Only limited information is available on the popularity of the kilt in certain historical periods, especially before authors helped change the image of Scotland and Queen Victorian popularized the kilt as a child's costume in the 1840s by dressing the princes in kilts. One largely unanswered question was just how commonly worn the kilt was in Scotland by the average boy. The kilt chronology is primarily one of Scottish kilts. But kilts were worn in other countries as well. We see them in England for well-to-do boys And large numbers of American boys were wearing kilts suits by the 1870s. Scotland was a very small country. Thus probbly more American boys wore kilts than anywhere else, at leat kilt suits.
We do not have a good idea of how common kilts were in Scotland. We believe that they were widely worn in the Scottish Highlands, but have few details. We are especially unsure as to how ommon they were for boys.
With the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Highland clans at Culloden in 1745, the English proscribed the kilt. I'm not sure, however, just what boys wore in Scotland either before or after the proscribition. One unintended inpact was the introduction of the kilt to the wider world. Not only did Scottsmen emigrate to America, but the British Army raised Higland units which were allowed to wear the kilt. Soon kilt uniformed units were deployed by Britain in Europe and in its growing colonial empire.
The proscription on the kilt was lifted in the 1770s. However I am not sure what this meant in terms of what Scottish boys wore.
The British outlawed the kilt in Scotland after Culloden. We are not entirely sure how severly this edicy was enforced and if it extended to children. We believe that gradually British enforcemrnt became less severe. AndEnglish attitudes towards the Scotts gradually changed with literary giants like Sir Walter Scott helping to reshape the Scottish image. We have very little information, however, as to what extent boys were wearing kilts in Scotland during the early-19th centuty. We know that Scottish regiments wore kilts, but we are less sure to what extent men and boys were wearing kilts in the Highlands. One of the few clues we have is a Turner portrait showing an upper-class Edinburgh boy wearing a kilt (1822). At about the same tgime that Victoria and Albert began dressing the Princes' in kilts we begin to have photogrphy to record a record (1840s). And we begin to see large numbers of images by the 1860s with the CDV. We note substantial numbers of boys wearing a variety of kilt garments. This
increases mrkedly in the 1860s with the appearance of the CDV. Thus we begin to see a true picture of the various kilt garments and how common they were. Especially notable is how popular kilt suits become in the Unitd States by the 1870s at least afor boys from prosperous families. The studio photography doe not, however, give us a good idea as to just how common the kilt was among Scottish boys. We know some Scottish boys dressed up in kilts, bur we do not know to what extebt boys wore them for everyday life or to what extent working-clss boys sore them.
Prince George took a personal interest in the children's clothing. We continue to note portraits from Britain of the young princes dressed in kilts during the 1900s. We note many portraits of other boys wearing kilt as well. Most of the images we have are formal portraits. We have little information at this time as to what extent Scottish boys wore kilts for school or informal play after school. Unfortunately many are unidentified. We assume most are Scottish boys, but as mentioned above some boys may have also worn them south of the border, especially by boys of Scottish ancestry. The sons of George V are often pictured in kilts. He considered the kilt and sailor suit as the only suitable clothing for children. We do not know to what extent some English boys may have been dressed in kilts. They would have been likely to have been boys from aristocratic or wealthy families. The kilt was adopted by the new Scout movement in Scotland. Scottish Scouts wore kilts rather than short trousers.
We notice Scottish boys continue to dress up in formal kilt outfits during the 1910s. The scene here seems rather posed because the boy is so formally dressed for an outdoor scene (figure 1). We also notice formal potraits. An example here is the Lennox family who lived in Glasgow. We are less sure as to how ordinary Scottish boys dressed for casual wear or for school. The Cub movement was established in 1916. Many Scottish cubs wore kilts, but short trousers were more common. There are many photographs of King George V's children wearing kilts.
Prince Charlesand his brothers wore kilts. Charles is often pictured in kilts on his trips to Balmoral. Aristocratic British boys are still seen in kilts during the 1950s. The kilt is still worn in many Scottish schools, especially schools outside the major cities.
Fewer Scottish boys wear kilts to school. Increasingly it becomes a dressup uniform, mostly for boys at private Scottish schools.
The latest generation of British royals did not like kilts at all. I'm not sure they never wore them, but cearly they did not want to wear them and were not pictured in them, even on trips to Balmoral. Scottish boys no longer commonly wore kilts. Most boys wearing kilts wear them as apart of a Scout uniform or a school uniform. Others are worn for special events such as a wedding or for competive dancing. Small boys might wear a kit to serve as a ring bearer or an older boy as an usher. But adults wear them as well. They are also worn by pipe band members.
The situation was little changed in the 1990s. The younger royals continue to avoid wearing a kilt. HBC notes no change to the situation reported in the 1980s with Scottish boys no longer commonly wearing kilts. Most boys wearing kilts wear them as apart of a Scout uniform or a school uniform. Others are worn for special events such as a wedding or for competive dancing. Small boys might wear a kit to serve as a ring bearer or an older boy as an usher. But adults wear them as well. They are also worn by pipe band members.
HBC has noted no significant change in Scotland as to the wearing of kilts in the 2000s. They are still commonly worn for dress uniforms at private schools. Scouts continue to swear them. They are still worn at formal weddings, by ring bearers, ushers, bridegromes, and some guests. Highland dancing and pipe bands still use kilts. This appears to have an important element of scocial class. Boys going to private school or even in the Scouts tend to be of either affluent or at least middle class families as is the case for people having formal weddings.
Freemantle, Clive. E-mail message, November 11, 2003.
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