Ideal Outfit (c1900)
What A Highlander Should Wear
The following was reprinted in The Cetic
Monthly (est. 1876), probably in the very early 1900s. It is
extremely detailed and prescriptiveand and would cost a small (even
'large') fortune to adhere to. Probably what is most interesting is
the acceptability of wearing two different tartans at the same time
- something which has been frowned upon by previous anonymous
arbiters of Highland fashion. Wearing a kilt in the clan tartan and
a plaid in the hunting version is now set to come back into
"Quite recently The Peoples Journal offered a prize for the best
concise description of "What a full-dressed Highlander should
wear." From a large number of competitors the Editor of that
Journal has awarded the prize to our well-known correspondent "
Fionn," for the following description of what a Highlander should
wear. As it must interest many of our readers we gladly give it the
publicity of our pages.
According to the best authorities, the Highland costume consists
of a kilt, or "feileadh-beag" and plaid of some regular tartan,
with hose, either made from the web of tartan or knit in check of
its prominent colours, in the proper proportions; a doublet of
cloth, velvet, or tartan, with lozenge or diamond-shaped buttons;
low-cut shoes, sporran, and a broad bonnet, with badge and crest; a
brooch to fasten the plaid, a waistbelt and a caldric or swordbelt;
the arms, a claymore or broadsword, dirk, "sgian-dubh," a pair of
pistols, and a powder horn.
If a member of a clan possessing one or more tartans, such as
clan, " hunting or dress, the person should wear his own tartan,
either clan, hunting dress, or a combination of the first two. If
belonging to a sept of any clan, he should wear the tartan of the
clan of which he is a sept, if the sept has no special tartan of
If the sept has a special tartan be should wear it. The person
may wear a combination of his own clan tartans, such as a clan
tartan kilt and a hunting tartan plaid or vice versa. It is not
considered proper to combine either clan or hunting tartan with
dress tartan. If one is to wear dress tartan, the kilt, plaid, and
hose must be uniform. The proper length of the kilt is to the
centre of the kneecap.
The long shoulder plaid should be worn, but the square or shawl
plaid is allowed, especially in the ballroom. The hose must
correspond with either the kilt or plaid.
The bonnet should be broad and blue, somewhat akin to what is
called the Balmoral. The Glengarry bonnet is a modern invention
introduced about a century ago, and while tolerated, it is not
considered correct form. The bonnet should bear the crest of the
wearer's clan, with motto, also the evergreen badge of his clan or
The garters should be of scarlet worsted lace, about an inch in
width, pattern and knot correct.
There is a special knot, called in Gaelic "snaoirn gartain," or
garter knot. (Garters ornamented with rosettes, being a modern
invention, are not considered correct.)
The jacket or doublet, as already stated, may be made of velvet,
cloth, or tartan, cut on the bias. The jacket must be of proper
Highland pattern. The oldest form is the "cota-gearr" something
like what is commonly called a "swallow-tail," but cut short in the
tails, or even like an ordinary shooting coat, but short, and with
Highland pocket flaps and cuffs. The buttons must be lozenge
A sporran of goatskin, black, white, or grey, with er without
tassels, but considered more complete with tassels. The mounting of
the sporran should show the crest of the clan, with motto, and the
ornamentations thereon should be Celtic in design, and correspond
with those on the brooch, belt, and buckles.
The shoes are low-cut. Buckles are generally allowed. When such
are worn they must be uniform in ornament with the other buckles,
Swordbelt, etc., of black leather, bearing crest; buckles to be
ornamented. Claymore-A double-channelled blade, with basket hilt,
lined with scarlet cloth or tartan to correspond with the dress.
Dirk of proper pattern, ana bearing uniform Celtic ornamentations.
"Sgian-dubh" of proper pattern, uniform with dirk in design.
The proper pistol is a single-barrelled muzzle-loading belt
pistol of antique pattern, having the ramrod attached to the
barrell; powder horn (worn on right side).
The ornaments are buckles for shoes and belts ; a mounting for
the sporran, on which is displayed the proper crest, which should
also appear on the waist and swordbelts ; an ornament for the
bonnet, on which is shown the proper crest and motto ; and a brooch
to fasten the plaid, with or without a Cairngorm or other stone,
and ornamented uniformly with the buckles, etc.
The ornaments should be embossed, etched, or engraved. The long
plaid must be worn over the swordbelt, and removed entirely in the
ballroom. The whole dress should appear as if it belonged together,
the arms and ornaments all being of the same degree of richness,
and the design of the ornaments should be similar. The wearer must
carry his dress easily as to the manner born. Gloves form no part
of the Highland dress.
Any one not bearing a clan surname or that of any clan sept, may
adopt the tartan of their mother's clan or sept should she possess
a clan surname or that of a sept
For a list of clan septs consult Adam's "What is Mr Tartan?"