• Welcome to The Fedora Lounge!

Highland Dress

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

  1. In discussing Highland Dress it helps to use consistent terminology; otherwise discussions sometimes go nowhere due to two people simply using the same words differently, or using different terms for the same thing.

    For me the terms "historical" and "traditional" have quite distinct meanings, when discussing things such as Highland Dress and folk music.

    A traditional thing is a currently existing, currently used modern thing which goes back to unknown origins and has an unbroken lineage of evolution from that unknown origin to the present day.

    So the various elements of Highland Dress, the distinctive shoes, the kilt, the sporran, the "Scotch bonnet", all go back to unknown origins. Yes one can speculate, but actual evidence, no. These things have all been in continuous use from unknowable early times until today, and during that time have gone through a number of evolutionary changes which have resulted in the forms we see today. It's why the term "modern traditional Highland Dress" is not an oxymoron, but rather a redundancy. To be traditional is to be modern.

    Now what if we go back along that unbroken evolutionary chain and pluck out a sporran style, a jacket style, a shoe style from a specific point in the past. To wear that thing today would be to wear a historical thing, not a traditional thing. This is because the tradition continued to evolve after the period in question.

    To put it visually here is the chart of a traditional thing:

    Unknown Origin 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 The Present Day

    the number 1 through 9 representing examples of the thing observable in old paintings, photographs, or verbal descriptions, 1 being the earliest evidence, 9 being the most recent form before it evolved into the currently existing form.

    To wear a vintage or reproduction example of the thing's form at stage 3, or stage 8, would be to wear a historical form rather than the modern, traditional, form.

    Ditto if a thing has not survived to modern times, but went out of usage at some point in the past. It is, today, a historical thing and not a traditional thing.

    It's why it looks alien, and odd, to a modern Highland Dress wearer who is of the tradition to see somebody wearing a mix of modern traditional things and historical things. They might wonder "what is that person's intention? To wear Highland Dress or to wear a historical costume?"

    Time for pretty pictures!

    A fellow c1860 showing the sorts of things that typify Victorian Highland Dress: a wide variety of jacket, sporran, bonnet, and shoe styles, and the wearing of long hair sporrans with all modes.



    Last edited: Nov 29, 2017
    Edward likes this.
  2. More fellows in the 2nd half of the 19th century



    Now that's the ordinary Highland Dress one encounters over and over in vintage photos. I have hundreds more showing it.

    Then there's the elaborate Highland Dress which a gent might wear when going out in the evening for some formal function.

    For that all the weaponry came out. If everything is present it includes
    1 sgian
    1 dirk
    1 sword
    1 powder horn
    2 pistols


    By 1920 all of this had been swept away and a new, sleek, simple Evening Dress had appeared, with small pocketlike sporrans and several new jacket styles.

    Cigarettes were mandatory!

    Traditional Civilian Highland Dress hasn't changed much since.

    Last edited: Nov 29, 2017
    Wolf99 and Edward like this.
  3. earl

    earl One of the Regulars

    Doctor Jones, see you're a piper. Love the haunting sound of bagpipes and particularly enjoy their contemporary embodiment in bagpipe rock. Now that's some wondrous bagpipe music.:)
  4. Excellent synopsis, Doctor Jones. One thing I'd point out is the codification of highland dress which occurred circa 1890 - 1910 was part of a wider trend in the evolution of menswear, reflecting the late Victorian mania for orderliness and formalized etiquette. The same timeframe also gave us the concepts of the suit (as opposed to "a suit-of-clothes"), morning dress, evening dress, city versus country wear, etc. This in turn parallels a wider pattern of highland dress echoing contemporary fashion, with certain adaptations. For instance, looking at portraits of Scottish aristocrats from the 18th century, the men's coats and waistcoats tend to follow the decade-by-decade evolution of lowland and English style, with certain adaptations such as waistcoat cutouts for the sporran, shorter tails for coats worn with kilts, etc.
    Edward likes this.
  5. earl

    earl One of the Regulars

    Doctor Jones, that's quite a fine collection of historical photos. My understanding is as yours. While the Victorian era ushered in quite an embrace of highland dress, it didn't start then The earliest literary reference to kilted clothing was 1582.
    Edward likes this.
  6. Thank-you, Doctor - great stuff. Completely agree abouyt how littled it has all changed since about 1920, perhaps reflecting the fact that Highland wear as 'regular clothing' is now pretty much extinct in Scotland, mostly reserved for formal occasions, where it has become ritualised and 'preserved'. Much like white tie. Which is, of course, superb for those of us looking to buy in to a first set of Highland clothing without huge expense. I'm gonig to be at a conference in Aberdeen next April where I know there will be a Ceildhi, and I plan to go Highland to that. Got my eye on a few 'ex-hire' places. My first kilt will likely be an 8oz wool-mix, but one that looks and hangs the part which will do for now. Eventually I'll pick up a 'proper' one, perhaps in County antrikm tartan (I most fancy the Presley one, but alas it is not commercially available).

