressive evolution beginning with the Irish Dalriadic Scots in the early first millennia A.D. The Picts, Strathclyde Britons, and the Norse added to this unique Celtic/Germanic gene-pool and eventually, there would even be Norman and Anglo mixtures but at a much later date.

The early Celts were horsemen and wore a type of trousers that even the Romans found quite intriguing. That they wore a type of tartan is without question. However, tribal connections were not to come until the late eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries A.D. Early on, however, tartan was a uniquely Celtic artform and not much more.

Highland men wore a pleated linen tunic dyed with saffron, a yellow-orange colour, which was worn until the late fifteenth century when the great belted plaid was the precursor to our present-day kilt. It was a sartorially practical affair consisting of a large rectangle of tartan, eleven to fourteen feet in length and approximately five to six feet wide. It served as a large blanket when the Highlander slept, or worn pleated and buckled about the waist as an outdoor attire. The bottom portion fell almost to the knees and formed "the kilt" while the upper portion was worn in a variety of ways, depending upon the circumstances, and was known as "the plaid". For example, in rainy weather, the plaid or upper portion could be drawn over the head to protect the wearer from the rain, or in cold weather could be worn as a shawl over the shoulders, in camp it could fall behind or be pinned over one shoulder and was of course cast off for battle. Even the bottom portion of the plaid could be adapted to the circumstances and worn as a type of pantaloons to protect the legs from cold weather or scratchy plants, or even for riding. It could also form a kilt for regular wear, or a very short kilt for walking in tall wet grass or walking through streams or boggy ground.

In the early eighteenth century or possibly the late seventeenth century the little kilt came into style. This was a semi-tailored affair that separated the bottom portion of the kilt from the upper portion. This was known as the "little kilt" or "philabeg." The pleats at that time were not sewn in, only the upper edge was sewn, possibly around a draw-string or with belt loops.

This style of "little kilt" gained favor little-by-little throughout the eighteenth century, side-by-side with the belted plaid. Of course, the little kilt was a trade-off in practicality and was designed to eliminate the cumbersome upper plaid for work, and for wearing around the house. The little kilt was, however, inferior to the great belted plaid in that it did not have the versatility as a campaigning or hunting garment. There is a lot to be said for a garment that can be utilized for so many different purposes, including sleeping when either out on campaign or hunting. Very often, Highlanders would sleep in groups of five in order to remain warm. First they would gather heather or bracken in order to make a type of mattress and lay one plaid over this. The other four plaids were laid on top of them and, if the wind was blowing very hard, one of the plaids was soaked in water, wrung out, and allowed to freeze to form a completely wind-proof blanket to be laid on top of the other plaids. (I pity the poor Highlander that had to wear that one in the morning.)

After the proscription against the wearing of the Highland dress and the disarming act as an aftermath of the Jacobite failure of 1745-46, the British army got their hands on the kilt through the auspices of the Highland regiments. These first kilts were four yards of tartan material "box" pleated, with the pleats ironed in. Later, the pleats were sewn in. Many different pleating arrangements were tried in the nineteenth century with the simple box-pleat being the most common up until the late part of that century when the knife-pleat seen today became the standard. Initially, the arrangement of the pleats were to no set pattern of the tartan, but with the British army's involvement the pleats were arranged by stripe. This is what we today call "regimental" pleating. In the mid-to-late nineteenth century, pleating to the sett became the norm. That is what is most commonly seen today.

Presently, the modern civilian kilt is little changed from the kilt of the late nineteenth century. No longer is the kilt held on the body with blanket pins. Today, we wear the equivalent of an officer's kilt, made to measure to the individual with straps and buckles for closure. The only major change is in the fabrics used, which are much lighter in weight and are much more comfortable.

I frequently find that the most common misconception that the uninitiated have is that the kilt is a short skirt with a few pleats in the back. In reality, the kilt has somewhere between seven to nine yards of material with pleats that are often as deep as your hand is wide. It is a sort of wrap-around affair with buckles on both sides.

