Advice from an old kiltie......
I should start this off by saying that I don't know it all. There are many people more knowledgeable than I am. I do wear the kilt, and I try to wear it with respect and pride. Over the years, I have learned some things along the way that I would like to pass on. Not that it is any great distinction, but I am a dedicated, full time kilt wearer and have been for several years.
OK – Here we go………..
I continue to be asked by those who know me and those who just meet me about kilts. Most people, when they find out or realize that I wear the kilt full time, get curious. Some consider also getting and wearing the kilt. Some wives have even called me a bad influence. Be that as it may, I get asked for advice quite often. So I decided to customize some sage words that might fit the average new kiltie. (Kiltie – somebody who wears a kilt, usually a man.) Maybe if the words below are heeded you can avoid some of the mistakes that I made.
Some assumptions are in order. I assume the individual I am writing this for lives in the U. S., but with today’s access to the internet, this advice holds true for almost anyone. I assume that the individual has never worn a kilt before (maybe he once wore a rented outfit at a wedding or Burn’s dinner.) I assume he is an out-going, vivacious extrovert and is not afraid of trying something new. Let’s face it, if you don’t want to stand out in a crowd, you shouldn’t wear the kilt. If you aren’t thick skinned enough to handle a little teasing, you shouldn’t wear a kilt. I assume he doesn’t already own a kilt. For lack of a better term, I will refer to the clothes you currently wear as Saxon clothes. These are your jeans, shirts, suits, belts, socks, sport coats and all the things you now use to cover your body.
Generally, kilts can be broken down into two very broad categories: tartan and non-tartan. Tartan kilts tend to be made in the manner that has been adopted as the national dress of Scotland. Tartan kilts have pleats in the back and an apron in front. Generally, tartan kilts don’t have pockets.
Non-tartan kilts have been called modern, non-traditional, contemporary and many other names. Non-tartan kilts are made in many different ways. Some have small aprons, different pleating styles, even pockets. When addressing this type of kilt, the rules or conventions go out the window. I am not talking about non-tartan kilts.
So, I make the big assumption that we are talking about tartan kilts.
I am also going to assume that you want to wear your tartan kilt in a more conventional manner. This means you wear kilt hose (knee socks) with your kilt. It assumes you will be wearing a wide kilt belt (your narrow Saxon belt just won’t work.) It means you will be wearing a sporran, because you don’t have any pockets, and you need someplace to stash your wallet and keys.
The first thing that the new kiltie or kilt curious man needs to do is to educate himself. One great way to do that is to get and read a copy of “So You Are Going To Wear The Kilt” written by the late J. Charles Thompson. This is a concise, well written, easy to understand primer on wearing the kilt. It is still in publication and can be found in libraries and on line. Used copies can sometimes be found for around $5. Get this book and read it. Sure, some advice is a bit dated, and some even a little controversial, but all-in-all this is a great place to start. Again - Get this book and read it.
Next spend many hours on your computer using google or yahoo or dogpile or whatever. Search and read what you find when you type in relative words, like kilt, Scotland, highland attire, etc. There are many, many good sources for kilt information. Some established clans have extensive information. Ditto some museums.
Don’t rush into the first kilt purchase! Get all the information you can. Visit and join on-line kilt forums. One of the best is the Brotherhood of the Kilt at kiltsrock.com. There are many others such as Bravehearts and HexMarks.....
Ok, you want to wear the kilt and you want it now! You’ve made the decision to buy your first kilt. What should you do now? Again, don’t be in a hurry. In order to respectfully wear the kilt you need several things. You need a kilt. You need kilt hose and hose flashes. You need a sporran, kilt belt and sporran belt. But, really that’s about it. I recommend you start small – Heaven forbid, you may not like it.
Your starter kilt turn-out can be very cost effective. A starter kilt can cost as little as $30. (Still Water) A very nice usable sporran can be had for $55. (Buzz Kidder) Kilt hose can be found for $15. (On e-bay from Scotland) Starter sporran belts run $15 and kilt belts about $35. (almost everyone has these items.) The look we are going for here is a casual one; not really good enough to go to a wedding, but perfectly fine for bar-hopping.
Realistically, you can get a very presentable outfit for under $200. Most, if not all, of your present Saxon shoes and most of your Saxon shirts will work with the kilt. Wear plain colored shirts with no stripes or patterns with your tartan kilt. Lean to match the color of your shirt, hose and flashes to compliment the colors in the chosen tartan. Can you wear your Saxon sport jackets? – No! For now be satisfied wearing a light windbreaker jacket. Remember - You are not ready to go to church kilted - - - not yet! Go at this slowly; take your time.
I suggest that you get a very inexpensive kilt first. There are several on-line manufacturers that sell low cost kilts. One of the best is Still Water Kilts. Jerry, the owner, only offers on his web-site those things that he has in stock. His delivery times are very fast. He sells great “starter” kilts. With a little modification by you, even his $30 Thrifty kilt can easily be made to double in value. More on that later.
Regardless of the source, this starter kilt will not be high-grade Scottish wool. It may have Velcro instead of the traditional belts. It will be made from man-made fiber. It will have been manufactured and assembled in another country. Who cares? You will look good. If you follow the advice here and in Mr. Thompson’s book, you will not embarrass yourself. In fact with a little bit of effort, you can go to a local Highland game, and walk around with all the old kilties, just like you’ve been kilted for years.
