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Highland Dress

Discussion in 'General Attire & Accoutrements' started by Edward, Apr 15, 2008.

  1. I was recently at an academic conference in Glasgow; at the conference dinner a couple of the locals wore full Highland dress, and it has awakened my interest in my Scots roots. My mother's side of the family were Blairs. Solidly Highlanders, the Blairs were rewarded for their services to the Bruces, and I gather, allied to the Stwearts of Atholl, they lined up with the Jacobites at Culloden. I'm not sur when the Blairs arrived in Ireland - although Granda Blair always insisted they were thrown out of Scotland for being sheep theives. The area of NE Ireland I'm from originally bears strong cultural links to Scotland even today.

    I've had a bit of a hunt through the lounge, but can't seem to find a thread relating specifically to Highland dress. Is this something anyone does? Is there a Golden Age form of the modern Highland dress that was largely invented during the Celtic revival of the late 19th Century (after much of Highland trasdition was purged with the clearances post-Culloden - weren't the Kilt, and the bagpipes, banned as 'weapons of war' for several hundred years?).

    I don't personally own a kilt at present. At some future point, though, I would like to have a Blair (possibly a Stewart of Atholl, if I can determine that my ancestors would in theory at least have adopted that mark at some point... allowing for the 'artificiality' of modern tartans). I have got a couple of sporrans somewhere. though!

    Are there any loungers who have gone the Highland dress route? Photos?
  2. CeceliaRose

    CeceliaRose New in Town

    I'm a Highland dancer, so I get to wear my kilt and other Highland dress during competitions and shows. We have very specific dress code rules set forth by our governing body, so dance outfits differ a bit from the traditional Highland dress (no sgian dhus, for example). I don't have any pictures at the moment, it's been awhile since I've done anything with my dance school.

    I know the kilt and in fact the wearing or displaying of any tartan was outlawed by the Diskilting Act after Culloden, but I'm not sure when that Act was lifted (bad not knowing my Scottish history, I know). I believe that Act or a similar one banned the playing of pipes also.
  3. I have scottish ancestry from both sides of my family, the proper names sadly lost to time, but I have still embraced it and so wear kilts sometimes. However, I don't know all that much about Highland Dress; I do know that you wear a sporran with tassles, Ghillie Brogues, kilt hosen with a flash which matches your tartan (the flash sticks down out of the hose near the top), that knife which I know how to pronounce but not spell, and either an Argyle or Prince Charles jacket, which are both cut short so as to show off the tartan and sporran. The Prince Charles looks sort of like a tailcoat with no tails, except with broad metal studs instead of buttons on the stomach, and is worn with a vest. The Argyle jacket is a one button jacket, typically without a vest and less formal than the Prince Charles.

    Alas, that is all knowledge gained from the internet, and so I have not been able to wear Highland Dress yet. Going to high school in a great kilt was great fun, though.
  4. Beowulf67

    Beowulf67 One of the Regulars

  5. Alex Oviatt

    Alex Oviatt A-List Customer

    You might want to check out the Sporran Clan website.
  6. Mike1939

    Mike1939 One of the Regulars

    I've found the book, So You're Going To Wear The Kilt, by J. Charles Thompson to be a great reference on the subject.
  7. Beowulf67

    Beowulf67 One of the Regulars

    I frequent a couple of message boards that have lots of good information about kilts and related attire, including pictures of the members showing how they dress for different occasions.
    I'm not sure about the rules regarding posting other web sites, so if it's OK with the mods, let me know and I'll post them. :)
  8. kiltie

    kiltie Practically Family

    Do a lot of looking around before you commit to anything. I'm a piper in a firefighter pipe band and prior to that simply indulged in that part of my heritage ( MacGregor ). It is an interest that can get VEEEEEERY exspensive. There's tons of outright baloney surrounding the traditions and symbolism, etc... and you have to do a lot of weeding out. You can cut corners on some things, but not so much on others. For instance; don't expect to pay less than $400 for a decent kilt ( do your own conversions ) and about $200 for a good starter jacket ( I would go with the very versitile Argyle type - $300 for the more formal but less versitile Prince Charlie and coatee ). You can save on the hose, sporran, belt, etc...by shopping around a bit ( dare I use words like "Indian" and "Pakistani"? Purists would kick me in the haggis ). After about eight or nine years ( and more money than I care to recall spent - a lot of it outright wasted ) shopping around for this stuff, I've found most of the best deals in the States, not having the benifit of storefront shopping in the UK. I'd imagine the tourist bilking trade is just as prolific over there, though, if not more-so.

