Boys' Band Costumes: Pipe Bands

Figure 1.--Some of the most easily recognizeable band uniforms are Irish and cottish pipe bands.

Bagpipes exist in many forms and are found in Scotland, Ireland, Russia, Finland, Germany, France, Spain, and in many other places around the world. In each country the basic instrument is the same, a bag with a chanter and possibly one or more drones. Some of these are mouth blown while others use a bellows attachment to supply the air. It is with Scotland and Ireland, however that bagpipes and the modern pipe band are most associated. Interestingly it is the English who came to fear the wild Scottish highland warriors and pipers who created the pipeband. It was the English Army which recruited Scottish pipers after the disastrous battle of Colloden in 183?. The first formal pipe bands were attavhed to Scottish and eventually Irish regiments. Most active pipebands are Scottish or Irish, both bands in those countries are band in other countries organized primarily by Scottish and Irish immigrants. In fact there are probably more pipe bands in the United States than either Scotland or Ireland. Most modern pipebands are either Scottish or Irish. These bands, except for the school ones, include both men and boys. A few in recent years have added girls. They give great attention to theuniform, which always is a kilt.


The bagpipe and pipe music is today virtually a symbol of the Scotland and the Scottish people. Ironically, this symbol of Scotland is inextricably tied to Scotland's two historic foes, the Romans and the hated sassenachs--primarily the English. It was the Romans who probably introduced the pipes to the Scotts and it was the English Army which created the modern pipeband. The history of the bagpipe is largely lost in recorded history. It appears to have originated outside of Scotland. There are references to the pipes in Roman times and in fact the pipes may have been brought to Scotland by the Romans. It was in Scottish higlands, however, that the modern great pipes were developed. The pipes became a symbol of resistance to England. Historians disagree somewhat on the English attitude toward the pipes after the Jacobite disaster at Culloden on 1746, but it is clear that the subsequent supression of the Highland clans by the English Red Coats and their Scottish allies as well as the Highland clearances helped to promote emmigration to America and other areas. This Scottish emmigration spread Scottish culture and music around the world. Ironically the pipes after Culloden when more Scottish regiments were formed, became a symbol of imperial Britain. It was the tough Scottish regiments who marched to blaring bagpipes that served as shock troops of Britain's imperial expansion. To find out how just how all this happened, click on the history link above.

Figure 2.--Pipebands often have crests on their caps. This band wears redcockades by the crest.

Types of Bag Pipes

The bagpipe consists of six distinct parts: the bag (made of cloth-covered sheepskin), the Chanter with eight finger holes (9 notes), the blow-pipewith a valve to prevent the air from coming back out of the bag while the piper is taking a breath, and three drones (one bass and two tenor). Each drone has a single reed, while the chanter has a double reed. the piper plays by inflating the bag enough to sound the drones, then placing the bag under his arm and maintaining enought pressure to sound the chanter where the melody is played. Elbow pressure on the bag forces air through the double reed like that of an oboe to make the actual sound. There are two basic types of bagpipes, Scottish and Irish. The Scottish Highland Bagpipe are the best known and most common bagpipe, the one used by pipebands around the world. The Irish pipes are probably the most elaborate bagpipe in the world. Uillean pipes were developed from roughly the 1700's to the present time in Ireland, with contributions from the United States and European countries.


Pipe bands are most commonly assocaited with Scotland and the vast majority of pipebands one sees are Scottish pipe bands. Of course pipe bands can be found in many other countries around the world, such as the United States and Canada. These are, however, still Scottish pipe bands stringly assocaited with Scotland. The members commonly have Scottish ancestry, but this is not always the case. There are also Irish pipe bands, but they are less common than the Scottish ones. Ithe Irish pipe bands are more likely to use the Irish bag pipes. They are also likely to wear green cockades in their caps. Often they will wear green or safron solid-colored kilkts, but this is not always the case.

The Bands

We have very little information about specific pipe bands. We do note the pipe band at Scotch College in Australia.

