When you put on your Clan's colors you are putting
on your family's history. The
tartan and subsequent Highland dress should always be worn with dignity and
with an understanding and observation of the tradition they represent. It is a
uniform and an icon. People normally take immense care in correctly wearing proper Highland Dress, and that is
what it deserves, because men have died in war wearing it and men and women suffered death, transportation, privation, and hardship because the tartan was their native wear and they refused to obey the 18th century ban on tartan promulgated by the Hanoverian Government after the
1745 Jacobite Rising failed.
is important to stress that Highland dress is referred to as "Scottish attire" both in Scotland, and by those of
Scots descent or affiliation, around the world, and rightfully so. It is
not a "costume," but attire, and it's important to remember this. As
the late J.C. Thompson said in his wonderful book "So, You're Going To Wear
the Kilt?": "...The kilt is perfectly
normal dress for any man of Scottish ancestry or connections, and anyone
who feels differently is simply displaying their ignorance."
Highland Dress for Men
Highland Dress is
not just for special occasions. It can be worn at anytime. Men who wear
the kilt regularly find that it is a sensible, comfortable garment which
can be worn with ordinary shirts or sweaters. It does not necessarily need
all of the accessories listed below. The kilt is the most important item
of Highland dress. It usually reaches just to the top of, or slightly
above, the knee. There is often a kilt pin attached to the front flap for
decoration. What you do or don’t wear under the kilt is your own
business. A good Scotsman will not tell when asked. (When asked what is
worn under the kilt, especially by a lady, a typical reply is
"nothing worn, m'am, everything is in perfect working order,"
usually accompanied by a wink).
Any ordinary shirt
or sweater may be worn with the kilt. Some men, when attending a very
formal occasion in the evening, like to wear a lace jabot around the
neckline, and sometimes frilled cuffs, and for very formal affairs a fly
plaid which is pinned to the shoulder with a brooch and drapes behind.
Others prefer a plain shirt and tie, or an evening dress shirt and bow
tie. A belt is usually worn at the waist, over the kilt. The buckle is
often brass or silver, and sometimes has detailed carving on it, or is set
with a cairngorm, which is a semi-precious amber-colored stone found in
the mountains of Scotland.
jackets can be bought, which are jackets and blazers with a different cut
that those worn with trousers, and are usually shorter to better show off
the kilt. One for everyday wear could perhaps be a tweed jacket; another
for formal evening wear is often black, although other colors are
Some typical jackets are:
- This is a black, formal, jacket with tails behind, a short front, straight
sleeves with no cuff, and typically silver or chrome buttons. It is
not meant to be buttoned in front, and is usually worn with a matching
black waist coat (vest), though it is seen often today without the
vest and with a belt, instead. It is almost always
worn with a standard tuxedo shirt and black or tartan bowtie. (A fly
plaid is not typically worn with the Prince Charlie though it is seen
more often lately).
- This is usually a black, single
breasted jacket with "gauntlet cuffs" (cuffs which are
rolled back to about mid-forearm) and silver buttons. It is considered
"semi-formal" wear and can be worn for daywear or
semi-formal evening occasions. Most men start with an Argyll as it
gives them the most options. Variations of the Argyll exist, such as
tweed versions in various colors, and even some variants with sleeves
more like the Prince Charlie. The Argyll is typically worn with a
standard white dress shirt and tie.
Doublet - The Montrose Doublet is a close
fitting, double breasted jacket that is usually seen on very formal,
full dress occasions (for the Groom or father of the Groom in
weddings, etc) which only comes to the waist, and is worn with a belt.
The Montrose is usually seen worn with a lace jabot, and a fly plaid
on the shoulder.
- The Sheriffmuir jacket is another very formal option
to the Prince Charlie or Montrose. It has "Inverness Flaps"
extending off the sides, from the waist. The jacket is typically worn with
a shirt and vest and lace jabot and does not typically button in the
front. A fly plaid is also generally worn with the Sheriffmuir for a
complete "full dress" look.
jackets are not always necessary. A simple pullover would be quite
acceptable. In cold weather, men who wear highland dress sometimes wear a
large tweed cape known as an Inverness cape. Waterproof capes can also be
worn when it is wet.
men like to wear a Balmoral bonnet with Highland Dress. Another type of
bonnet, known as a Glengarry, is often worn by pipers.