Most kilts are made of tartan fabric, however, sometimes plain grey or saffron are seen, as well as tweed or shepherd check materials. Fabrics for tartan kilts are available in several different weights and two basic material types. First, there is worsted material, which is available in ten ounce (light weight), twelve/thirteen ounce (medium weight), and the sixteen/seventeen ounce (heavy weight). The sixteen/seventeen ounce material is sometimes known as strome or kilt-weight. Worsted fabric is a relatively hard material that looks good, holds the pleats very well, and wrinkles very little. The heavier weight (16/17 oz.) worsted material displays these characteristics the best. In fact, my 17 oz. worsted kilt can be sat on for hours and as soon as I stand the wrinkles fall out in short order. It is also the most expensive and can be quite heavy when made up into a full eight or nine yard kilt. The 10 oz. weight worsted fabric has the advantage of light weight and it is much cooler, which is a real asset in warm climates, such as the Southern U.S. in the summer months. The 10 oz. worsted material has a tendency to wrinkle a bit more and can prove to be embarrassing in a strong breeze! I found this out one breezy March day when I had to keep tugging my light-weight kilt down from around chest level. Yes, I was wearing it regimental! One of the more embarrassing moments of my life, I might add.

The 12/13 oz. fabrics are a good compromise in weight, crease-holding, wrinkle resistance, and cost. Beware! The quality of this weight tartan varies considerably from manufacturer to manufacturer and from kilt-maker to kilt-maker. Some kilt makers stock several different qualities of this 12/13 oz. material. Unless a budget dictates the least expensive material, I strongly recommend getting the best "finish" you can afford. Finish is the feel the tartan material has. The high quality worsted tartan will be hard to the touch with very little "prickly" or "nappy" feel to it. The cheaper tartans will be just the opposite and, in fact, I've fingered some that feel as if they were woven out of porcupine quills! Steer clear of those cheap fabrics and insist on the better grade cloth. Remember, a kilt is not a pair of trousers that will wear out in a year or so, but will last a lifetime. It is better to buy a more expensive material for the personal comfort it affords.

Saxony is a soft material that characteristically has a nap or a fuzzy feel much akin to a baby blanket. Saxony is often used for less expensive kilts, simply because the material is cheaper to produce. It has two draw-backs in that it will not hold a crease as well as worsted and will wrinkle more easily, as well. It does have the advantage of being extremely comfortable. By far, my most comfortable kilt is made of saxony. It is very warm in cold weather and cool in warm weather. I've worn it all day in 90+ degree temperatures and it never once became itchy, scratchy, or prickly! I would have given up on a worsted kilt in short order. The saxony kilt did feel like a soft baby blanket next to my skin. If you are on a very tight budget, or if you find worsted to be too itchy or scratchy for you, then the saxony kilt is the answer. Just remember that you'll be ironing it every time you wear it.

Saxony comes in 8/9 oz. and 10/11 oz. weights, however, I only consider the 11 oz. suitable for making a kilt. One more disadvantage to saxony that you will never read anywhere else. Since the material has a soft nap, it collects dirt and oils and will require cleaning more often than worsted materials do and may be more subject to wear for that reason. Nevertheless, I like saxony for its comfort, and if you can afford two kilts, get a heavier medium worsted for dress-up or daywear, and an 11 oz. saxony kilt for knocking around in at Highland games.

Tartans are available for all Scottish clans, many Scottish families, and several districts and cities. There are tartans available for some American states and Canadian provinces, too. The Irish, or Irish-Americans, have several tartan options, as well as choosing the traditional solid color saffron kilt. I have seen men wearing kilts of Harris and border tweeds and the effect in my opinion is remarkably excellent. This is probably as satisfactory an alternative to a tartan kilt as can be had for Scots without a tartan or as a good-looking alternative to the tartan kilt - and there is some strong historical basis for the tweed kilt, which was popularized in the mid-nineteenth century by the retainers to Queen Victoria herself and was even worn by the Prince Consort.

Careful selection of a tweed fabric is required, since some tweeds may be scratchy and also very heavy. Tweeds lend themselves well to the 4-yard box-pleated kilt. It is suggested if you are going to a heavier 8-yard kilt that a very light-weight tweed be utilized.

Prior to ordering a kilt, it is customary to ask for fabric samples of the kiltmaker. Most kiltmakers will send samples of various weight and qualities. This will give you a general idea of what the colors look like and how the material feels. Most of the wool going into tartan fabric comes from sheep in New Zealand and Australia. There are several textile mills in Scotland and England that provide tartan material to the kilt making trade. There are also hand weavers that supply the trade.