    BTW, for a formal, furry (rabbit, I think) sporran, how do you stop it shedding? I've had that problem with one I bought a few years ago and have had stored ever since (taking a long time to get around to putting the outfit together).
  7. earl

    earl One of the Regulars

    Edward, see when you started this thread you said you have a Blair lineage. Did you consider the tartan for clan Blair? When picking up my tartan tie I'd considered the County Antrim tartan since my family lived there. But ultimately went with the clan tartan for the clan associated with my surname, MacKay. My surname is purportedly a "clansman" name as that surname branched off from a MacKay line in Galloway. Though obviously no clue if there is any actual descent from that line in my case given countless family lines with the same surname as mine. Am though quite enamored with this sort of thing.:p
  8. The Blair tartan is quite nice - I have one of my Aeros lined in it. The other Scots links in the family are McCaw (no tartan I've ever been able to find) and Davison (likely linked to the Davidson clan). Too obscure to be included in thebasic range of affordable 'starter kilts', though. I'm opting to go for a first kilt in Pride of Scotland, for no better reason than I really like it aesthetically... I can also get an 8-yard one in 16oz Acrylic for about £30, as opposed to the close on £300 a new wool kilt of that weight would cost me. I'll see how often I wear it before I look at spending on something more expensive. (I am also vaguely considering a plain black one for casual wear around the house!). With care and buying the jacket ex-hire, I should be able to complete the outfit for something in the region of GBP150. If I end up only wearing it once a year after that, it's not so bad. Mind you, I may well find myself creating opportunities: this year has been an aberration ,but most years I find I wear white tie about half a dozen times, black tie the same, so it's the sort of thing worth having around.
  9. nightandthecity

    nightandthecity Practically Family

  10. Interesting! I'm no expert in English common law; although, I believe Edward is (so please correct me if I'm wrong). But under the highly precedential system of English law, the cited 1747 case may of established a doctrine under which the use of "war" pipes was a prosecutable offense, in instances where the Crown chose to apply such a rule.
  11. nightandthecity

    nightandthecity Practically Family

    This issue is dicussed in the bagpipe Forum thread I linked to, though I appreciate 7 pages of obscure piping history is probably heavy going for non-pipers! But the main point are these:

    1] the unfortunate James Reid was convicted in England by an English court, so any precedent would not apply in Scotland which has a separate legal system.
    2] he was not, in any case, convicted for playing bagpipes but for treason in being a member of a rebel army. The pipes only came into it because his defence was that he hadn't borne arms, the judge took the line that bagpipes, drums, trumpets, fifes etc in a military context are instruments of war. So any precedent would only apply to musicians (and not just pipers) in a rebel army, and in England.
    3] Other pipers were acquitted on the grounds that they had been pressed, so clearly simply playing the instrument was not an issue. One of them (Nicholas Kerr) went on to be a well known bagpipe maker in the period we are told the instrument was illegal
    4] Reid was not even a Highlander, but from the north-east Lowlands (as were a considerable chunk of the Jacobite army)

    As for the Acts of proscription (which came into force after the Reid case), they make no mention of bagpipes. There is no evidence a single piper was prosecuted for anything - let alone playing bagpipes - under the Act. In any case, I think The Act only applied to the rebel clans and their territories - and most clans had been either Loyalist or neutral.

    The fact is that bagpipes continued to be played in the Highlands throughout the period of the Act. The MacCrimmon and Rankin Colleges of Piping on Skye and Mull were in full swing. The first tutor for the Highland bagpipe was written during the period of the Act (the writer also drew himself in full Highland dress). There are numerous references to pipers and piping in the Highlands during this period and not one shred of evidence for their persecution. In any case the Act seems to have been only lightly enforced, even against Highland dress and carrying arms.

    For good measure - especially as Reid was a Lowlander - it is worth pointing out that bagpipes also continued to be played in the Lowlands and parts of England during this period, indeed, it was the golden age of the officially accredited Burgh pipers in the Lowlands, especially in the north-east, a major stronghold of Jacobitism.
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2017
    Wolf99 likes this.

Share This Page