Back to this first starter kilt - - If you opted for the lowest price, this kilt will not have the pleats sewn down from the waistband to the hip. This needs to be done. Take a little time (an hour or so) and hand sew down the top eight inches or so of the pleats. You need to measure down from the waistband to where your rear end is at it’s widest. Get your wife or girl friend to help (maybe she’ll take pity on you and do the sewing for you!) This will give a more finished look to the low-end, low-cost kilt. It will make it fit better and also enhance the swing.
Almost as important as your first kilt is your first kilt belt. A very serviceable casual kilt belt can be purchased at your local home improvement store or hardware. Look for plain leather tool belts, the kind that carpenters use to attach those big tool pouches from. I still have and use one that I got years ago for under $10. It is made of good quality leather and still gives good service.
Wear this starter kilt a lot. Get out in the public. Go to the market. Go to the local pub. Find out for yourself that the kilt is more accepted than you may have thought. Have fun! Maybe buy and sew down the fell on a couple more low-end kilts. Get another pair or two of kilt hose. Make some nice flashes. Red flashes go with almost any tartan.
Decision time! Do you still enjoy wearing the kilt? Are you man enough? Can you handle the harassment? No? You’re not out much money. Yes? Then it’s time to look into getting a little better quality kilt.
Second level kilt:
For your second level kilt I recommend the type and style of kilt sold by USA Kilts. Rocky uses a high-end Poly Viscose fabric that offers easy care and good style. His kilts are machine made, but custom made for you, none-the-less. You can get a quality kilt from USA Kilts for $100 to $200. Rocky also makes higher quality wool kilts, but we’ll talk about them later.
OK - Several months have passed. You have your low-end Still Water Kilts to knock around in, maybe a couple of USA Casual Kilts for when you want to look nicer. You feel comfortable in your kilt. The people at the local bar now only make a remark when you fail to wear your kilt. The things that bug you now result from the poor choices you made. Instead of looking for the $55 Buzz Kidder sporran, you found one on e-bay for $12. From the same vender, you got your first kilt belt for $15. You now hate them. The leather is cheap, almost cardboard. The color is coming off, and the leather is cracking. What’s more, you can fit almost nothing inside this cheap sporran. You are now in the market for a better quality sporran. (If you bought the $55.00 Buzz Kidder, you’re ahead of the game.)
The best sporrans are hand made by fine craftsmen. I recommend that you check-out Thorfinn Sporrans or Wyvern Leather Works. Both Turpin and Donnie make quality items that last a lifetime. There are also a few others: Joe Gondek, Bob Marlin and Tom Hay come to mind. And you can sometimes find some quality items at a local Scottish Game. If at all possible, touch and feel the product before you buy.
For leather belts, both kilt belts and sporran belts, I recommend Oconee Leather Works. Steve makes top of the line products that also will last a lifetime. While I am on the subject of belts, remember that sporran belt that came with that cheap sporran? The one that is a chain and leather combination? Throw it away; far, far away. The chain sporran belt will damage even high level PV fabric. Reserve chain belts for formal wear, and even then, consider backing that fancy formal evening wear chain with black velvet or suede. Throw away that cheap leather chain combination, it’s an abomination.
You are probably OK with kilt hose, but you’d like some different options. Look into Rugby or Soccer socks. They offer modern yarns, good durability and often nice colors. For cold weather or more dressy times track down some nice wool hose. There are really too many to mention.
So here you are. You have several kilts, usable leathers and you now want to think about going to some place which requires a little more dressy appearance. You need a kilt length coat or jacket. Do you really want to spend $200, $300, or more on a jacket? I didn’t think so. What you need to do now is pay a visit to the local Good Will or D. A. V. used clothing store. Look for a tweed sport jacket in your size and cut it down as described in Mr. Thompsons’s book. Then you will be set. If you don’t think you can handle it, there are always local tailors that do alterations who will probably do the job for under $50.00.
Top of the line kilt:
You now can look for a personal kilt maker. You are probably ready to spend some big bucks on a really quality garment. I suggest that you avoid ordering a kilt from Scotland. Sure, they make good products, but the currency exchange, and sometimes import duty will and can easily double the price for that hand-made kilt. Many companies sell the full blown, heavy wool traditional kilt and you may be overly influenced by the price. Expect to wait three to four months for your kilt to be delivered.
For the truly top of the kilt maker’s art, I recommend people like Barbara Tewksbury, Kathy Lare or Wallace Catanach. These individuals are at the pinnacle of their field and they make garments that can be passed down from generation to generation. A high-end kilt made from high end, heavy weight wool fabric can easily cost $750 dollars. This is a decision not entered into lightly. If you are considering a high-end kilt, you are probably also considering high-end exotic fur sporrans, formal evening jackets, formal sporran chains, Ghillie Brogues and maybe much more. Welcome to the addiction.
Again, take your time; don’t rush it. Do your research. You probably are now in a position to give advice to others. Wear your kilt with pride!
You notice I didn’t touch on contemporary kilts or which tartan to wear; I didn’t talk about dirks or sgians dubh. No mention of canes, walking sticks, cromachs or even a pair of cadadh. Not one word about hats. These subjects and many more can easily take up and do page after page and book after book. These subjects are also subject to more personalized habits and behavior. I will say that Glengarry Hats sell some nice quality items. There, you should be able to find the Balmoral or Glengarry of your dreams.
Good luck young kiltie.