The exact origins of the kilt are uncertain, but this garment, along with the many clan and district tartans in which it is produced, has become a powerful symbol of Scottish identity, history and culture. Although based on traditons of dress which developed in the 'Highlands' of Scotland, you could say that the kilt forms the basis of a national dress that has come to represent Scotland in it's entirety.
The large 'Wraparound' kilt , The 'Feileadh Mor', The 'Feileadh Bhreacain' or the 'Belted plaid', as it has variously been known, is undoubtedly the predecessor of what we recognise as the kilt today.A large piece of material, generally of heavy and dense weave, would have been drawn together by a thick belt, thus transforming it into a piece of clothing, this process probably being expedited by the person in a backward lying position for greater ease. Certainly, then, a rather crude garment, but not one without some very practical benefits when compared to an article of more sartorial complexity.
The obvious versatility of the material lent it many uses beyond clothing; at times, for example, the whole thing could be unravelled and used as a blanket covering. It allowed great feedom of movement and could be shed very quickly in situations of combat. The 'Belted Plaid' would have been made from material that might have had considerable qualities of water resistance and would, originally, have had a bold check design that would develop ,in time, into something approximating to the tartan that we know today. This, the earliest form of kilt, has become familiar through films such as Braveheart and Rob Roy.
The evolution into The Feileadh Beg or Little Kilt of latter periods and ,indeed, the present day, is a much debated subject, but it is, to the dismay of many a Scot, to an Englishman that the credit (or blame) is usually accredited. Rawlinson headed an ironworks in Lochaber, in the Fort William area, and, either in the pursuit of employee safety or, more likely, enhanced profits, he is said to have developed the much smaller kilt with tight pleats at the back and with two leather strap-fastened aprons overlapping at the front, for his workers to wear at work. This has become the standard today. It does not, perhaps, take a giant leap of the imagination to see the dangers or inefficiencies inherent in operating heavy industrial plant whilst wearing a large draped garment (Do not try this at home).
The Kilt is today worn in conjunction with various other garments such as The Bonny Prince Charlie Jacket, The Argyle Jacket,or the military jabot and with The Sporran, Kilt Hose, Flashes,Sgian Dhub,Belt and Buckle and Ghillie Brogues as accessories. The kilt can be adapted for any occasion and its use today is more open to interpretation than ever before. The resurgence of kilt wearing at football and rugby matches with the team shirts, boots and rugged socks; Vivienne Westwoods daring use of the kilt in her eclectic collections; Gaultiers introduction of the kilt on the Parisien fashion scene; all these examples hint at a continuing interest in, and evolution of, this intriguing and wonderful piece of clothing.
This evolution has had it s interruptions: for the period from the end of the Battle of Culloden, until 1782, the wearing of the kilt along with tartan and other elements of highlandwear was forbidden by law, this form of cultural expression being seen as as a possible incitement to more 'heathenish' behaviourby the feared and, at times loathed, highlanders. Paradoxically, for the duration of this
ban, the Scottish regiments continued the tradition of kilt wearing where elsewhere it faced probable extinction.
The next stage in the the history of the kilt is equally full of contradictions, as we see those very forces that had previously been responsible for trying to eradicate this item of dress from the highland wardrobe, now espousing this form of dress as the
the great 'romantic'...
to be continued...