Scottish Boys' Clothes: Chronology

Scottish boys clothing has perhaps changed more over the years than boys clothing in most countries. Conventions for the kilt in particular have changed. Once mostly worn by poor rural boys, today the kilt is most worn by boys from afluent families--mostly when dressing up. Fashions over time have become increasingly similar to English fashions. Boys clothing in the Lowlands have been for centuries influenced by English clothing trends. In the 18th century English fashions began to also affect the Highlands. By the 19th century there was less and less difference betwen th way English andScottish boys dresed. While the kilt was more common in Scotland, in the 20th century it became worn to a much lesser extent. Most Scottish boys today do not own a kilt whch is now worn mostly on special occassions. There are today vurtually no differences between the clothes worn by Scottish and English boys.

Ancient Scotland

Scotland in antiquity was known by the Romans as Caledoinia. Little is known of the early inhabitants of Scotland. Human habitation of cotland appears to date from about 8500 BC. The appear to have been a mixed group of aborigines and unidentified European tribes of the Indo-Euroipean lingistic stock. Some archeologists believe that Scotland was settled by Iberians. The one group which is know is the Picts, a war-like people who were able to resist the Roman invasion. The term Pict is Roman in origin. The Romans called the pre-Celtic people in northern Britain "Pictii", meaning painted people. This appears to have referred the Pict pratice oif tatooing their bodies. Roman General Gnaeus Julius Agricola invaded Caledonia in the late 1st century AD and reached the Firth of Forth. The Picts and rebelious Britons pushed noryth by the Romans appeared to have successfully resisted the Romans in the area between the Firth of Fourth and the Clyde. Resistance was so successful that the Emperor Hadrian ordered the construction of a defensive wall from Solvay Firth to the mouth of the River Tyne which is today known as Hadrian's Wall (122 AD). Another wall was subsequently constructed further north which became known as the Wall of Pius (140s). This wall extended from the Firth of Fourth to the Firth of Clyde. The area between the two walls became the Roman first line of defense against the ancient Caledonians. The area south of the Wall of Pius became partially Romanized and this endured into Medieval and modern times as the Wall of Pius is roughly the dividing line between the Scottish Highlands and Lowlands. Litte information is available on the clothing worn by the ancient Picts.

Medieval Scotland

The Medieval era can be said to have begun with the recall of the Roman Legions from Britain (409). With the withdrawl of the legions, the Picts intensified y their raids south. It is at this time that waves of migrating German tribes, the Saxons, sweep over Britain. Many Celtic Britons retreating from the Saxon invasions settle in Caledonia between the Firth of Clyde and the Solway Firth which eventually collaseses in to the Kingdom of Strathclyde. To the north at the beginning of the 6th century, Celtic invaders from Ireland establish the Kingdom of Dalriada. The pagan Angles, another invading Germanic tribe settled in what is now northern England founding the kingdom of Northumbria. The Angles in the mid-6th century moved north seizing much of the land south of the Firth of Fourth and east of Strathclyde. Strathclyde and some Picts were converted to Christianity and Columba came to Dalriada froim Ireland (563). He largely converted the remaing Picts. Conflicts develop between the Celts and Picts who fuse into the Scotts on one suide and the Angles in Northumbria. Keneth MacAlpine in the mid-9th century rules over all of Scotland, but faces incessent warfare with the Norse. The conflict between the Scotts and English continues when the the Normon William the Conqueror defeats the Saxons at hastings (1066). Malcomb's son, Edgar, with Norman assistance is crowned (1097). The Anglization of Scotland accelerated during Edgar's reign (1097-1107) and that of his two brothers, Alexander I (1107-24) and David I (1124-53). Edward I also succeeds in annexing Scotland to England, but is thwarted first by William Wallace anf finally by Robert the Bruce. The feuding Scottish nobility, however, prevents the establishment of a strong royal Government. After Robert there is a decline of royal authority and further English encroachments. The Stuart dynasty was founded by Robert II. The Stuarts were unable to overcome the Scottish nobility and impose strng royal authority in Scotland. As a result, Scotland under the Stuarts were unable to resist English encroachments. While the Reformnation was initaited by the English monarchy, in Scotland in occurred in spite of the opposition of the monarchy, although supported by the English. Ironically, although Queen Elizabeth executed her Catholic rival Mary Queen of Scotts, her Protestant son James V of Scotland succeeded her as King James I of England, launching the English Stuart dynasty.

The 17th Century

Scottish Union with England began in 1603 when King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England after Queen Elizabeth I of England died with no children. The two countries were not yet united, but the crown belonged to a single person and his descendents. Kilts are of course associated with the Scottish. The short kilt now associated with Scotland, however, did not exist in the 15-17th centuries. There was an increaing division in Scotland during this period between the Gaelic Highlanders in rural areas and the increasinly Anglicized urban population. I am not sure what extent the kilts worn at the time were actually worn by Scottish boys. Gaelic boys presumably wore them, but I am not sure at what age. The situation in the growing urban centers may have been quite different. Anglicized populations would have been much more likely to dress and eat like their southern neigbors, the English. Many of these people may have looked down on the kilt-wearing Gaelic Highlanders as country bumkins. Thus town boys may have been dressed more like the English rather than in Gaelic kilts. This is, however, largely speculation. Hopefully some of our British visitors will provide some historical insights.

