Kilts might be the traditional Scottish garment but they are recognized all around the world. Kilts have deep cultural and social significances, being associated with patriotism and honor. Scotsmen take a lot of pride in their national dress and as kilts are now known world-wide, which is why it’s important to know what makes an authentic kilt and how to wear one the right way, as, not any towel with a tartan print placed around your hip is a kilt.
The word “kilt” is a derivation of an old Norse word, “kjilt”, which means “pleated” and refers to clothing that is tucked up and around the wearer’s body. Scottish kilts date back to the 16th century. At that time, they were worn as full length pieces by the male Gaelic-speaking highlanders of northern Scotland. The clothing pieces were known as “léine” and normally, they were draped over the shoulder or even pulled over the head as cloaks. Wearing kilts become common during the 1720s, when the British army transformed them into their formal uniform. However, it wasn’t until the 18th century (or late 17th) when the knee-length kilt, which was similar to the one we see today appeared. As of the 19th century, the kilt became associated with the culture of Scotland and with Gaelic heritage.
Even though the kilt is generally associated with formal occasions and the Highland games, today it has been accepted as a fashionable and even an informal item, and so it returned to its original function as an everyday piece.
Many kilts we see today are not authentic and are “kilt-inspired” pieces to the most. Some people actually take offense when somebody is not doing the original kilt justice by wearing it the right way.
An authentic kilt is wrapped around the wearer’s body at his natural waist. The natural waist refers to the place between the lowest rib and the hip. The wrapping us usually done from the left, around the front and the back and then across the front side again, to the right side. It is fastened with straps and buckles on both ends. Usually, the strap on the inside end passes through a slit in the waistband, as it needs to be buckled on the outside, but it can also be buckled on the inside.
A proper kilt covers a man’s body from the waist down to his needs. It is very important that the knees should be visible (according to some, only the lower part of your knees should be visible). In the front, you have the overlapping, flat layers which are called “aprons”, while the single layer of fabric found around the sides and the back is pleated. Wearing the pleats in the front is actually wearing it with the back in the front. A so-called kilt pin is fastened to the front apron on the corner that is left free. This should not be passed through the layer found below though, as this is supposed to add weight.
Kilts are made from wool and come in tartan patterns. What you might not know is that each type of patterns was associated with a family. This dates back around 200 years ago, so if you wear a random kilt, you might represent something and not even be aware of it. Today, there are special tartan designs for corporations, sports teams, and more. Remember that these are always horizontal and never diagonal. Diagonal designs are appropriate only when they are adapted to women’s dresses.
How to wear a kilt
Kilts are made out of about 10 yards of heavy wool fabric, and also come with an array of accessories that match it. There are several styles in which one can wear a kilt though. There are also women’s kilts, which are lighter than men’s kilts, so always make sure you are wearing the right one.
A kilt should be worn with the pleats to the back and with the fringes on the right hand side. It must be high on the waist, at the tummy button. Depending on the context, a kilt can come with an array of accessories, such as:
A belt (this usually has an embossed buckle)
A jacket (which can vary from context to context)
A sporran (which is always worn at the front of the kilt)
A kilt pin
A sgian dubh, which in Gaelic mean a “black knife”
Ghillie shirt (this is a modern modern version of the traditional shirt worn with a kilt)
Underwear or no underwear
It is generally known that “real Scotsmen” don’t wear any underwear with their kilts (although, if you are a Scotsman and wear boxers with your kilt, will you lose your passport?). This, however, is a rather new concept, and even though back in the day, kilt-wearing men didn’t wear underwear, they did wear some material to cover them.
Today, there are a few occasions on which it is accepted for men who wear kilts to also wear underwear, such as when taking part in an organized sport or when dancing. In the 1950s and 60s, in the highland regiments, the rule not to wear underwear was so strict, that the men were always checked to make sure they are following it. Not following the rule would result in one needing to take off his underwear and in being put on charge.
If you decide on wearing a kilt and incorporating it into your everyday clothes, it’s each to his own to decide whether you want to wear underwear or not.
How to sit when wearing a kilt
Many men who follow the no-underwear-rule-when-wearing-a-kilt have a hard time learning how to sit in order not to show their privates off to anyone sitting across from them. While generally, we tend to simply push our rears as far back as we can and then lower ourselves while bending at the waist, when you are wearing a kilt you should lower yourself first to the edge of the chair while bending your knees, which you need to hold together. Only then, slide in the final position. You can actually learn this by watching women, especially older ones sit while wearing a skirt (don’t worry, the kilt is not a skirt, we know, we know).
A second way is the so-called pelatsweep. If you are wearing a standard kilt, your pleats will go around in a counter-clockwise direction. You can use your right arm to put it behind you as far to your left buttock as you can, and then sweep your hand across your tush as you sit. Due to this sweep, your pleats should be straight and flat. After you’ve done that, slide back into your seat. Only part your legs a little, and push the aprons down between your legs.
The thing about contemporary kilts and traditional kilts is not that traditional kilts are bad and contemporary kilts are fake and bad, as so many people consider, especially when they see kilts that are placed lower than your waist or that reach above or under the knees. The problem lies within the way they are worn. Wearing a kilt above the knee or under the knee and claiming it to be authentic is rather stupid. But if you wear a kilt-inspired outfit, are aware of it and affirm it consciously, then it can work very well. It’s all about intention and outcome.
To conclude, we can say that whether they are traditional, revolutionary, correct, modern, short or long, kilts have marched into our common consciousness and while they are for some a sign of pride and a piece that needs to be worn according to strict rules, for others they might just be an inspiration, a symbol or a practical garment. So far, we have not seen many men wearing kilts or kilt-inspired pieces that looked bad, so, even though some sartorial regulations might disappear from the mainstream, the kilt is a powerful piece of clothing and a good way to express power, masculinity and confidence.
Fraquoh and Franchomme
P.S What do you think of kilts? Do you wear them? If not, would you wear a kilt or do you simply not like them? Do you think the strict rules should be followed or is it OK to wear an adapted kilt? Share your comments and let’s keep the conversation going!