There are weavers that use natural dyes from flowers, plants, berries, lichens, etc. to color their yarns. While very expensive, tartans produced from these natural dyes are nothing short of gorgeous. When warmed, the cloth smells like...Scotland! (Actually, you can smell the berries, flowers, etc.) You can expect to spend in 1993 pounds Sterling about £100 per yard for this type of fabric. An 8-yard's cost of making the kilt...about $1445! That's a lot of money! The average kilt of hand-woven or milled tartan will run in 1993 dollars about $300-600, with most falling in the $350-$450 range. About the cost of an off-the-peg suit.


There are some basic considerations regarding construction to be made when ordering a kilt. First, you need to decide how you want the kilt pleated. Basically, there are two options: knife pleating, which is currently the most common type; and box pleating, which requires less material. The box pleat is certainly beginning to come into vogue over the last few years. Several years ago, I tried to get a number of kilt makers to make me a box pleat kilt, but to no avail. Most did not even understand what I was talking about, while others tried to discourage my interest, telling me "no one" wore box pleats any more. Since then I have seen more and more box pleated kilts appear at the Highland games. The last time I ordered a kilt I was asked by the Scottish kilt-maker if I wanted knife pleats or box pleats. I believe in coming years the box pleats will become the norm, due mainly to the fact that tartan material has become more and more expensive and the British pound exchange rate with the dollar has been quite high. This has resulted in an extremely expensive traditional 8-9 yard knife-pleated kilt. The solution seems to be the 4-yard box-pleated kilt. The cost to the kilt maker should also drop and would certainly allow them more profit.

Another consideration is whether the pleating will reflect the sett of the tartan or will be pleated to a single stripe in the tartan. The former is known as pleating to the sett, while the latter is called military pleating. Military pleating can produce a quite startling effect, depending upon the stripe selected. For instance, the Buchanan tartan can be pleated where it appears predominantly yellow in back or in a different manner to be red, or in another to even appear green!

When ordering a kilt you must ask for military pleating or you will automatically get your kilt pleated to sett. However, there are some tartans, such as the Ogilvie tartan, which just do not lend themselves to either sort of pleating. These types of tartans just have to be pleated without regard to the design.

Most kilts today come with three straps and buckles with which it is fastened around the man. Two of the straps are on the right and one is on the left. The second right-sided strap helps secure the apron, but in my opinion it is unnecessary and only serves to pull the apron to one side. One writer has his kilts made with straps reversed and I've seen kilts with four straps, ie: two on each side. I prefer to ask for only two straps, one on each side! This is a case where less is more. The sporran and the sporran belt do a fine job of holding the apron of the kilt down. I have even had the extra strap removed from my first kilt. However, some people prefer the three buckle arrangement and with your first kilt it would be better to order it this way and see how your like it since it can always be easily removed later if your so desire.

The question of how the kilt should fit is very important and is often overlooked by both new kilt wearers and those who have worn the kilt for years. There is a trend today to wear the kilt with a short or no rise. This means that the kilt is worn as the trousers are, down around the waist near the hips. None of the kilt protrudes above the beltline. This is comfortable for shorter, thin-framed men, but is unsuitable for tall or heavy-set men. Furthermore, the kilt is intended to be worn with the upper portion protruding above the beltline. In fact, the top of the kilt should rise high enough to come to the wearer's bottom ribs. For the average man, this will be a rise of one-and-one-half to two-and-one-half inches above the belt line. For very tall men it can rise as much as three to four inches above the beltline. Highland dancers and Scottish country dancer often ask for a very high rise so that when they raise their hands above their heads, tartan is still seen instead of a white shirt front. When ordering a kilt explain to the tailor how far you want the top of you kilt to rise above the belt. The tailor or kilt-maker can advise regarding fitting the kilt to your frame and body-type.

The kilt should fit snug so that it won't fall off. Straps can be tightened or loosened to accommodate the gain or loss of a few pounds. Try that with trousers! However, there are some men who are so skinny that no matter how tight they tighten the kilt straps, the kilt falls down. I can spot those men at Scottish functions because their kilts are three to four inches too long and the waist of their kilts is around their hips. If this happens to you, simply have buttons sewn in the waist and attach suspenders.

The length of the kilt is also of some importance, as you can tell from the above statement. The only rule is not so long as to drop below the middle of the knee-cap, not so short as to come more than two to three inches above the top of the knee-cap. The standard today is that the kilt should come to approximately the top of the kneecap. If you have great legs, flaunt them and the ladies will love it!