Figure 3.--Glengarry caps generally come with tails (streamers) and poms, often red poms. This boy wears his Glengarry with a red cockade.

Band Uniforms

All performances are made in traditional Highland attire and thus uniforms can affect results. Bands vary greatly in the uniforms adopted. Some less established bands do not have set uniforms. One band, for example, band and . At this time, we do not have matching band kilts, so each musician supplies their own kilt of the tartan of their choice, white shirt, black vest, bow tie, white kilt hose and black shoes. Used kilts are often available through various sources, or new kilts can be custom made through commercial sources. Most pipe bands are carefully uniformed in identical uniforms, although small differences occur among each piper. Uniforms commonly include: white shirts, black vests, black ties, glengarries, ghillies or black shoes, off-white hose, flashes,sporran and kilt (any tartan). Bands commonly provides vests and flashes. Also commonly provided by the bands are part of the drum equipment and matched chanters for pipers. Some bands take novel approaches to their uniforms. One American band, for example, notes that they are quite proudly aware of being a contemporary pipe band, with primary roots in the United States and Canada. They intend to honor the traditional attire of their forebears. They have decided that various items in common use by early Celtic immigrants to North America, and also contemporary options, may be attractive and practical for our use. Their peasant-style uniform, as yet under development, will allow individuals a broader choice of national identification, and periods of origin. Authentic reproductions of attire from any period of any Celtic culture are allowed, including the use of breeches or trews in place of the kilt. Perhaps most pipers, who came to America during the fur-trade era of 1800-1840 (mostly Scottish), soon adopted the more practical (and available) dress of local natives. Celtic people are known to be shrewdly practical! Pipers, drummers and dancers haven't always worn kilts, nor have they always been from Scotland or Ireland. While their primary attire includes kilts, they do not ask members to wear a specifically Scottish style, if they are of Breton, Galician, Irish or Welsh lineage. Those who have no known Celtic lineage may "adopt" a personna from those mentioned here. In keeping with their educational mission, this band will not adopt a "band" tartan. Their attire, including kilts, will be of Scottish and North American family or district tartans, ancient or modern; from other fabrics known to be used in kilt-making in other Celtic cultures. When wearing the kilt, they will use a uniform style or pattern but often not the same colors of hats, stockings, peasant shirts, vests or tunics. These will be color-coordinated to the tartan or other cloth of the individual wearer.

Figure 4.--Almost all pipebands use the kilt uniform. Some bands use the same tartan while others let each member choose his own tartan.

Uniform Items

Pipe bands are best known for wearing kilts, but there are many more items to the full Higland uniform. Not all the items are required and there are some differences among bands. There are both Scott and Irish pipebands. The differences between the garments worn are only minor. The proper cap to be worn by a kilted pipe band is the Glengarry bonnet. There are several different versions. There are both plain and diced headbands. They almost always come with streamers. Some have poms. One popular style is a blue Glengerry with a red pom. Glengarrys are worn with full-dress military attire, or when wearing military ribbons and/or armaments with summer (white shirt) uniforms. A proper kilt is 8 yards and hand-sewn by professional kiltmakers. Pipe bands wear kilts are available in Scottish clan tartans, Scottish district tartans and Irish county tartans. They generally come in middleweight, heavyweight and regimental weight. They can be quite expensive. A man's kilt can cost $300 or more. Boys' kilts are somewhat less, depending on the boy's size. Many pipe bands instead of jackets choose the less expensive options of sweaters. Waistcoats are traditionally wool garments, but most suppliers now also offer polyester versions. Made to a common band pattern from suede leather, with Inverness flaps and shoulder guards, dark color-coordinated to wearer's kilt. Worn over peasant shirt on cooler days, or on more formal occasions. There are various standard Scottish or Irish military style tunics, with shoulder guards, fabric and piping color-coordinated to wearer's kilt.

Boys' Attitudes

I have relatively little information about what the boys in the pipebands think about their uniforms. Most appear to be quite proud of them and the their Scottish or Irish heritage that they symbolize.


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Created: December 31, 1998
Last updated: 8:05 PM 10/4/2017