Menswear – what about a Kilt?

posted in: Style advice | 11

I have been meaning to write about kilts for a while, but now they have featured on the Great British Sewing Bee, the time has come.

Neil’s was really nice, and Patrick looked good in his.


It is widely believed (but also disputed) that the kilt was invented by Quaker Englishman Thomas Rawlinson, in 1725. He owned an iron smelting factory in Scotland where the workmen wore a more traditional kilt that was rather voluminous, held together with a belt and with the excess cloth wrapped or draped over the shoulder. Rawlinson’s amendment was to reduce the kilt to a skirt shape. This also made it more suitable for fighting and the more modest kilt was soon adopted by the Highland regiments. Wearing the kilt (unless you were a soldier) was banned by the British 1746 Proscription Act to try to disrupt Scottish nationalism, and apparently because the colours of the tartans made it easier for highwaymen to hide in the heather and jump out and rob passers-by. Also because the fabric was one long piece of woolen cloth, which would be used as a blanket at night, the kilt was seen as a garment that encouraged sloth. The punishment for wearing the kilt was six months in prison for a first offence, and transportation for the second.

The Act was repealed in 1782 and Highland Dress soon became very fashionable. Women started wearing kilted skirts too. Scott’s romantic writings about the people of the Highlands prompted a wave of sentimental Jacobitism.  In  1822, on a royal visit to Scotland,  King George IV wore Highland Dress.  Ever since then it seems our British royalty cannot get enough of the kilt.

Modern kilts

A number of people wear a kilt to weddings if they have Scottish ancestry (I have), and they tend to go for a look like the one below. It is an OK look, but the dinner  jacket, silver buttons and bow tie are way too much, to my mind, with the sporran, fancy socks and brooches.

Personally I really like a kilt and think they are a great alternative to the bifurcated garment. If I was a man I would definitely wear one. But we need to mainstream the kilt – seize it from the Scottish if necessary – but pull it away from formal wear and re-invent it, simply as an alternative to trews.

traditional kilt
Traditional kilt outfit

Below are some ideas if you want to incorporate a kilt into your wardrobe.

  • Choose a fabric in colours that suit you – it doesn’t have to be tartan
  • match it with a good top – it might be a toning jacket, but it could be a jumper or T-shirt
  • you don’t have to wear a shirt and tie, unless you want to
  • change the footwear to brogues or boots rather than dancing shoes
  • definitely drop the sporran, unless you have a nice vintage one in the family
  • different fabrics could create a really versatile look eg plain wool, tweed, leather, denim

(images from 21st century kilts, Edinburgh)

Making a nice kilt is on my “To Do” list. Now all I need is a man who would wear one! Would you?


11 Responses

  1. Linde

    I have a cousin (no longer with us) who worked as a kilt maker all her life. As I remember it takes some years to train but this was in the early 1960’s. Authentic kilts are really very heavy due to the amount of fabric used. When my daughter was young she made her a lighter version which she wore for a number of years.

  2. Stephanie

    About half of my roots are Scottish, so even I had a kilt when I was little. My paternal grandfather ordered it directly from Scotland and I was so proud. I wore it for years even though it became too small very quickly. That said, I don’t recollect any man in my family ever wearing one, although I suppose that’s not surprising given our culture and temperatures. The men in the last two photos in your entry look swoon-worthy to me. I would love to see men on the street dressed like this.

  3. symondezyn

    IDK if it’s just us Canadian girls, but it seems every gal I know thinks men wearing kilts are pretty hot (especially if they come equipped with a Scottish accent)! LOL. Then again, maybe it’s just that we embrace culture and adore men with accents, so moral of the story…. if you’re a guy with an accent, come to Vancouver, and wear a kilt – the gals will fall all over you LOL.

  4. qplourde

    I just recently made a kilt skirt actually (blog post coming soon), so I was glad to read this! When I was in Scotland this past summer, I bought a few tartan scraps from a kilt shop. Not sure what I am going to do with them, but they are pretty neat.

  5. Ceci

    I used to go to an ob/gyn (male) who routinely wore a kilt, usually with a sweater type top….a real morale boost for this patient!


  6. Rob

    Would I wear one?!?!……………… YES!……………….. I wear one every day!
    Although I agree with you article, and I love kilts, or I wouldn’t wear one, I totally disagree about dropping the sporran! It is an intricate part of the kilt, and without it, it just looks like you’re wearing a skirt. the sporran makes the kilt! It doesn’t have to be fancy, all leather sporrans are more rugged and masculine than white rabbit, dress sporrans.

  7. Rob Ritchie

    Not only would I wear one, but I wear one daily! I have thirty-one kilts and I love them all/ I get complements daily, especially from women, but even from many men.
    I hike a nearby lakeside trail, as a safety patrolman, and they allow me to wear kilts.
    Once you go kilted, you’ll never go back!

    Another Rob

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