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Kilts and their history

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There is no documentation for "kilts" before 1575.
Tartan yes. Kilts no. The Leine Croich or belted saffron shirt, yes; cloaks, yes; tunics, yes; armour that might appear kilt-like on an ancient engraving, yes. Kilts - no.

The Leine Croich: A tunic like garment usually worn with a belt around the middle. Made of - linen - of course, which was also cheaper to get (from Ireland mostly) than wool as sheep had not yet begun to make serious inroads yet. With more sheep, the woolen weaving industry followed. In a very general way, depending on fashion of a certain time and of course the wealth of the individual, just look at what anyone else in Europe was wearing at any certain time and a good basic idea will emerge. For instance - compare a portrait of England's Henry VIII with his Scottish contemporary James V - one will almost always see they are wearing near identical styles of clothes. Not a kilt ever to be seen on James, King of Scots.

The "little kilt", what you see today worn as the wrap around pleated garment, is ascribed to invention in the 1720's. It was eventually taken up and preserved by the British military in the Highland Regiments - in fact most of what is called "Highland Attire" today was ironically either preserved or invented by the British Army Highland Regiments in their dress and then also invented by or for said regiments. The "little" kilt was adopted for use by the military as soon as the expense and cumbersomeness of the 'great" kilt was seen (i.e. by 1800). Glengarry caps are a military invention of about the 1820's, not adopted for regulation use until the 1850's. Sgian Dubhs (or some such knife) were normally carried under the jacket until officers of the Black Watch started sticking them in their kilt hose in the 1840's, then it caught on with everyone else.

Metal Clan bonnet badges date from the early Victorian era and copied as a style from the regimental bonnet badges (the symbols within the badges may be ancient - it is the idea of the Clan metal/pin on badges themselves that is new - the usual Clan bonnet badge was a sprig of a local plant). Feather bonnets are another military invention. The cut and style of most modern "kilt jackets" are off-shoots of military patterns. The writings of Sir Walter Scott, the Royal visit of George IV in full "Highland" regalia (organized by Scott), and the works of others such as the spurious "Sobieski Stuart" brothers, all in the early 1800's, followed by the keen interest and love of Scotland by Queen Victoria all helped in the "fad" of things Scottish in the 19th century. This is not to debunk Scottish "history" or pride, but just to put the true face on the matter. What people wore in Scotland, whether Highland or Lowland, - just as it is today - imitated or was influenced by the rest of Britain/Europe/Western civilization. Until fairly recently, only the poorest of the poor would only own a piece of material to wrap around themselves. No Highland "Chief" worth his name would have been caught dead in such a low-class garment! -- Not until it became "fashionable" that is, well into the 1700's and mostly in the early 1800's.

References on the history of the kilt

Beyond the Pale: A Survey of Gaelic Garb, 1500-1650_
Compiled by Ld. Cormac MacCliuin O'Domnaill. Reprint Copyrighted 1987 by Moongate Designs. (Good one for no kilt pre1575)

A short history of the Scottish dress, R.M.D. Grange; London 1966.

The costume of Scotland, John Telfer Dunbar; B.T.Batsford, Ltd., L ondon, 1981.

History of Highland Dress, by the same author, is a more comprehensive work, including photos of pre 1745 tartans and other details.

The Clans of the Scottish Highlands, James Logan and R.R.McIan, first published 1845, Reprinted 1980 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., NY (This source must be used with caution, as not all the author's information is accurate).

Highland Clans and Tartans by RW Munro.

Companion to Gaelic Scotland, edited by Derick S. Thomson, published by Gairm (Glasgow)

For info on doing the traditional plaid outfit (Great Kilt, feilidh-bhreacain)like the costumes in Braveheart, see

See also

See [12.5] for information on tartans
See [12.6] for Where to buy/hire kilts and Highland accessories See [12.7] for information on Kirking of the Tartans See [12.3] for info regarding what is worn under the kilt
History of the Kilt
Evolution of the kilt
Celtic Dress of the 16th Century

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