A kilt is a knee-length non-bifurcated skirt-type garment with pleats at the rear, originating in the traditional dress of men and boys in the Scottish Highlands of the 16th century.
Since the 19th century, it has become associated with the wider culture of Scotland in general, or with Celtic (and more specifically Gaelic) heritage even more broadly. It is most often made of woolen cloth in a tartan pattern.
Although the kilt is most often worn on formal occasions and at Highland games and sports events, it has also been adapted as an item of informal male clothing in recent years, returning to its roots as an everyday garment.
Particularly in North America kilts are now made for casual wear in a variety of materials. Alternative fastenings may be used and pockets inserted to avoid the need for a sporran.
The kilt first appeared as the great kilt, the breacan or belted plaid, during the 16th century, and is Gaelic in origin. The filleadh mòr or great kilt was a full-length garment whose upper half could be worn as a cloak draped over the shoulder, or brought up over the head. A version of the filleadh beag (philibeg), or small kilt (also known as the walking kilt) similar to the modern kilt was invented by an English Quaker from Lancashire named Thomas Rawlinson sometime in the 1720s. He felt that the belted plaid was “cumbrous and unwieldy”, and his solution was to separate the skirt and convert it into a distinct garment with pleats already sewn, which he himself began wearing. His associate, Iain MacDonnell, chief of the MacDonnells of Inverness, also began wearing it, and when the clansmen the two employed in logging, charcoal manufacture, and iron smelting, saw their chief wearing the new apparel, they soon followed suit. From there its use spread “in the shortest space” amongst the Highlanders, and even amongst some of the Northern Lowlanders. It has been suggested there is evidence that the philibeg with unsewn pleats was worn from the 1690s.
The name “kilt” is applied to a range of garments:
- The traditional garment, either in its historical form, or in the modern adaptation now usual in Scotland (see History of the kilt), usually in a tartan pattern
- The kilts worn by Irish pipe bands are based on the traditional Scottish garment but now in a single (solid) colour
- Variants of the Scottish kilt adopted in other Celtic nations, such as the Welsh cilt and the Cornish cilt
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the noun derives from a verb to kilt, originally meaning “to gird up; to tuck up (the skirts) round the body”, which is apparently of Scandinavian origin.
Design and construction
The Scottish kilt displays uniqueness of design, construction, and convention which differentiate it from other garments fitting the general description. It is a tailored garment that is wrapped around the wearer’s body at the natural waist (between the lowest rib and the hip) starting from one side (usually the wearer’s left), around the front and back and across the front again to the opposite side. The fastenings consist of straps and buckles on both ends, the strap on the inside end usually passing through a slit in the waistband to be buckled on the outside; alternatively it may remain inside the waistband and be buckled inside.
A kilt covers the body from the waist down to the centre of the knees. The overlapping layers in front are called “aprons” and are flat; the single layer of fabric around the sides and back is pleated. A kilt pin is fastened to the front apron on the free corner (but is not passed through the layer below, as its function is to add weight). Underwear may or may not be worn, as the wearer prefers, although tradition has it that a “true Scotsman” should wear nothing under his kilt. The Scottish Tartans Authority, however, warns that in some circumstances the practice could be “childish and unhygienic” and flying “in the face of decency”
The typical kilt as seen at modern Highland games events is made of twill woven worsted wool. The twill weave used for kilts is a “2–2 type”, meaning that each weft thread passes over and under two warp threads at a time. The result is a distinctive diagonal-weave pattern in the fabric which is called the twill line. This kind of twill, when woven according to a given sett or written colour pattern (see below) is called tartan. In contrast kilts worn by Irish pipers are made from solid-colour cloth, with saffron or green being the most widely used colours.
Kilting fabric weights are given in ounces per yard and run from the very-heavy, regimental worsted of approximately 18–22 ounces (510–620 g) down to a light worsted of about 10–11 ounces (280–310 g). The most common weights for kilts are 13 ounces (370 g) and 16 ounces (450 g). The heavier weights are more appropriate for cooler weather, while the lighter weights would tend to be selected for warmer weather or for active use, such as Highland dancing. Some patterns are available in only a few weights.
A modern kilt for a typical adult uses about 6–8 yards of single-width (about 26–30 inches) or about 3–4 yards of double-width (about 54–60 inches) tartan fabric. Double-width fabric is woven so that the pattern exactly matches on the selvage. Kilts are usually made without a hem because a hem would make the garment too bulky and cause it to hang incorrectly. The exact amount of fabric needed depends upon several factors including the size of the sett, the number of pleats put into the garment, and the size of the person. For a full kilt, 8 yards of fabric would be used regardless of size and the number of pleats and depth of pleat would be adjusted according to their size. For a very large waist, it may be necessary to use 9 yards of cloth.
Kilts are availbale in follwing fabrics.
- Utility Kilts (100% Cotton)
- Tartan Kilts (Tartan)
- Hybrids Kilts (100% Cotton, Leather and Tartan)
- Camouflage Kilts (Camoaflage Print)
- Leather Kilts (Leather)
- Fashion Kilts (100% Cotton, Leather and Tartan)
- Sport Kilts (100% Cotton, Denim and Camouglage Print)
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