Off-kilt(er): The Unique History of Kilts
Being of both Irish and Scottish ancestry, I was interested in visiting Scotland this summer. I enjoyed exploring the highlands and being immersed in the nature and lifestyles of this country. As the weeks passed during my time here, I became fascinated by the traditional kilt that is very much a symbol of this country, and decided to look into it further.
The iconic kilt is officially the national dress of Scotland, and for good reason too. The image of a rugged Scotsman charging into battle with a manly kilt billowing in the wind is what comes to mind when people think of Scotland. Being of both Irish and Scottish ancestry, I was interested in visiting Scotland this summer. I became fascinated by the traditional kilt that is very much a symbol of this country, and decided to look into it further.
Scottish kilts first came into fashion in the sixteenth century as full-length cloaks that clad the Gaelic men inhabiting the Northern Scottish Highlands. The knee-length kilt that most people wear today was not worn until the seventeenth century. During this time, the peak of the kilt’s fame, King George II of England imposed the Dress Act of 1746 to suppress Scottish culture. At the time, the kilt was the official uniform of the Jacobite armies who were threatening to overthrow King George II. The ban on kilts made it clear who opposed the king, making it easy to persecute those dressed in them. This did not deter the Scotsmen, as kilts continued to be the main form of dress as a way to challenge the English government. Ever since the ban was lifted in 1780, the kilt has remained a symbol of Scottish pride, yet it has transitioned from being worn as ceremonial attire through the 19th century to now being more commonly worn to promote the tourism industry, or by people impersonating Scotsmen.
Kilts can also be seen at weddings, funerals, family parties and festivals, yet a use more relevant to our culture would be their place in sporting events. The kilt is worn by the Highland bands, dancers, and players in the Scottish Highland Games. It is the official uniform of Scotland’s Tartan Army Soccer team, and to promote national pride, the fans are asked to wear them as well.
There are now two large kilt companies: Sport Kilt and Utilikilts, which sell modern kilts to a target market of comfort-seeking young men who want to celebrate their Scottish roots. There is a movement heavily supported by these two companies to bring back the “casual kilt” in Scotland and America. Men are trying to broaden the uses of the kilt from special occasions and sporting events to everyday wear, not only for comfort, but also to revive their pride in their Scottish heritage. The Kilt Society is a popular blog that offers inspiring posts about where to wear a kilt or how to style it. The movement towards the casual kilt is growing; we can definitely expect to see a full comeback of the kilt in fashion very soon.
(Photography courtesy of Haley Gale, The Kilt Society blog, and The Herald Sun)