The Dress Act of 1746 saw a ban on wearing highland dress, which included the kilt as well as tartan. This was in response to the Jacobite uprising where many highland Clans joined together under the charge of Bonnie Prince Charlie to restore the Stuart crown. The Jacobite's ultimately lost the war and as punishment, the British government aimed to destroy highland and Clan culture. The Dress Act was repealed in 1782 and soon after many aristocratic Scots started to set up highland societies to celebrate the old highland way of life. While the wearing of kilts was generally limited to highlanders before the dress act, the following decades after the repeal saw an uptake in kilts for formal occasions among Scots from all over the country. Admittedly, kilt-wearing in this period was mainly amongst the more ‘well off’ Scots as kilts were very expensive.
Thankfully, due to their popularity, kilts today are much more affordable and feature heavily at formal occasions like Scottish weddings and Burns Suppers. Scots wear kilts today for various reasons but mostly because of Scottish pride. A kilt is a tangible connection to Scotland's wild and colourful history, of which Scots are proud to be a part. Wearing a kilt in your family tartan is also a way to celebrate your own Clan heritage. While historical kilts would have been utilitarian, today's kilts are ceremonial and part of Scottish tradition.
Why did Scots start wearing kilts?
Before Scots started wearing kilts, they would have worn what most northern and western Europeans wore which would have been tunics with a long loose-fitting shirt. What prompted highlanders to start wearing kilts would have been the highland terrain and climate. The highlands are damp and rugged at the best of times and while trudging through the highlands, the last thing you want to be wearing is a tunic. The great kilt was made from tightly woven wool which would give better protection against the damp as well as the cold. The great kilt was also just one long piece of material which made it easy for highlanders to adapt when sleeping for extra comfort as well as remove when needing to be dried.
What type of kilts are there?
The great kilt or Feileadh Mòr was the first iteration of the kilt. It was a large piece of cloth that was hand pleated and wrapped around the wearer's body. The little kilt or fèileadh beag was its replacement and resembled the kilt we know today much more closely than the great kilt. While there is nothing stopping you from going out and buying a considerable length of cloth to create your own great kilt, most people choose either a traditional machine-made or handmade kilt from a kiltmaker. Machine-made kilts are usually cheaper as they take less time to make than handmade kilts but the beauty of a handmade kilt is that the stitching can be undone and the kilt can be remade to a completely different size. It’s worth taking some time to consider which type of kilt is best for you before you place your order. If you think that your body shape may change in the future, it’s worth spending a little more on a handmade kilt now than having to buy a whole new one down the line.
When are kilts worn?
The kilt would have been an everyday item of clothing in highland life but these days kits are reserved for most formal Scottish occasions and some sporting events. The most common place you’ll find people wearing kilts is at a wedding, Scottish weddings are usually filled with tartan and tweed in a range of traditional and contemporary outfit styles. The groom will often wear a plaid which is a piece of tartan that is draped over the shoulder. The plaid is actually representative of the upper half of the great kilt so it’s considered the most traditional highlandwear item and is usually only worn by the groom or a person of importance. Burns Suppers, Hogmanay, and pretty much any black-tie event is appropriate for a kilt.