The 18th Century

The history of Scotland as an independent nation effectively ends with the Act of Union in 1707. There were riots and risings against the English, culminating with Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Rising of '45. This culminated with the Battle of Culloden (1746) and the subsequent English supressing of the Highanders. [Magnusson] Some reports suggest that the short kilt as we now know it was fashioned by an Englisman in the early 18th century. He was enamored my the traditional long kilt worn by Scottish workers in his foundary and so fashioned a shorter, safer version for them to wear. The English defeat of Bonny Prince Charlie, the last Jacobin pretender, at the Battle of Culloden (1746) brought an end to Spanish national aspirations and an era of supression when the English attempted to eradicate Scottish resistance, extending even to clothes and other aspects of national identity. The kilt in Scotland was actually banned as it had become a symbol of national resistance. The English even charged that it had military value. As a result, for several decades, perhaps lomger, kilts were not commonly worn by Scottish boys. Scottish boys the same styles as worn by English boys which meant as soon as they emerged from dresses, they were breeched in the English styles of the 18th century, the same styles as worn by their fathers.

Figure 2.--This Turner painting depicts George IV's visit to St. Giles church in Edinburgh about 1822. The visit was notable because the King wore a kilt. Notice the Scottish boy wearing a kilt at the right.

The 19th Century

British attitudes toward kilts changed significantly in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Romantic poets and authors like Burns and Scott had a great impact on the popular imagination. The performance of kilted Higland regiments in the Napoleonic Wars also influenced public opinion. One effect of the changing attitude toward Scotland was the renewed wearin of the kilt in Scotland. Laws prohibiting the kilt had been recended in the late 18th Century. II have few details, but I do know that Scottish boys in the early 19th Century did dress up in kilts. Paintings of the era depict boys in kilts for church and other dress occasions. I am not sure if the kilt was perceived as a boys' style at this time. I also do not know if they were also worn for other activities such as school or play. If readers have any infornation on this subject, I'd appreciate any contributions. The major moving influence in establishing the kilt as boys' clothes for English and eventually american boys was Queen Victoria who was fascinated by Scotland. She built a royal estate at Balmoral which is still a favorite of Queen Elizabeth today. The Queen outfitted the steadily growing number of young princes in picturesque kilts. I am not sure if she just picked up on a fashion of the time or the clothes she saw when visitin Balmoral. Scottish boys were wearing the kilt in the early 19th Century, but I'm unsure as to how commonly. Perhaps outfitting the princes was an idea she conceived herself. Hopefully some of our British observers will provide some information on this. Wheather or not Victoria conceived the idea herself, the impact of her decision is apparent. Suddenly the kilt rather than being a symbol of resistance to England was endorsed by the Queen. Royal children ever since have been outfitted in kilts. (Notably Prince William and Harry do NOT appear in kilts even when visiting Balmoral. Although they did wear kilts 'as young boys on extremely rare occasions. Their father Prince Charles, however, was often dressed in a kilt and still wears one at Balmoral. Presumably they don't like the idea of continuing the Royal tradition.) With the Queen's approval, the kilt was surely seen much more in Scotland, including on boys and at school. If some mother's had dressed boys in kilts before the mid-1800s, after Victoria's example, the kilt became a major boys' fashion for dress wear. However how extensive the kilt became as an article of boys clothes I do not know. Nor am I certain just how the kilt was worn. Was it just for formal dress occasions, or was it worn as casual wear as well. It is likely that most Scottish boys dressed much like their English cousins.

Figure 3.--Some Scottish boys wore kilts for casual wear and to play in. These children in the late 1920s were photographed in their play clothes. A few English mothers besmitted with the alure of Scotland even chose kilts for their boys.

The 20th Century

HBC has much more detailed information about boys Scottish boys clothing in the 20th century. We are not positive how commonly kilts were worn by Scottish boys in the early 20th century. There appears to have been a dichotomy with both poor, especially rural boys wearing them as well as boys from affluent families. Of course affluent bys ore better cut kilts with all the Highland trappings. After world War I (1914-18), poorer boys much less commonly wore kilts, but they contuinued to be worn by boys from affluent families, especially for dresswear. As the century progressed, boys wore kilts to school less and less, although even today they are worn at private schools--motly as the dress uniform. Even by the end of the century, kilts were still worn for Scouts and special occasions such as weddings, Scouts, Higland gatherings, and Scottish dance. The century closed with the restablishment in 1999 of a Scottish Parliament in Eduinburgh after 292 years of union with England.

21st Century

The modern Scottish boy dresses just as English boys, with very few exceptions. Most of the activities described above continue in Scotland. Dress wear in some schools (mostly private schools), Scouts, and formal events. But for the most time Scottish boys wear jeans and trainers (tennis shoes), often with sweaters in the generally cool Scottish weather. Many schools require uniforms, just like the ones worn in England--except that kilts might be worn for dress occasions. This is most common in private schools.


Magnusson, Magnus. Scotland: The Story of a Nation (Atlantic Monthly, 2001), 752p.


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Created: July 21, 1998
Last updated: 11:19 PM 2/9/2009