Although kilts have been around for centuries, there are still many misunderstandings about them. If your only exposure to kilts has been through pop culture, you probably know very few facts regarding this piece of clothing. Likely, you think that they are Scottish and that they only come in tartan colors. While both of those things are technically true, they are a bit misleading.
Because of the pervasiveness of myths surrounding the kilt, we want to take this opportunity to clear the air. So, let’s take a deep dive into the truths and myths of this traditional Scottish garb.
Myth: Kilts Go Back to Scotland’s Origins
In the film Braveheart, William Wallace leads a rag-tag army of Scottish troops to victory against the evil English monarchy. One of the most notable aspects of the Scots was that they all wore kilts all the time.
Because this film is based on some historical events, it’s easy to assume that the filmmakers did their research and that everything we see (for the most part) is accurate. However, kilts are actually anachronistic. Braveheart takes place in 1276, roughly three hundred years before kilts became the go-to clothing for Scottish men.
Instead, the kilt came into fashion sometime in the 16th century (the 1500s). For many years, kilts weren’t even seen as a fundamental part of Scottish or Gaelic culture. That didn’t happen until the 19th century.
So, while it’s fun to assume that men wore kilts from the birth of Scotland to today, it’s a relatively recent innovation. To put Braveheart into perspective, it would be like showing a film taking place in the 1700s where everyone wore t-shirts and jeans.
Fact: Kilts are Both Irish and Scottish
Although Scots are most closely associated with kilts, the truth is that the Irish also use them quite frequently. The difference between the two groups is that Scots typically use tartans, or clan colors and crests, to distinguish their clothing from each other. These days, there are over 250 Scottish clans registered with the government, each with a unique tartan.
For the Irish, the coloring and design of a kilt are used to represent a particular county or area of the country. So, while a Scot may use a kilt to show off his family, an Irishman would be indicating his birthplace.
Myth: Men Wear Nothing Beneath a Kilt
If you’re a fan of classic Simpsons episodes, you may remember one where Groundskeeper Willie (a proud Scot) stands in front of a crowd, wearing full kilt regalia. A gust of wind blows through, exposing his nether regions as his clothing billows up, a la Marilyn Monroe in The Seven-Year Itch.
This episode is not the only pop culture reference that illustrates the “fact” that Scottish men don’t wear underwear. Even Braveheart had a scene where Wallace’s army exposed themselves to the oncoming Englishmen. However, as cheeky as it may be (pun intended), it’s a complete fabrication.
The reality is that men wear clothing under a kilt. It’s far more comfortable and practical, particularly during the colder months of the year. Nonetheless, the idea of a “true Scotsman” persists as a bit of an inside joke for locals.
Fact: High-Quality Kilts Are Pricey
It’s easy to assume that, for many Scots and Irishmen, kilts are relatively common and thus inexpensive. While there are cost-efficient options, a high-quality dress kilt can be a significant investment. Depending on where you look, you will likely pay several hundred dollars for the kilt itself, and that’s not including any accessories.
For most people, renting a kilt is a much better option, especially for special occasions. Sites like Kilt Rental USA are perfect for finding the right color, design, and fit without having to break the bank. Even better, you can find all the add-ons (i.e., sporrans, jackets, shoes, etc.) as well.
Myth: Kilts Are Only for Formal Occasions
For many Scots and Irishmen, kilts are typically reserved for events like weddings, anniversaries, or other celebrations. Because of this, many assume that kilts can only be worn at specific times. In addition to weddings, kilts are worn by Royal Guards and most bagpipe players, further perpetuating this myth.
In reality, anyone can wear a kilt at any time. That being said, you probably won’t want to don the full regalia for everyday use, as it can be time-consuming, and some of the pieces don’t hold up to regular wear and tear. Instead, kilts can come in more casual varieties that work for any and all situations; work, school, or playing sports.
Fact: The Kilt Became Popular For Practical Reasons
Today, most men wear kilts as a way of presenting a part of their heritage or identity. However, when the garment first became commonplace, the idea behind it was much more practical. Here are a few reasons why.
Unlike clothing that requires stitches or complicated fashion, the first kilts were incredibly simple. Typically, they were a single piece that covered the torso and waist, and they were held in place with a drawstring or belt. Poor, rural Scots could make kilts without any problems.
If you know anything about Scotland, you know that most of the terrain is mountainous and wild. The vast moors were easier to travel when wearing a kilt since the clothing was not restrictive and could allow for men to walk through marshlands and wet areas without getting soaked. If you’ve ever had wet pants before, you know why a kilt was preferable.
Easy to Wear
For those who have worn a kilt, you know that it can be much easier to put on and take off than a pair of pants. Rather than starting at the feet and working your way up, a kilt is draped around your waist and fastened in place. This convenience made it even more popular, particularly for times when your feet or legs were wet from the elements.
Kilts are highly popular today, and it’s important to understand their history and value to both Scottish and Irish countrymen. Now that you know more about the kilt, perhaps it’s time to start wearing one of your own?