A Scottish kilt is one of the most recognizable and well-known folk outfits around the world. There is so much info about Scottish traditional garments and, sadly, not all of it is true or at least fully accurate. In this post, we want to bust some of the widely-known myths about the kilt, tartan, and Scottish clothing traditions. Like how old a kilt really is? Or did every Scottish clan have their own tartan design?
The article is based on the video by Natalya Skornyakova: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=INenjyGC11I
Kilt is a skirt
A Scottish kilt looks very much like a skirt today, but originally, it was a blanket wrapped around the body. In the 18th century, to put on a kilt, you had to spread out a rectangular plaid on the ground, gather it in multiple pleats, lie onto the fabric, and belt it around your waist. So basically, a great kilt is a handy woolen blanket that’s always with you. You can, for example, wrap yourself in it, cover your body at night, or sit on it instead of sitting on bare ground. Modern-type kilts constructed as a wrap-around skirt appeared at the end of the 18th century when Scottish military men needed a uniform that could be put on quickly.
Kilts were in use since medieval times
A lot of people think that kilts were widely popular in Scotland and Ireland as early as in the Middle Ages. But that’s not really accurate. The idea of wearing a great kilt appeared around the 16th century. Before that, Scottish and Irish men wore a long loose shirt called “leine” and a mantle called “brat” or “plaid”. This mantle was a prototype of a kilt – as soon as men started to belt it, the plaid turned into a totally new garment.
Checkered tartan is exclusive for Scotland
If to talk about typical checkered fabrics that we now call a “tartan”, they really existed on the territory of Scotland and other European countries since the ancient times. There are archaeological finds in Scotland from the 3rd-4th century A.D. that show checkered fabrics. But such patterns weren’t exclusive for Scotland. The Scots just were among the biggest fans of checkered designs, especially in the 17th century.
Tartan patterns were always related to clan affiliation
In the 17th century, tartan fabrics were extremely common among Scottish people. The majority of them had weaving looms at home and wove their own cloth to sew clothes, so the design of the checkered fabric was often invented by the weaver and depended on his/her taste, skill, imagination, available colors of yarn, etc. Usually, people made clothing from the pieces of woven cloth they had at hand, and it wasn’t common to use the same tartan cloth for the whole attire – it was too expensive. So, ordinary Scots dressed in mismatched clothes. Maybe only the festive outfits for special occasions, like a wedding, were sewn from the matching fabric. And, of course, the outfits of wealthy landlords and aristocracy. The trend to use a unified tartan design by a certain clan appeared only during the industrialization, when tartan fabrics were factory-produced and more available than handmade woven cloth.