    Again, I'd do a lot of looking around on the net, reading books, etc...and stay away from "experts". All they'll do is fill you full of mystical and historically inacurate bull****. The "facts" on that stuff are as wildly varying as the "facts" on hats and other bits of Golden Era you read on that zany Fedora Lounge website.
  9. Highlander

    Highlander A-List Customer

    I also have my own Kilt and a sweater (I haven't bought a jacket). I have the sporan and the kilt hose etc.. I often wear it on Burns Night etc. Being a McGregor(MacGregor), I enjoy the heritage etc.

    But, the kilt needs to be a good quality one. Don't cut corners, it needs to hang properly etc. I bought a cheap one... and at best, it's just ok.
  10. Kiltie.... I would dare say it, yes! ;) I believe that my Sporrans - certainly the informal / daywear leather one - are of Pakistani origin, and the quality is there alright. Actually, I've encountered a lot of very good quality leather products from both India and Pakistan over the years, for what it's worth.

    Absolutely, there's a lot of mythology kicking around, to put it politely... ;) I guess in part this dates back to the fact that much of what we now regard as "Ancient Scottish Dress" is really of Anglo-Scots invention, as previously mentioned. When in Glasgow recently, I discovered a number of places I can track down used jackets etc (I would like eventually to have a Prince Charlie tails and a less formal Argyle or two for daywear). When I can afford it, I'm certainly prepared to spend a reasonable amount on a good Kilt. Likely I'll opt for a Blair Modern, in the heaviest wool I can get hold of. And no.... I won't be wearing it, eh, traditionally. ;)
  11. Woodfluter

    Woodfluter Practically Family

    I used to do a lot of Scottish Country Dancing...will have to get back to that again. I used to teach it also; they have a pretty arduous certification program for that. So I have some gear. My perspective:

    Yes, much of the current tradition about kilts and other highland wear is relatively recent, but with older roots. The extremely short story is that pipes and highland wear, including pretty much anything tartan, was banned after the 1745 rebellion was quelled, but enforcement waned over time. When Queen Victoria became enthralled with Scottish history, and perhaps her husband Albert's gillie, John Brown, the rest of English society followed her lead to some extent. Hence a flowering of bejewelled sgian dhus and dirks and kilt-adapted formal jackets, etc. Plus authoritative compilations of clan tartans and rules about what you could wear with what.

    Originally, certain tartan patterns might be generally identified with regions or perhaps more common in a particular clan, but if you look at the really *old* portraits of clan chiefs and their pipers, you'll find a whole mishmash of different tartan patterns. So I think a lot of the clan tartan thing is Victorian era invention. The real identifier tended to be clan plant badges, I believe. Some might disagree about all that, but he who is without error, let him cast the first haggis!

    If you want a kilt, you want a good one. If you don't want to spend around $400, there are two options. (1) Find someone who is a really good seamstress and can follow instructions, and get her (or him) to make one. I've seen several that were made by amatuers that were excellent. But you must have basic sewing chops and be good at matching patterns exactly and be very detail-oriented - and have a machine that can work with thick layers of heavy wool. (2) Go to a Highland games, such as Stone Mtn here in Georgia, and get a military surplus kilt. No, it won't be "your" tartan, if that really matters. But it will be made of heavier, tighter, better wool twill than almost any of the commercial kilts, something you could go to war in. Might need a bit of repair here or there, but not hard to handle. I wear my Canadian surplus kilt most of the time...I mean when I wear a kilt!

    Best of luck and if I might help, ask away.

    - Bill
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  12. Woodfluter

    Woodfluter Practically Family

    Couple of afterthoughts...

    You can spend a lot of dough on a sporran, and IMO most are kind of crappy. Alternatively, you can purchase some good quality leather, linen thread and needles, and make yourself a very traditional (even authentic) sporran for far less. If handy with knots, you can add all sorts of tassels etc. and do that better than any but the most expensive commercial offerings. Patterns are likely to be found somewhere on the web - got mine from various books.

