Wednesday, May 2, 2012
The Wearing of the Kilt---oh, yes!
What Scottish or Highlander historical romance would be complete without men wearing plaid? But did you know that many of the tartans we recognize today were the creations of tailors during the reign of Queen Victoria? Nevertheless, the basic concept of the plaid and the wearing of the kilt have their origin in the early Scottish and Irish clans or families, so we can take heart.
The kilt, or philabeg (the older Gaelic name) that is now standard Highlander dress, has its origin in the older garment called the belted plaid. The patters, or setts, of multicolored stripes and checks identify the clan or regiment. Although the kilt is the most recognizable of the tartans, it also takes the form of trews (trousers), shawls and skirts.
According to Wikipedia, the kilt first appeared as the great kilt, the breacan or belted plaid, during the 16th century and is Highland Gaelic in origin, a full-length garment whose upper half could be worn as a cloak draped over the shoulder, or brought up over the head.
The first tartans were the result of individual weavers’ designs, which were slowly adopted to identify individual districts and finally clans and families. The first recognizable effort to enforce uniformity through an entire clan was 1618 when Sir Robert Gordon of Gordonstoun, wrote to Murry of Pulrossie requesting that he bring the plaids worn by his men into “harmony with that of his other septs.”
After 1688, with the fall of the Stuart clan and rise in the spread of Jacobism, the English government took a more active role in the Highlands. In 1707, The Act of Union succeeded in temporarily uniting the political factions and clans that were opposed to the Act. The tartan came into its own as a symbol of active nationalism. The wearing of the tartan spread from the Highlands to the Lowlands, which were previously not known for the wearing of the tartan.
After the rising of 1715, the English government raised regiments to curtail lawlessness. A large number of Highland men enlisted serving in the private ranks. From the time they were first raised, these independent regiments became known as the Black Watch, a reference to the darkly colored tartans they wore. In 1725, six independent Black Watch companies were formed: three from Clan Campbell, one from Clan Fraser, one from Clan Munro and one from Clan Grant. Taking advantage of the partisan nature and warrior instincts of the highlanders, these men were authorized to wear the kilt and to bear arms, thus it was not difficult to find recruits. In 1740, the independent companies became a formal regiment and a new tartan was developed that has ever since been known as the Black Watch Tartan.
During the 1800s, the wearing of the belted plaid began to be replaced by the kilt, a plaid that had the traditional pleats permanently sewn in place and separated the lower form the upper half. By 1746, the English government enacted a law making it illegal for Highlander to own or possess arms. A year later, the Dress Act restricted the wearing of Highland clothes. Any form of plaid, philbeag, belted plaid, trews, shoulder belt or kilt were not allowed in public. By the time the Dress Act was repealed in 1783, the fabric of Celtic life had been forever altered. Old traditions and customs were lost forever and the wearing of the plaid was no longer a way of life for Highlanders.