Scottish Outfits – which should I use?

heritage of scotland tartan

After finally obtaining your first kilt (whether that be an 8 yard handmade wool “tank” or a more modest 5 yarder that has perhaps been machine sewn or made with poly-viscose fabric) one of the most daunting aspects of Highland dress (after getting to know how kilts are made) can be trying to learn all the different styles of the available outfits.

Jacket style is paramount in defining the smartness of your outfit, and deciding what type of jacket to wear, and working out which type of sporran, tie or hose complement your chosen style can sometimes become very stressful for the new kilt wearer! In this post we will aim to educate about traditional Highland clothing, and teach a little about the standards of dress for the modern kiltie!

First and best known of the popular kilt jackets is the Prince Charlie. This is essential for all evening events where a high level of formality is required, and is roughly equivalent to black tie. The Prince Charlie jacket, also known as a “coatee” is a formal, tailed jacket with satin lapels and Braemar style cuffs. This is traditionally worn with a three-button waistcoat, cut low to show the front of the shirt which should feature a pointed wing collar and be worn with a bow-tie. Complete your outfit with a full-dress sporran with polished cantle, and a jewelled kilt pin and sgian dubh. Proper kilt hose, smart flashes and leather brogues are also a must, of course. The key in pulling off a full-regalia Prince Charlie outfit is attention to detail; as the most formal of the kilt outfits there is much less room for improvisation, however many discerning gentlemen find that patterned hose, unusual sgian dubhs and eye-catching kilt pins are the perfect way to elevate this commonly seen outfit from the typical hire-company fare and really produce a knock-out effect.kilt outfitThe next style we shall consider is the Argyle jacket. An Argyle is less formal than a Prince Charlie– and also a lot more versatile! The Argyle features self-faced lapels and a straight-cut back but still shows a flash of formality with polished chrome buttons and gauntlet cuffs. This can be worn without a waistcoat, and with wing-collar shirt and bow tie, as a black tie alternative should a Prince Charlie be unavailable. The Argyle however, can also be used as a suit equivalent with 5-button waistcoat and tie or cravat for less dressy events. For suit equivalent use, your sporran and other leather goods are the key. For evening wedding receptions and other parties impart a sense of gravity by wearing a full-dress fur sporran and ensure all leather items are well-polished and black. For day-time events and smart-casual evening wear consider an all-leather dress or fur semi-dress sporran and shake things up a little by introducing rich brown leather hues into your outfit.tweed jacket with kilt

So you’re now covered from ballroom to dinner party, what about more casual events? Those times, such as an afternoon at a Highland Games, or lunch with the in-laws, where you’d like to make a good impression and show the kilt off to its best advantage, but at the same time wish to be comfortable and not stand out too much from the crowd. In this case a tweed daywear jacket can be the ideal compromise. Tweeds are now available in a huge range of shades, allowing you to find the perfect complimentary shade for your tartan kilt, and the diversity of pocket arrangements, cuff styles, button materials (such as stag horn or wood), and other modifications can really allow you to let your personal style shine through. Walking shoes or brown brogues are perfect for this, with a semi-dress fur sporran or an all leather casual sporran. A Tattersall shirt and tie is one option for a smart-casual afternoon, although this method of dress also opens you up to wearing turtlenecks, polo shirts and many other tops where no tie is needed! Additionally, due to the lack of waistcoat, you can also now consider wearing a kilt belt and buckle, another great way to add the personal touch to your ensemble, with a mind-boggling range of designs available. Richly coloured kilt hose and an appropriate sgian dubh, perhaps with a carved blackwood handle, are again ideal for adding a touch of luxury and a sense of completion to this type of outfit.

Coming down the scale yet again we are now in a position where a jacket is no longer required, but that is no reason not to be conscious of your overall impression. Kilts look fantastic when worn with chunky boots, rolled down hose and a thick Aran jumper for a trip to the pub, or, for the preppy look, why not try a crisp polo shirt with Balmoral tam? Accessories are still the key and an attractive kilt pin, appropriate sporran (for this level most likely a simple leather pouch, perhaps with some embossing or other detail) and nice belt will ensure you really look the part no matter what the occasion!

scottish men in kilts

One final major style remains to be discussed; the Jacobean outfit. This is a recently popularised style, which evokes the romance of the early kilt wearers. With flowing ghillie shirts and wool or leather waistcoats these outfits are very popular for casual weddings and among young men who wish to wear a simple and highly identifiable Scottish kilt outfit on holidaysstag nights and other fun events. As a casual style the Jacobean waistcoat can be worn with a wide range of accessories, but for an authentic feel just a few items such as sword style kilt pin and leather sporran are ideal. As this waistcoat is worn open, belts can also be worn without ruining the line of the outfit and this is another great way to elevate the outfit slightly and give a finished look.

I hope this entry has given you some food for thought, and possibly opened your eyes a little as to the true diversity of the kilt! Share in the comments below if you have a particular favourite outfit, or even just one particular piece that makes you feel like a million pounds whenever you wear it. For my part that item would have to be my Harris Tweed daywear jacket, in lovely muted beiges with a red over-check… I can wear this almost anywhere with my clan kilt and favourite brogues and always feel I look my best!

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13 Mar 2017

By Duncan MacCalman