When ordering your first kilt the biggest mystery is where do I order from? The answer is very simple. Observe those men at events that are wearing the kilt and when you find someone wearing a kilt that you particularly find attractive, ask him where he ordered his. I'm sure that individual would be more than happy to assist you in ordering your kilt. There are a number of good kilt makers here in the U.S. and there are some fine ones in Scotland. However, if you order from Scotland, be prepared, the duty can be quite steep.

Highland Dress Accessories

For modern Highland dress, the basic rule is to keep it simple. In Victorian times, it was not unusual to see men wearing kilts with spats, fancy tartan hose tops, horse hair sporrans, dirks, swords, sword belts, plaids, brooches, pistols, powder horns, and any other kind of weaponry or fancy gilt item that could be hung on the outfit. Not only was this gaudy, but it was also extremely uncomfortable. Basic accessories today include such items as the sporran, flashes, sgian dubh, bonnet, clan badge, and kilt pin. Fancy items include the dirk, swords, targes, etc. These are items that are only used under certain circumstances. There are other optional items including cromachs (walking staff), blazer patches, and sporran flasks. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these items, just as long as they are worn at the right time and under the proper circumstances. One thing to remember is the Highland dress is not a uniform, nor is it a costume.


The most important Highland dress accessory is the sporran. The sporran is a type of purse worn suspended in front of the kilt. There has been a lot of hullabaloo and a lot of articles and books written about Highland dress as to the proper place to wear the sporran. I personally believe that it is a highly individual option as to how a man wears his sporran. A lot depends upon your body type and what generally looks good. The type of sporran selected should be appropriate for the occasion. The silver-mounted purse sporran should be reserved for the more formal occasions. Frequently, I have seen dress sporrans worn with daywear, which should not be done. Plain leather or animal masked sporrans are appropriate for daywear and, interestingly enough, the animal masked sporran is one of the few all-purpose sporrans that can be worn with the most formal dress or the most informal wear. There is also the day/evening sporran which is an all-purpose sporran which can be worn with evening wear or daywear, but is not really formal enough to be worn with the most formal doublets or white tie. Many of these sporrans come with silver tassels which are removable and should be removed when worn with daywear.

One item of interest is that when a gentleman is dressed in Highland attire and dances with a lady, he should move the sporran to his left hip. This, of course, is desirable when you are dancing cheek to cheek. For Scottish country dancing, you may want to take up your sporran belt a couple of notches, especially if you are wearing an animal head sporran. You wouldn't want the bugger flying across the room scaring the ladies half to death. The sporran should also be moved to an unencumbered hip when sitting down to the table. This removes the sporran from harm's way so you don't spill on it and makes your lap unencumbered for a napkin. In general, it's just considered good manners. I once sat down to a table at a formal dinner and forgot to move my badger sporran and, surprisingly, I got a startled response from the ladies at the table and when I looked down, the badger appeared to be peering over the edge of the table at the food.

Sgian Dubhs

A good sgian dubh is going to be expensive. I personally carry an all-purpose pocket knife wherever I go and, therefore, a sgian dhub is important to me, otherwise I feel like I've forgotten something. A good sgian dhub should have a handle either of hardwood, horn, or antler, and a blade of fine cutlery steel. Good stainless blades of 440C, ATS34, or 440V are ideal since plain high carbon steel is very difficult to maintain in a knife that sits right next to your skin in a leather sheath. The blade should be honed to razor-sharpness and is there not as ornamentation but to be used. The regimental sgian dubhs used by the Scottish army are excellent.

A sgian dhub is worn in the right kilt stocking or, if you are left handed, in the left kilt stocking. The handle should protrude only and inch or two above the top of the stocking. I frequently see people only place the sheath portion in the hose with the whole handle sticking out. This is a good way to lose the knife and is really not intended to be worn in this fashion.

The sgian dhub, like the sporran, should be matched to the level of formality. For instance, if you are attending a formal occasion, then the sgian dhub should be one that is mounted in silver or gold with fancy inlays or inset with jewels. Most frequently, sgian dubhs are mounted with a cairngorm stone on top of the handle. A plain hardwood handle with inlay would suffice for almost any occasion. The antler handled sgian dubhs should be reserved for informal daywear.

