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Monday, June 22, 2009

The Wearing of the Plaid

Forgive my lateness, but I still can't get my pictures to upload. So I'm just going to forge ahead.

Every so often, the clans of Scotland gather to account for themselves. And I’m not just talking about your annual highland games, where strong men in kilts toss big poles and bonny lassies dance around swords. In July of 2009, Scotland is having a homecoming. The clans are being called home. The calling of the clans is important. Important enough for the ruler to attend. Yes HRH Elizabeth II will be there, waving and smiling, as the clans march by, parading the strength of their numbers. There will be parties and state dinners, meetings and balls. Rivalries will flare, but unlike in times past, no blood will be spilled (except maybe for a bloody nose). Whisky and ale will flow, and flow, and flow. And oh yes, men in kilts will be everywhere. I know this because an acquaintance of mine is the “Chief” of clan MacFarlane. He’s a strapping hulk of a man, with long blond hair. Just what you’d expect a clan chief to look like. Women follow him around, especially if he’s wearing his kilt. So of course I had to write something loosely based on the MacFarlane clan (extremely loosely, but still it was the image of Michael that planted the seed in my head). I'll post an excerpt once I'm further along. 

The Scots are ever proud to display their tartans and you’d best not insult a man for wearing his kilt, even if you’re not in Scotland. I’m seeing more and more kilt wearers, here in Amreica. Scotsmen, young, old, and in-between are wearing their family plaids. The most traditional are even pleating the whole nine yards. I’m told that’s where that phrase comes from. A traditional formal kilt takes nine yards of material. The length is carefully folded into pleats and fastened on. Modern kilts are a bit easier, but still there's a bit involved. Here's a step-by-step on how to wear your everyday kilt by Matthew A C Newsome:

This is how I get dressed in the morning.

1.        Put on your shirt. Whatever shirt you are wearing, be it a button down, polo shirt, t-shirt, whatever.

2.        Put on your kilt. It may seem obvious, but the pleats go in the back! (Some people do need reminding of this). The two flat aprons overlap in the front. On most kilts, there will be a leather strap at the end of the right-hand apron. This will cross over in the front and pass through a hole in the left side of the kilt and fasten to a buckle at the outer left waist. (I make my kilts a bit different: see here). The top of your kilt should come up well above the belly button. Make this as snug fitting as is comfortable. It needs to be snug enough to keep your kilt in position -- you'll stand straighter, as well!

3.        Now cross the apron to your left over to the right and fasten withone or two leather straps there. It is important to keep things even. You want this outer apron to lie smooth across your belly. In a well made kilt, where the straps and buckles are placed evenly, this means that you should position the straps on both the left and right equally. In other words, if your left-side strap is on the second hole, then you need to wear your right-side strap at the second hole, as well. This applies for the straps at the waist. If your kilt has a third strap down on your right hip, take care to fasten this only as tightly as necessary to allow the apron to lie flat and smooth. People have a tendency to wear this strap too tightly and this creates a pull across the front apron. (Or you could just follow my suggestion and have this superfluous third strap removed and not worry about it!).

4.        The kilt is designed to sit up high on the waist. Most civilian kilts are made with a 2" rise. This means that (on most men) the bottom of the leather straps (the upper straps, if your kilt has a lower one on the hip) will be at your natural waist line, at the top of your hip bone. The top of the kilt itself should come to just under your rib cage. On thinner men, this will be the natural place where the kilt feels comfortable. Larger men, with a waist (belly) larger than their hips tend to want to wear their kilt at the hips, below their belly. Avoid this temptation! Nothing looks worse than a man with his beer-belly protruding out over the top of his kilt. Wear your kilt high, above your belly button. Believe me, it looks a lot better and more fitted.

5.        Most well-made kilts will have one of the pivot points of the tartan (the point at which the pattern mirrors itself, often a dominant stripe) at the center point of the front apron. See that that line is centered, and line up the buttons on your shirt to that line.

6.        Reach down underneath the kilt and give your shirt a little tug to get it in place, and smooth the shirt out. If you need to during the day, you can repeat this little maneuver to neaten up your appearance.

7.        If you are wearing a belt, now is when I would put it on. If you plan on wearing a vest or waistcoat (or a cummerbund for as part of a formal ensemble), then you will not want to wear a belt. Most kilt belts are between 2" and 3" wide, with the average being about 2.25" to 2.5". I'll do a different post later on about formal/casual styles of kilt belts. Your kilt may or may not have belt loops in the back. These belt loops are actually a relatively modern addition to the kilt. They are not necessary and many kilt makers (myself included) still do not put them on. It is the straps and buckles that will keep a properly fitted kilt up, not the belt, which is purely decoration. If your kilt is sans loops, just put the belt on at the natural waist. Some are of the opinion that the belt should come up even with the top of the kilt (so that you cannot see any kilt above the belt). J. C. Thompson advocates this in So You're Going to Wear the Kilt! I find this very impractical to maintain, however, without the belt slipping off the top of the kilt, and see no reason for it. The belt should cover the leather straps on the kilt, and it's perfectly fine if the top half inch or so of the kilt shows above the belt. If your kilt does have belt loops, go ahead and run your belt through them. So (again, Thompson being an example) say that since these belt loops are a new addition, made originally for the sporran strap (true) and therefore should not be used for the belt. So they say to wear your belt on top of the belt loops. If you want to do this, I won't argue with you. But I will say that to most who see you it just looks like you missed your loops when you put your belt on.