The kilt looks best when worn
with knee-length hose (socks). These are usually held up with an elastic
garter. Small strips of ribbon, known as garter flashers, hang down below
turned-down tops of the socks. These can be in one color, or tartan. The
shoes worn with the kilt can be anything from hiking boots with high socks
in outdoor, casual occasions, to expensive "ghillie brogues".
For most occasions standard, black dress shoes or brown shoes (in daywear
situations) can be worn. For formal affairs one typically sees the black
patent leather "Mary Jane" shoes with a large buckle, or black
patent "ghillie brogues" which lace up around the ankles and
have open tops. One sees standard, black leather ghillie brogues worn with
most variants of Highland dress, in everything from daywear, with a
Jacobite shirt and Jacobite waist-coat or jacket, to the most full-dress
Montrose or Sheriffmuir outfit. Ghillie brogues come in many varities and
colors and you can usually find a pair that is right for any given level
The sgian dubh (skee-an doo), or
black knife, is often worn by men in Highland dress. The knife is tucked
into the top of the right kilt hose, with just the top of the shaft
showing. Although the original purpose of the sgian dubh was for skinning
animals, it is nowadays largely ceremonial, although it does make a useful
pen-knife. For formal, full dress affairs one typically will also see a
jeweled "dirk" hanging from the belt. The dirk is a long knife,
or a short sword, depending on how one looks at it. The dirk was the
weapon of choice, and usually the first deployed, by the Highlanders of
old. Today, the dirk is ceremonial and typically is only seen for full
dress affairs and only with a Montrose or Sherrifmuir jacket. (It is
recommended by many, that while the Prince Charlie coat is formal dress,
that it be kept simple, and it is not recommended that one wear a dirk or
a fly plaid with it).
sporran, or kilt purse, is made of leather or hide, sometimes with a
design on the flap. The sporran is hung high in front of the kilt on a
plain strap attached to the waist of the kilt. The general rule is that
the top of the sporran should hang about one hands-width breadth below the
navel. Sporrans come in three styles, plain leather variants for daywear
and informal occasions, "semi-dress" variants in some
combination of leather, fur, and sometimes chrome or silver to be worn for
semi-formal daywear or evening occasions, and dress sporrans for formal
and full dress affairs. The dress sporran is typically very expensive, and
made from either horse hair, or various furs: mink, muskrat, rabbit, or
seal-skin (in Scotland. Be warned that seal-skin is illegal in the U.S.!
You can face a stiff fine if you should buy one and get caught with it
here in the States. Not all Scottish importers are up on this, and you
will find some Internet sites that will sell you a seal-skin sporran
on-line. Be warned of the risks! This can also serve as a warning for
those who travel to Scotland and buy one in ignorance before trying to
bring it back through customs. There are many other options available for
a dress sporran, in the States.) The dress sporran typically has an
elaborate chrome or silver top with engraving work, and fur tassles with
cap badge is worn on the balmoral or glengarry bonnet. It is now made of
silver or white metal and shows the clan crest, which must be surrounded
by a strap and buckle unless worn by the clan chief. The badge is normally
worn on the left side of the cap, on a cockade of ribbon. Alternately, if
you are familiar with your traditional clan badge, this can be worn in the
bonnet, tucked into the cockade, or behind the metal badge (for Clan
Arthur, this is a sprig of Fir Club Moss or Wild Myrtle). A Clan Chief wears three eagle
feathers in his bonnet, and his sons or chieftains will wear two eagle
feathers. A Clansman who bears his own personal coat of arms may wear one
eagle feather. Any other clansman should never wear any feathers, especially eagle
feathers (which are illegal in the U.S., anyway) in their bonnet!
Highland Dress for Women
Many women wear kilted
tartan skirts, frequently mid-calf
with or without a kilt pin. Sporrans and kilts are
worn by women unless required to do so as part of
uniform of a mixed pipe band. A kilted tartan skirt is worn
the usual range of women’s blouses, pullovers, and
whatever is tasteful.
Nowadays, white gowns
with tartan sashes are seen all over the
world, especially at Scottish Highland Balls and Dances.
Sashes are worn across
the upper half of the dress, from the right
shoulder diagonally across to the left hip where the two ends
are knotted together. A brooch pins the sash to the shoulder.
The wife of the clan chief pins the sash to her left
shoulder in opposition to the position of her clanswomen’s
A style of dress known
as Aboyne Dress is made up of a full-length
tartan skirt, a white blouse , and a velvet waistcoat with
a pinned-on sash. Pumps are also worn.