Many modern writers, when discussing sgian dubhs, erroneously state that they are of relatively modern origin, coming into vogue after the proscription of 1747. This is definitely not true and can be evidenced by observing the sgian dhub belonging to Rob Roy on display in Sir Walter Scott's home, Abbotsford. Most of the sgian dubhs seen for sale at Highland Games are a pretty poor substitute for the real thing. These sgian dubhs have plastic handles that are impressed to look like carved wood and have imitation stones and blades made of very soft, poorly tempered steel. Finding a good sgian dhub can be difficult, however there are a number of good custom knife makers in this country that can make anything you want, or if you are lucky, you can happen on a good regimental or civilian sgian dhub made with quality materials. Know anyone that has a good regimental sgian dhub for sale for $25.00!?

Kilt Pins

The kilt pin is certainly not a necessity, nor is it particularly desirable. The history of the kilt pin originates with Queen Victoria, who, upon observing a kilted soldier standing at attention with the wind whipping his kilt up around his ears, came to his rescue by pinning the aprons of his kilt together with a pin she was wearing. Thereafter, it was decreed that all Scottish regiments would wear some device to hold their kilts down. Regiments such as the Black Watch, however, opted for rosettes of ribbon.

Many people object to the kilt pin because of its feminine origins and some men refuse to wear a kilt pin at all; While some don't feel dressed without one. This is certainly optional and my sentiments tend to fall somewhere between the two extremes. If you do decide to wear a kilt pin, the proper place to wear it is three inches from the bottom of the kilt and three inches inward from the right side of the apron. The kilt pin should only go through the top apron and not be pinned to the bottom apron. Any variation in this general area is considered ok, and if you have a double thickness on the right side of the apron, you might affix it to that area. The biggest objection I have to the kilt pin is its predilection to getting snagged and the possibility of tearing the kilt. Again, as with the sgian dhub and the sporran, the kilt pin should be appropriate for the level of dress and the occasion. Silver or gold kilt pins with jewels are properly only worn with evening wear. A plain silver or brass kilt pin is appropriate for daywear.


These are properly the little tabs that you see sticking out of the kilt hose tops. Generally, they are just these little tabs of material attached to elastic garters, for which some people pay good money, when it is so easy just to make your own. The most comfortable and, I might add, cheapest flashes are to obtain colored wool binding tape from the fabric store. They should be approximately three feet in length for each leg. Fray the ends and wrap just above the frayed portion of each end with embroidery thread of a contrasting color. These can then be wrapped twice around the leg and either tied in a bow knot or simply tucked in and then simply turn the hose down over them. If you are used to wearing the elastic type garters, give these a try, since they are much more comfortable.

Bonnets, Clan Badges, etc.

There are only two types of bonnets that are appropriate for modern civilian Highland attire. One is the glengarry, which is similar to the military overseas cap. These are worn as the military overseas cap would be worn, that is, two fingers over the right eye, cocked slightly to the right, with the ribbons loose and flying in the back. The clan badge is affixed on the left-hand side of this bonnet, centered on the cockade.

The other type of bonnet is the balmoral, which looks more like a cross between a tam-o-shanter and a beret. It is worn straight on the head with the side of the bonnet pulled well down over the right side of the head. This places the cockade jauntily to the front and is properly worn over the left temple. I frequently see the bonnet badge and cockade worn over the left eye, rather than the left temple, which is not really incorrect, but does look peculiar. I guess I must say it here and now that it is not incorrect to wear the ribbons loose on the balmoral bonnet. They may be worn either tied in a bow or loose. It really does not matter.

I know that a lot of people have had trouble making the balmoral bonnet fit correctly and look jaunty, however, it is very easy to remedy this problem. Simply wear the bonnet into the shower the next time you bathe, getting it thoroughly wet. After you emerge, you can shape the bonnet with your hands, pressing out most of the excess water. After the bonnet is set, then you can remove the bonnet and place it upon a ladies' wig manikin head (you know the ones that are made of styrofoam that they sell in the stores). Once the bonnet has dried thoroughly, it will tend to retain the correct shape and can be wadded up, tossed around, however, every time you put it back on your head and give it a good slap to the right side, it would stay that way. Give it a try, you have nothing to lose.