8.       The belt should be snug fitting (but not so tight as to bunch up or crease the kilt!). A snug fitting belt will stay in place (and help the kilt stay in place on those men with no hips!). A loose fitting belt will work its way south during the day and the next thing you know your half inch of kilt showing above the belt has turned into three or four inches, and nothing looks sloppier.

9.        Again, make sure everything lines up -- your belt buckle should be even with the center line of the kilt apron (and the buttons of your shirt).

10.     The next thing I put on are the hose. When you put them on, pull them all the way up, over the knee. Take your garters and fasten them above the calf, below the knee. The flashes (the colored cloth ribbons) should be on the outside of your leg, positioned just slightly to the front. (Just FYI, the elastic band is a garter, the colored ribbons are the flashes, and together they are referred to as "garter flashes." They are not called "flashers" or "flashings" -- both of those things will get you arrested!). Garter flashes in place, the top of the kilt hose now folds down, hiding the garters, with the bottom few inches of the flashes showing. Don't get too hung up on how many inches the fold over of the hose needs to be. Just use your best judgment. Some kilt hose are designed to be folded over two or three times for a thicker top. Most just fold over once.

11.      Next I usually add the sgian dubh. This just gets tucked into the top of my right kilt hose (because I am right handed), on the outside of the leg. Too many people wear their sgian dubh with the entire handle sticking out of the hose. This is uncomfortable, and you may loose your sgian dubh that way! All that needs to be showing is the top half or one third of the handle -- enough to grab it when you need it.

12.     If you are wearing a tie, now is when I normally put it on. You will have to tie it a bit shorter than you normally do with your trousers, because the kilt has a much higher waist. If you wear the tie at the same length, it will come down too far below the waistline of the kilt. You want to tip to be just a bit below the top of the kilt, but not too much.

13.     Now you are ready to put on your sporran. Adjust your sporran strap so that the top of the sporran is a few inches (not too much! I'd say no more than 3" or 4") below the belt. If your sporran moves around too much, feels like it is slipping, or feels uncomfortable in any way, you are probably wearing your sporran strap too loosely. If you want to run the strap through the belt loops in the back of your kilt, feel free. That is what they are there for. Most men won't need to do this, but again, if your waist is larger than your hips, this may help keep everything in place. Some men with larger bellies have a problem with their sporran hanging down below their gut and creating an unsightly pull in the front of the kilt. One solution to this are the handy sporran slings that are being sold now, allowing the sporran to hang from the main kilt belt. These will keep the sporran in the correct position no matter your waistline! Again, make sure your sporran is centered.

14.     If you are wearing a vest or waistcoat, now is the time to put it on.

15.     We are almost done! Time to put your shoes on. I don't have time to go into detail about the proper way to tie the ghillie brouge laces, other than to say there are about half a dozen "proper ways." Unless you are dressing formal, you don't really need to wear your ghillies, anyway. Just wear comfortable shoes.

16.     Lastly, before you head out the door, put on any outerwear. This means jacket and/or bonnet.

17.     One minor word about the bonnet. No matter if you are wearing a balmoral or a glengarry, the ribbons should be centered in the back, with the hat cocked ever-so-slightly to the right, highlighting your crest badge. On the balmoral, it is customary to wear the ribbons tied into a bow. (This is a remnant of the old broad bonnets that were sized with a draw-string). With a glengarry, the ribbons are left loose.

And you thought putting on a corset and buttoning up a hundred buttons was complicated.

Hanna Rhys Barnes is one of those people with an evenly balanced right and left brain.  She has a BA in English, but recently finished her final year as a high school math teacher.  She loves to cook and was a pastry chef in a former life.

A member of RWA’s national organization and of several local chapters, she currently lives and works in Portland, OR, but occasionally visits her retirement ranchette outside of Kingman, AZ

Hanna’s Debut Novel, Widow’s Peak, is due to be released September 23, 2009 from The Wild Rose Press. She is currently working on Book 2 in the series, Kissed By A Rose.


Carol L. said...

Hello Hannah,
Thanks so much for this post. I love anything Scotland ands Scottish Highlanders. I never knew all that was involved. It was very enlighening.
Have a great day.
Carol L.

Eliza Knight said...

Fabulous Hannah!! Thank you :)