Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Kilt

We've had a cousin from Canada staying for a few days. Good fun, and on the second to last day he revealed that he had a kilt with him. But not a tartan kilt. One with 'cargo pockets'. My mind went back to the embarrassing spectacle of Jack McConnell, then First Minister of Scotland, wearing a pin stripe kilt for Tartan Week in New York, and I wasn't desperately keen to see this 'Freedom Kilt' from Victoria, BC.

I have no commercial relationship with Freedom Kilts, but I have to say that it is much more like the garment that Highlanders used to wear than most kilts about the place. Firstly, the colour is authentic: it is broadly sheep-coloured, as would be the original plaid (Gaelic for blanket) that the Highlanders used to wind about themselves. Second it is tough - in this case actually cotton twill, but the heavy woollen kilts in the Middle Ages were designed for hard labour, not just 24/7 but 24/365 and beyond. This kilt has a small pocket for a cell phone - not very medieval certainly, but in those days a similar hidden pocket was sewn in for a sgian dubh - a small knife, traditionally of black bog oak, which was never surrendered to a host, or a victor.

In Victorian times the sgian dubh shifted to the stocking. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had embraced Highland Dress and traditions with great enthusiasm, leading the fashion from their rebuilt castle at Balmoral. The drab working dress of the Highlander, or a variation thereof, had suddenly became essential wear for not only British, but European aristocracy whilst in Scotland. There is even a picture of four year old Prince William of Prussia, later 'Kaiser Bill' of the Great War, in a kilt!

Thank you, Queen Victoria, for saving the kilt from probable extinction! The eccentric conventions that grew up around it - who should wear what and how - are a small price to pay.

More on kilts and tartans in my small book, 'Scottish Clans and Tartans'

1 comment:

Kilted Eric said...

I saw your post, and wanted to say thank you for a nice write up of the kilt. I have read a few posts by Scots who do not like the modern kilts.
You wrote some very interesting things here.
I have two modern kilts, by the Utilikilt company out of Seattle, Washington USA, and a traditional tartan of the Leinster District of Ireland, my wife's family.
I will be reading more of your posts.
Thank you,
Kilted Eric