Hackles are a purely military item and should best be left to pipe bands, etc. Feathers in the bonnet, as previously stated in an earlier article, are only for clan chiefs, clan chieftains, and armangers. However, I wonder if Americans who have the right to keep and bear arms guaranteed under the second amendment of our constitution could, in good conscience, wear at least one eagle feather. However, keeping with the rule, it's probably best to keep it simple.


A good walking stick is always appropriate with Scottish Highland attire. Of course, the fanciness of the walking stick should be kept in line with the level of formality of the occasion. The use of a good walking stick is certainly to be encouraged and most any good walking stick is appropriate.

Blazer Patches

The blazer patch is appropriate with Scottish Highland daywear only. The patch can be the Scottish thistle or a St. Andrew's cross or the clan chief's crest encircled with a strap and buckle, what we call the clansman's badge. The utilization of the clan chief's coat of arms, etc. is inappropriate and of the worst possible taste. However, the use of a school's coat of arms or a military unit of which you are a member is appropriate. These can be obtained from a number of different sources here in the United States.

Plaid & Brooch

The plaid worn either in the fly style or half-belted style with a silver brooch is correctly worn only with Highland evening attire. A folded pipers plaid worn over the left or right shoulder is perfectly correct with daywear. This type of plaid is simply folded and is worn hanging straight down over either shoulder. The plaid is a colorful piece of Highland attire that is not worn as often these days. It would be nice to see a revival of wearing the plaid, especially the daywear style. This also affords a man or woman the chance to show off another tartan, such as his mother's tartan or her husband's tartan, etc.

Other Items

Items such as swords, pistols and powder horns, targes, and other weaponry are considered court dress only, and would probably only be worn as fancy costume during a ceremony. In the United States, we would only wear that, say, in the Ceremony of the Haggis or for street parades.


The dirk is worn correctly only with Highland formal attire or if it is a plainly mounted dirk, could be worn for daywear if and only if you wish to go armed. In this day and age, for some functions that might not be a bad idea. However, I would suggest you check the laws and be careful that it's worn outside of the coat, otherwise you could possibly be arrested for carrying a concealed weapon.

As a general rule, remember "keep Highland dress simple." Remember the trend today is away from the ostentaciousness of the Victorian era to a more simple, understated form of Highland dress. In fact, there is a trend to not even wearing flashes or other unnecessary adornment with daywear. Remember, the sgian dhub substitutes for a pocket knife, the sporran substitutes for pockets, the cromach is just a good walking stick, the dirk is a side arm, the plaid is a blanket, and the bonnet is a hat. Flashes hold up the kilt hose, the clan badge shows what clan you belong to.


Everyone knows by now the old joke..."What does a Scotsman wear under his kilt?" The answer is, of course, shoes and socks! Although at first glance the choice of kilt hose (socks) and brogues (shoes) may seem simple, there are rules that dictate the style or type of hose and shoes to be worn with Highland attire.

For daywear, any sturdy shoe may be worn, however, the preferred color is black. Brown shoes for daywear are now considered OK and are available in the popular "gillie brogue" style. Hose can be any solid color knit kilt-style sock that is long enough to reach the knee and then be turned down on the calf. The top of the hose should be just above the fattest part of the calf so that the garters will hold. Flashes are optional for informal daywear and, if you observe the rule of simplicity, best left for more formal occasions. Flashes can be of wool or grosgrain ribbon in any color you fancy. They may also be knit in fancy patterns or the very plain.

The wool hose available from Scottish kilt makers are fine for winter and fall, however, in our warmer months these can be down right uncomfortable for some folk. A good alternative is to purchase soccer socks in a solid color. These are generally available at any good sporting goods store. They have the advantage of not needing garters to hold them up.

For formal occasions, the shoes should be black and of a formal style pattern. A good example is the lighter weight "gillie brogue". Another style not as familiar in the U.S. is the strap and buckle or "Mary Jane" style. It's interesting to see children's reactions to this style shoe, "...Gee, mamma, that man has "pilgrim" shoes on..." Hose for evening wear may be tartan (Argyll) or diced (black and white, red and black, red and white, or blue and white).

In the last 25 to 30 years, white or really cream color hose have become the alternative for tartan or diced hose for formal wear. In my opinion, white hose are fine, however, dark navy blue hose look better with many tartans and really look more formal to my eye. With the cost of tartan kilt hose running upwards of a portrait of Benjamin Franklin, solid white or navy blue hose are a cost effective alternative that are perfectly acceptable. The flashes are not optional for formal wear. Correctly worn, the front edge of the flashes should be in line with the laces of the shoes.

