Despite being prevalent throughout popular culture and being an infamous piece of National Dress, the kilt has a complex and unique history spanning back over thousands of years! From the Simpsons to Outlander, kilts are universally identifiable and extremely popular but it wasn’t always this way.
Although the kilt is now a staple for Scottish weddings and formal occasions it was once only prevalent in the Scottish Highlands – central and southern Scotland dwellers did not wear kilts!
Originally, the kilt was known as a feileadh mhór (philamore) or “big wrap”. This was made of thick woollen cloth that stretched across the body and was entirely untailored. This original version of the kilt was extremely versatile thanks to its inherent cloth-like nature. It could be worn over the head in colder weathers and was even said to be used as a camping blanket!
The upper half tended to be worn as a cloak, draped over the left shoulder, hung down over the belt and gathered up at the front. It was then secured in place with a belt – and this is where the phrase “belted plaid” comes from!
In later years, following the British Government’s ban against kilts and bagpipes, the kilt evolved again. The feileadh mhór became the feileadh bag (philabeg) or little wrap which is not dissimilar to the kilt we see today!
The top and bottom parts were separated, with the top half (the plaid) being worn over the shoulder and detachable for comfort. The bottom half was then tailored with sewn in pleats.
There are many myths surrounding the introduction of the now standard kilt pin – though many people believe the kilt pin is there to hold the kilt in place, the pin is actually just for decorative purposes and shouldn’t be pinned through both layers (aprons) of the kilt!
In August 1747, following the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie in the 1745 rebellion, the British Government banned the wearing of kilts. This was an attempt to suppress highland identity and came hand-in-hand with the banning of bagpipes which were seen as an instrument of war.
During this ban, the only people who were legally permitted to wear kilts were military pipers – and they could only wear a kilt in their military tartan.
“No man or boy within that part of Great Britain called Scotland, other than such as shall be employed as officers and soldiers in His Majesty’s Forces, shall... wear or put on the clothes commonly called Highland Clothes”
This ban remained in place until 1783.
Kilts and tartans are worn all around the world! It is commonly thought that tartans can now be worn by anybody – even those without any Scottish heritage. Tartan kilts, trews and accessories are stylish choices for both formal and informal occasions.
If you do want to wear a family tartan, we have a tartan finder to help you out!