    The sgian dhubh is the wee knife, ordinarily kept in the stocking. In the old days these used to be utiltarian things, serving as a general purpose eating utensil and weapon of last resort. Now they are often more jewelry than useful. I had a decent one purchased in Aberdeen until it went with the burglars, but you can take any good sheath knife with a ~3" blade and wooden handle and simple sheath, shave the handle flat on at least one side, and there you go. It will actually be closer to what a real highlander would have had, pre-Victoria.

    I have a formal jacket for formal occasions, but really like best my wool twill day jacket. If you get a decent one, the only kind worth having, there's no way I know to cut costs - they are expensive. But they'll last forever. I commit the egregious sin on occasion of wearing it with trousers - just for fun - hoping not to get caught by the enforcers of custom on this side of the pond. In my defense, I am tempted to paraphrase a rule by Peter Barnes: freedom to deviate from the strictures of a tradition is inversely proportional to the distance from its origin.

    - Bill
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  13. Bill.... some interesting reading. Yes, I agree, modern tartans are a later Anglo Scots origin. The current received wisdom - which makes sense to me - is that the original patterns would have been much simpler, and what was more important would have been the colours used - bearing in mind that what they would have used would have been plant dyes, and these would have varied according to the region. This is, of course, why present day "ancient" and "weathered" tartans are largely spurious... I think I'll stick to just the modern type, myself (unless I got a crazy good deal and decided I wanted a Blair ancient for an alternative). On the subject, though, does anyone know of a decent history book on the Scottish clans at the time of the 1745 Jacobite rising? As far as I am aware, the Blairs, although lowlanders, fought on the side of the Jacobite highlanders, adopting the highland kilt (as opposed to trousers) as a form of 'uniform.' To the best of my knowledge, they fought as part of the Atholl Regiments - I believe they were affiliated to the Stewarts of Atholl clan. I've not been able to find out anything to substantiate this on the web, though... little mention of the Blairs at all, other than John Blair, chaplain to William Wallace, and the Blairs being rewarded for services to the Bruces.

    Regarding the sgian dhubh.... I read that these are believed to have originated with a weapon, a dagger of sorts that would have been worn concealed in the armpit area of the jacket. When meeting with others, this dagger was removed and placed somewhere on visible display to indicate a level of trust in the people one was meeting with - sort of an 'I trust you, so I don't need to keep any concealed weapon just in case you turn on me' type statement. Down the sock was a handy place to put it. I have a sgian dhubh already, just a modern dress type.... I should think its most useful function would be as a letter opener. ;) Something more authentic might be nice in some ways, but at least this is clearly dresswear, bearing in mind the issues with knife crime in many UK cities at present and the subsequent tightening of the law on carrying a blade.
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  14. PADDY

    PADDY I'll Lock Up Bartender

    Ulster and Forbes tartans. (photos)

  15. Woodfluter

    Woodfluter Practically Family

    Edward, on aesthetic basis I kind of like many of the "ancient" tartan patterns...I think the idea is that they were closer to the results produced by older plant dyes as opposed to modern aniline dyes. But then again, if those folks had access to the more vivid colors, I don't doubt they'd have preferred them!

    Re sgian dhubh, that's what I've heard also. I also suspect they kept it wherever it would be handy, and from my readings of Scott and others, would have trusted few.

    Ah, yes I've heard about the UK laws. It is slightly hard for me to comprehend as a person who has carried a pocket or folding knife at all times since he was 8, and who uses it hourly throughout the day...but I won't go into all that. I will say that, of all the places I've lived, people were the most courteous and least criminally-inclined in South Texas, and a goodly proportion kept a gun under or behind the pickup seat. Still, one hates to arm the crazies out there.

    - Bill
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  16. Panache

    Panache A-List Customer

    I also participate in a couple of Kilt and Highdress forums. I advise you strongly to take some time and do your homework. Highland attire can be expensive and there are many options are out there. Beowulf67's link to the Scottish Tartans Museum here in the states is an excellent place to start (Hi Beowulf67!)