I am of the school that believes that shoes speak a lot about a man. They should be polished, comfortable, and in good repair. Kilt hose should be appropriate for the occasion, in good repair, and clean. Then you are ready to stick the sgian dubh in your hose and step out proudly in the garb of Auld Gaul.


The Scottish Highlander was primarily a swordsman. Early, the principal weapon was the claymore, a Scottish word derived from the Gaelic - Cladgh mhor, was the big, two-handed "great sword" used in the 15th and 16th centuries and on through the 17th century.

These swords were later cut down into the more famous basket-hilted broadswords of the late 17th and 18th centuries. This sword is often referred to as the basket-hilted claymore. The development of the classic basket-hilted broadswords occurred simultaneously with a method of fighting peculiar to the Scottish Highlanders. This characteristic method included the use of a targe or target - a round, leather-covered wooden buckler or shield studded with brass tacks and often sporting a steel dagger-like spike in the center. These targes were usually 18-22" in diameter and worn on the non-dominant arm, secured with leather loops and backed with goat skin with the hair remaining. The goat skin served two purposes: 1) to keep the targe in place on the arm, and 2) to absorb the impact of sword blows and bayonet strikes. These targes were quite tough, being made of leather and layers of oak, with the grain at right angles. When embossed with the brass tacks, they were strong enough to deflect not only sword blows, but also musket balls.

Since the targe was affixed to the non-dominant arm with leather loops, the non-dominant hand was left free to use the dirk. The dirk was a single-edged dagger with a blade 12-18" in length. The dirk developed from the ballock knife and the parrying dagger. The early Highlanders wore these dirks suspended from a belt in the area that the modern sporran is worn today - the imagery that this provokes is truly one that would stimulate Siegmund Freud.

Thus attired, the Highlander may also avail himself of muskets, pistols, polearms, axes, etc. However, the use of these weapons was very dependent upon the wealth and status of the individual. They were not, however, the basic weaponry of the Highlander during the golden age of Highland history from the 17th through 18th centuries.

The rough Highland terrain was suitable for the wild Highland charge, which favored blades over the slow-firing muskets of time. Craftsmanship of Highland dirks flourished in the 17th century, especially in the city of Dundee. The manufacturing of basket-hilted broadswords (actually the hilt, since the blades were mostly of German or Italian origin) flourished in Glasgow and Stirling with styles peculiar to each city.

To understand the Highland method of fight, we must first understand the Highlanders, their clan system, and their particular style of dress and culture. While elsewhere armies were taking on a professional or mercenary nature, the Highlanders, when assembled, fought not as a regiment, but rather as clan families. Each chief had his clan, or literally "children". The most powerful clans were the MacDonalds, MacKenzies, Grants, MacLeans, Murrays, and of course, the Campbells. Each individual chief's strength and prestige were assured by the number of ardent men who would respond to the rally of the fiery cross, the symbol that even today strikes terror in the enemies of the Gael.

The basic dress of the Highlander was a long shirt, over which a belted plaid was worn, which fell to the knees. The upper part of the plaid could be worn in many ways, depending upon the weather. Later in the early 18th century, this belted plaid evolved into the philabeg, or little kilt, so familiar today as the national dress of Scotland.

Prior to going into battle, the plaid was cast off and the shirt tails knotted between their legs. (So much for being recognized in battle by clan tartan.) Recognition came from the plant badge worn in their blue bonnets, which were much akin to our present balmoral bonnet. The less well-to-do would wrap the plaid around their arm to ward off saber cuts or bayonets. This Highland clan system flourished from the 13th century through the mid-to-late 18th century, culminating in the battle of Drummossie Moor in 1746. In fact, the clan system continued on through the 1840s during a period known as the Highland clearances. Of course, rudiments of the Highland clan system remain to this day with Highland chiefs and clan societies being the visible elements.

The success of the Highland charge depended upon: having the high ground or a slope from which to mount the charge, the element of surprise, the superiority of the Highlanders' weapons -- in the late 17th through the mid-18th centuries, the Highlander's weapons had reached their zenith, while the lowlander and the English were using matchlock and wheellock muskets with plug bayonets.

