Scotus Academy: Kilt Usage

Figure 1.--This is the Primary 5 class at Scotus Academy in 1963. Click on the image to see the rest of the class. The uniform was a colored blazer abd cap, both with the school crest. Boys could wear either kilts or short trousers with the blazer. Boys wearing kilts had the option of wearing a tweed jacket rather than a blazer.

One question we have about kilts in Scotland is common they were worn by different schools in Scotland and during different periods. Here we have a view at one private schools in one of Scotland's two major cities. A Scottish reader provides us some insights. "Taking up your thought (re Pitcalnie School) on whether boys in Edinburgh or Glasgow would have worn kilts to a similar extent, I enclose two photographs from Scotus Academy and some notes on this particular aspect of boys wearing kilts to a city school."

Scotus Academy

Scotus Academy was a private Roman Catholic boys’ day school that flourished in Edinburgh between 1953 and 1978. It had both a Primary and a Secondary department. Its teaching staff were from the Order of Christian Brothers; an Irish order. I think this was their only school in Scotland, but they have schools in many other countries.

School Uniform

The photograph of Primary 5 is from 1963 and that of Primary 6 from 1967. In Primary 5 the pupils would have been aged 9-10; in Primary 6 they are 10-plus. The school uniform is very much in evidence. It consisted of a royal blue blazer, grey shirt, school tie, and grey short trousers, with stockings to match. A cap was also required, and though the boys in the 1963 picture do not wear their caps for the photograph, this must have been because it was decided to photograph them without (class photos of earlier as well as later years are sometimes capped, sometimes not). The only variant allowed to the uniform was a kilt instead of the shorts. In both pictures some of the boys are wearing kilts.


It may be wondered if the fact that the school was a Catholic one had anything to do with this, but the same might equally well be seen in an equivalent Protestant school: it was a Scottish thing, not related to religious denonation.


We have two school photographs from the 1960s. We do not have any 1950s or 70s photographs at this time.

1963 photograph

At least six boys in the 1963 photograph are wearing kilts of different tartans, all with blazers. As schools also allowed the kilt jacket to be worn, this confirms my own recollection that boys often chose to wear school blazers with their kilts. Though the combination is a somewhat odd-looking one, it enabled them to keep some of the group-identity given by the school uniform, as well as the conspicuous individuality of a kilt.

1966 photograph

All six boys sitting cross-legged in the 1966 photograph at the front have kilts on, as do two of those standing: eight in all. Four wear tweed jackets as an alternative to blazers. These jackets are tailored to allow for the sporran, which school blazers are not.

School Photography

The question arises: did some boys put on kilts specially for the class photograph? The answer, almost certainly, is no. Scotus was a school for the sons of middle-class city business people, and a high percentage of the boys who attended would have owned kilts. If the school had asked for kilts to be worn for the photographs, many more would be seen. The likelihood is that these boys normally came to school in their kilts.

Kilt Popularity

We do not know why some boys wore kilts and others did not. This may represent the boys' personal preferences. Perhaps some boys did not like short trousers. Others boys may have jist liked kilts. The parents may also have been a factor. Also there were differences from class to class. These two classes are not representative, even of Scotus Academy. Other class photos from the Primary department show no boys in kilts; and no kilts are in evidence in the Secondary classes, even in the 1950s. It seems to have been the case, as my own experience also confirms, that the presence of one or two regular kilt-wearers in a class encouraged others to do likewise. In this way one class might have several boys in kilts, while others had none.


Incidentally, until the end of the 1960s, the Scotus secondary pupils in the first and second years, and to a considerable extent in the third year, wore short trousers. In the fourth year (age 14-15) one or two boys were still in shorts. By the early 1970s, here as in most other Scottish secondary schools, all the boys were in long trousers.

School Uniform Policies

Another question: Why should a school which clearly had rigorous uniform rules permit such a flamboyant exception as kilts? In this of course Scotus Academy was following established practice throughout Scotland, in both state and private schools. The answer may have different elements. One was that the presumption that a boy who habitually wore a kilt might simply not possess any trousers. (This is not as strange asc it may sound. See "Kilts in England" below. But surely most important was the general acceptance that the kilt was the “national dress” and as such, should transcend any rules about school uniforms. To forbid the wearing of kilts would arouse strong public disapproval; even rake up old grievances about the banning of Highland dress in 1746 after Culoden. It would be a deeply un-Scottish thing to do. Also, while most attempts to evade school uniform were considered subversive, the kilt was different. Its connotations: athletic and warlike, were positive ones. And by the 1950s it was a thoroughly respectable middle-class garment. One feels that most schools appreciated a leavening of bright tartan among the sea of greys and blues.

Kilts in England

This acceptance of the kilt did not extend to other parts of the United Kingdom. * Footnote: This was not unusual. Here is a extract from an obituary in The Scotsman newspaper, in February 2005. It refers to Gordon Campbell, a distinguished political journalist, who died in that month. “Campbell was born in Bellshill, Lanarkshire, on 22 December, 1927. But he was still a small boy when he moved with his family to Birmingham. He used to say that when he went to his first preparatory school in Birmingham, unlike the other boys, he had no short trousers. All he had was a kilt, which caused much merriment among his classmates.”

Kilts in Other Areas

Readers may be interested in how common kilts were in other areas of Scotland. The Pitcalnie School shows how common kilts were at a small village state school in the Scottish Highlands. We do not believe that kilts were at all common in state schools located in the larger cities, but our information is still limited. We are building an archive of Scottish schools and see very few boys weariung kilts at most schools. The exception here was that boys at private boarding schools did commonly wear kilts for church on Sunday and for special occassions.

Kilt Usage at Scottish Schools

Many Scottish and schools employed the kilt as part of the school uniform. It is generally worn with a tweed jacket. Scottish schools allowed boys to wear the kilt as an alternstive to trousers. Some boys wore the kilt as everyday wear. Others only wore it on Sunday.


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Created: 10:26 PM 9/27/2005
Last updated: 10:26 PM 9/27/2005