    Here are a few pictures of mine illustrating different looks

    Casual (Tartan: Royal Stewart)


    Daywear (with full mask raccoon sporran) (Tartan: Weathered Lamont variant)


    Daywear (Tartan: Mcleod of Lewis variant)


    Semi Formal (With an inverness cape) (Tartan: Galbraith Ancinet)


    Formal at a Scottish Country Dance Ball (hence the light dancing ghillie shoes) (Tartan: X Marks the Scot)


    Feel free to ask me any questions reguarding Highland Attire.


  17. Jamie, looking good! The racoon sporran is an interesting one, never seen that before. I have the plain leather type for informal daywear, and one very similar to the one in your last photo, a rabbit fur dress sporran. I'm guessing the racoon is a US-design (they being critters we don't got over this side of the Atlantic)?

    Actually, one question has occurred to me, which is the appropriate hats. I'm not sure my favoured fedoras would look quite right wi a skirt.... lol The hat in your second photo I've seen a lot of worn with kilts. I'd assumed it to be military in origin, but has it been adopted in a civilian context?

    Paddy.... looking sharp! The lowlander, trousered look is also a good one. Always looked more military than the kilt to me; I suspect it's the combination of the short jacket and trews puts me in mind of a mess jacket worn with the appropriate military formal attire. That's the Ulster Tartan you're sporting?
  18. Panache

    Panache A-List Customer


    As you were posting I added two additional pictures to my post ( casual outfit and another daywear outfit showing a traditional daywear sporran).

    While raccoon full mask sporrans wouldn't be seen on your side of the pond, badger full mask sporrans would not be uncommon. The interesting thing about the full mask sporrans (and some people love them, others hate them) is that they are always appropriate with whatever outfit one wears. They work with polo and turtleneck shirts. They work with tweed day jackets. They work with semi formal outfits. Thay are also fine for full formal attire. If one only wishes to purchase one sporran they are the one that can do it all.

    The blue hat is known as a balmoral, the black one with white and red dicing is a glengarry, they both originally come from the military. Actually the glengarry is a variant of the balmoral. Berets, tams, flat caps, driving caps, and even deerstalkers all work with kilted outfits. Fedoras seem a poor match with them sadly. Though for casual wear, a tilly hat or Austrailian slouch hat can look good.


  19. t_crown

    t_crown New in Town

    As an aside, "sgian dubh" translates from scottish gaelic as "black knife". In this usage, "black" = "hidden" and is also the meaning of "black" in "the Black Watch regiment" (they were hidden and "watched" the border--with England). Many people think--wrongly-- that it's a black knife because many sgian dubh have a dark/ebony handle.

    A sgian dubh was a highlander's weapon of last resort, and was normally worn under his shirt, and then displayed while on someone else's property by wearing it in their hose (sock). However, a highlander would never go anywhere unarmed. (My family's clan MacGregor--we are the "children of the mist"--and since it was legal to stalk/murder MacGregors, being heavily armed was a wise choice.)

    I've seen paintings/drawings of highlanders in full dress being heavily armed even at formal occasions (weddings): a couple of pistols, (baskethilt) sword, dirk, and sgian dubh (which, you can only assume is being carried). Normally, the best man at the wedding would be so (heavily) armed, because it was his duty to protect the groom while marrying and fend off all other would-be suitors.

    While the armed best man story may be stuff of highland legend, I (choose to) believe it.

    It's the romantic in me.
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  20. Woodfluter

    Woodfluter Practically Family

    Jamie my lad, hats off to you!! You look fine...nay, resplendant in all of the photos. I don't have an Inverness cape, but yours is an inspiration. Although you are from California, your face seems vaguely familiar. I hope to see you at a SCD ball somewhere! Re racoon sporrans, I've had friends (Philadelphia & DC area) who made them from road kill victims. Those I've seen, like Jamie's, were very nice and as understated as a dead mammal can be. I delayed too long...my salvaged carcasses suffered too much hair loss before I could get around to tanning them.

    I've worn Highland dress to several weddings. Speaking solely for myself, most appropriate and inspiring a certain sort of dignity. Re sgian dhubgh, well, who knows...I think it wasn't so much a weapon as a utility knife with other possibilities if all else failed...the dirk is quite another matter, often made from cut-down broadswords. In general, Highland dress is a fine thing that harks back to valuable parts of older traditions.

    - Bill
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