The Highlanders would mount their charge from the high ground with a steady advance until they were in range to be able to use their fine Spanish-made sporting rifles. They would take careful aim and discharge these weapons. They would then toss these weapons aside to be retrieved after the battle along with the cast-off plaid. They would then charge with wild abandon at the enemy with drawn broadsword, targe, and dirk; the Highlanders screaming their clan warcry, such as "Cruachon" for the Campbells, "Creag an Tuirc" for the MacLaurins, or "Tulloch Ard" for the MacKenzies. They would crash into the first rank, parrying bayonets and cutting down soldiers at their front to their sides with broadsword and dirk. Nine times out of ten, non-disciplined troops would cast aside the musket with the plug bayonet and run like hell.

The first rank of Highlanders would often be the clan gentlemen - men of substance who could afford the finer weapons. The next ranks that followed would be armed with a single sword, lochaber axe, polearms, old weapons, and finally the lowest ranks would follow armed possibly with farm implements or even just sticks and rocks. These men would often go around the battlefield picking up cast-off weapons and looting bodies.

After the battle of Drummossie Moor, often called Culloden, in April of 1746, the world and the British Army were not to see this type of wild charge again until the late 19th century Zulu wars, where the British were again to have trouble handling "noble savages".

Needless to say, many of the basket-hilted broadswords gained historic and legendary status. The most famous swords bore the name of legendary swordsmith Andrea Ferrara, who lived in the 16th century. The blades of the true Andrea Ferrara swords were most likely made as two-handed claymores. Later, they were cut down for the more fashionable basket-hilted broadswords. One such sword was retained in Bulliondale, the ancestral home of the Mungall family, and was dated in the 1500s. It was said that the blade was so flexible that it could be bent around the body in a complete circle and when released would return to true. I have recently been able to inspect a real Andrea Ferrara broadsword and I can attest to the extreme flexibility of the blade and the fine workmanship. I would definitely put the blades in a class with the finest of the Japanese samurai blades.

By the end of the 18th century, British weaponry had caught up and surpassed the weaponry of the Highlanders. The Brown Bess flintlock muskets could be rapidly reloaded and the ring bayonet could be affixed to the rifle while maintaining the ability to fire the rifle -- a dramatic improvement over the old plug bayonet. Thus, with the ability to reload quickly, the Highlander's charge was obsolete in the face of rolling volley of rank upon rank firing in succession. (Remember the movie Zulu which recounted the battle of Roark's Drift, where the British used rolling vollies to stop the Zulu charge?) The Zulus basically used stabbing spears or asaguys and hide-covered shields, weaponry much akin to that of the Highlanders in the 17th and 18th centuries. The British at that time were armed with the Martini Henry rifles which could be rapidly reloaded. Thus a much smaller force defeated a numerically superior force with superior weaponry.

If one thing can be said of the Highland Scot, it is that he was adaptable. In the late 18th and 19th centuries, the place of honor in Highland weaponry belongs to the musket and the bayonet. By the strange irony of fate, the sons and grandsons of Cumberland's victims at Drummossie Moor became the staunchest supporters of the Hanoverian throne and bore the brunt of many a hard-fought battle in which their indomitable courage and gallant behavior gained for them a name which stands almost unrivalled in military history.

Alongside their old enemies the redcoats, stand the kilted Black Watch and other fine Highland regiments that have gone forth to death and glory.

Today, only the officers of the Highland regiments carry their national weapon, the basket-hilted broadsword (and then only on parade). They may only wear the national dress, the kilt, while in garrison. In battle dress of DPM camouflage, nothing distinguishes them from other units except perhaps the bonnet. They bear within their breasts, however, the same intrepid spirit that inspired their ancestors of old. The spirit of the clan!; "The blood is strong, the heart is Highland!"

Copyright Thomas G. Mungall, M.Ed. 1992, 1999, 2001, 2007 & 2008

I have noted that several individuals have appropriated large portions of this article and published it on the web as their own. This is plagiarism. Please feel free to reproduce this work in part or in it's entirety but please acknowledge the source as WEARING HIGHLAND ATTIRE by Thomas G. Mungall, M.Ed.,1992, 1999, 2001, 2007 & 2008. I always allow Scottish Heritage and Cultural Societies to publish this article in part or in it's entirety in their Society News Letters as long as they publish it with a "by line" Thomas G. Mungall, M.Ed. and the copyright information. Enjoy!

Tom Mungall

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