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The Kilt

November 7, 2016

The kilt is the brightest symbol of Scottish national identity and it can be seen nowadays all over the world as it has become quite a fashionable dress not just within Scotland itself.

If you are on a tour about Glasgow or any other Scottish city you will definitively see people wearing the kilt. How old is it and does it come from?

After the Glorious Revolution of 1688–89 the Catholic king James II of England and VII of Scotland, fled to exile in France. James' daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange, who was also James's nephew, ascended the British throne. In 1690 Presbyterianism was established as the state religion of Scotland.

The Jacobite rising of 1745 was the attempt by catholic Charles Edward Stuart to regain the British throne for the exiled House of Stuart. Charles Edward Stuart, known as "Bonnie Prince Charlie" or "the Young Pretender", sailed to Scotland and raised the Jacobite standard in the Scottish Highlands, where he was supported by Highland clansmen. The battle took place at Culloden – the last battle on Scottish soil which  ended with the final defeat of the Jacobites.

King George II imposed the Dress Act of 1746, which made it illegal for the Highland regiments to wear garments resembling any form of Highland dress, as well as the tartan kilt. Offenders were killed or sent to the colonies.

This ban remained in place until 1782. Before that time, Scots were only permitted to wear any Scottish dress if they joined the British Armed Services. Pipers were permitted to wear their kilt, but usually in a Regimental colour.

The word “kilt” itself is derived from the ancient Norse word ‘kjilt’ which means pleated, and refers to clothing that is tucked up and around the body.

Originally the kilt was only worn within the Highlands. Nowadays, it is seen as the national dress of the whole of Scotland.

Early kilts consisted of a piece of tartan cloth 2 yards (1.8m) wide and 4 (3.7m) or 6 yards (5.5m) long. This was known as “Fèileadh Mòr” (philamore), meaning in Gaelic “great wrap” or “big kilt”.

Such a garment had many advantages in the Highlands of Scotland where the weather can become very damp. It gave freedom of movement and was warm. The upper half could provide a cloak against the weather. It dried out quickly and when the nights became cold, the kilt was easily removed by undoing the belt and spread out to create a blanket. The tightly woven strong wool proved almost completely waterproof, unlike contemporary woven wool. When the armies of the past were fighting in Scotland, the kilt with its pleat helped protect the soldier like armour would.

The kilt is male attire and is not worn by the ladies, except Highland dancer lassies.

 The fèileadh beag (philabeg), or little kilt is a development of the great kilt, being the bottom half of the great kilt. Ironically was invented by an Englishman, Thomas Rawlinson in 1720s, a manager of an iron smelting works in Lochaber who adapted it to allow more freedom of movement for his workers. Together with the tailor Rawlinson produced a kilt which consisted of the lower half of the belted plaid worn as a "distinct garment with pleats already sewn". He wore it himself, as did his business partner, whose clansmen then followed suit.

The tailored kilt was adopted by the Highland regiments of the British Army. In the early 19th century it became fashionable as a civilian dress and has remained popular ever since.

Today the kilt has 29 pleats and is made using approximately 8 yards (7.3m) of tartan fabric. Though you might spot a kilt-wearing bagpiper on our Glasgow Tours kilts are no longer and everyday item of clothing being a form of ceremonial dress and worn only for special occasions and primarily to formal events, such as weddings, sporting events, Highland games and holiday celebrations.

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