Traditional Scottish clothing is characterised by the appearance of tartan or ‘plaid’ patterns in some form. Tartan is a pattern consisting of criss-crossed horizontal and vertical bands in multiple colours. Originally it was made from woven cloth, but now additional materials are also used.
Until the middle of the 19th century, highland tartans were associated with regions or districts, rather than by any specific clan or family. This was due to the fact that the designs were produced by local weavers, with a limited range of local dyes and for local tastes.
[photo by: Lee Carson]
Male Scottish dress includes a kilt or ‘trews’, sporrans and gillie brogues.
The kilt is a knee-length ‘skirt’ with pleats at the rear. It was first worn in the 16th century, by men and boys in the Scottish Highlands. It is typically made from one piece of fabric that is wrapped around and fastened at the side.
Since the 19th century, it has been associated with the wider culture of Scotland in general, or with Celtic – and more specifically Gaelic – heritage further afield.
Today, the Scottish kilt is most frequently worn on formal occasions or at Highland games and sports events. It has, however, all been adapted for more mainstream fashion, and can be seen on catwalks across the globe, worn by Scottish and non-Scottish fans alike.
The sporran is made of leather or fur, and serves as a wallet and container for any other necessary personal items, as the traditional Scottish kilt does not have pockets.
In medieval times, it would have been attached to the belt. Today, it generally hangs just below the belt buckle on a chain, but can be turned around the waist, to let it hang on the hip in a more casual and convenient position.
Gillie brogues are traditional thick-soled shoes, with no tongues and long laces. The laces are secured by wrapping them around the ankles then tied. The shoes deliberately lack tongues, so the wearer’s feet can dry more quickly in typically damp Scottish weather.
The Gillie brogue is named after the Gillie, the traditional Scottish gamekeeper and outdoorsman.
Traditionally, women and girls didn’t wear kilts, but sometimes wore ankle-length plaid skirts. In the absence of this, or in addition, a tartan sash or shawl may also be worn to indicate clan affiliation.
Female dress also includes gillie shoes that are tied on the same way as their male counterparts’, but they tend to have thin soles for indoor wear and dancing.
Women may also wear ‘dress’ tartans, which have white threads woven into the patterns. The light colour of this fabric was a status symbol. It was used to demonstrate prosperity, because the wearer could wear the tartan without fear of it being soiled.
White tartan was also worn to social events as a sign of peace and harmony – indicating it would not be stained by bloodshed.
Traditional Scottish clothing associated its wearer with a particular region or district. Today it may link them to a particular clan or family, or simply be a representation of their national pride.