** Scottish kilts: usage

Scottish Kilts: Usage

Figure 1.--These boys are dressed up in Highland kilt outfits. This would have been their best outfit for special occassions such as Kirk. We do not lnow if they wore kilts for everyday or for school. We do not know where the portrait was taken, but the background suggests the Higlands or Islands. This was a cabinet card and the style of tghe mount suggests the 1900s to us.

I am not precisely sure as to the extent the kilt has been worn in Scotland by boys. As with all fashions, the usage has changed over time. There are also significant regional differences. HBC is beginning to piece together some information, but my thoughts on the matter are still highly speculative. Much more research is needed to compile an accurate picture of actual kilt usage among Scottish boys. It appears that through the 17th century it was not a child's garment, but rather a garment worn by boys and men, especially in the Higlands. The pattern in the 18th Century was more complicated because of the English perscriptions after the Nattle of Culloden (1745). Boys do seem to have worn kilts in the 19th Century, but primarily poorer boys in rural areas. Gradually in the 19th Century fewer poor Scottish boys wore kilts and beginning in the 1840s with the decision of Queen Victoria to dress hersons in kilts, highland garb became for well dressed boys from affluent families. By the 20th Century, especially after World War I, it became increasingly rare to see poor Scotish children wearing kilts. In the major cities, it was unusual to see boys wearing kilts, except as dress wear for special occasions or as part of private school uniforms.

Regional Differences

The usage of the kilt has varied significantly within Scotland. Today it is universally revered within Scotland as a symbol of the nation, although very few Scotts commonly wear the garment. Historically it was the Highland Scotts that most commonly wore the kilt. The Lowland Scotts in southern Scotland were much more influenced by English culture and over time adopted French and English manners and dress. They like the English negan to look on the kilt as a symbol of barabarity of the Highland clans. They did not wear the kilt and certainly would not have dressed their boys in one. This seems to have befun to change in the 19th century. At least we begin to see Lowland boys having portarits made in kilts. Apparently the romantic Scottish revival of the late-18th/early 19th century children that Lowland attitudes began to change concerning the kilt. And by the time photography appeared we see bits throughout Scotland wearing kilrs (mid-19th century). We suspect that the kilkt was much more common in the Highlands, but we do not yet have a lot of information on prevalence. The kilt was also commonly worn on the Western Isles. We have, however, very little information on the islnds at this time, but the kilt may have been prevalent there.

Social-class Differences

There has been an enormous change in the attitudes and usage among social classes concerning the kilt. Our information is very sketchy. We believe kilts were primarily worn by the Clans in the Higlands during the early 18th century. This means essentially that it was the poorer Scotts who wre the ones who wore kilts. And kilts at the time were a cheaper garmnt than trousers. We believe that English styles were more common in the Lowlands, but this needs to be confirmed. The Enlish after defeating Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Clans at Culloden (1746), outlawed both the bagpipes and the kilt. Only slowly did the the kilt reappear in Scotland. Thasnks to the exploits of Scottish regiments, this time fighting for the British Empire, and marvelous Scottish poets and authors, English attitudes toward Scotland began to change. The Cult of the Highland began to build. A young British priuncess was one of many enchanted by Scotland. We are not entirely sure just who was wearing kilts in the early-19th century. We believe kilts were more common in the Highlands and in the islands. We are less sure about social class trends. The trends by the late-19th century is more clear, in part because there is a more extensive photographic record. It is the affluent class in Scotland that is wearing kilts and this includes the major Low Land cities, Glasgow and Edinburgh, at least in the private schools. We believe that kilt usage in the Highlands was not as affected by social class, but here our information is still limited.

Chronological Trends

The wearing of the kilt by Scottish men and boys has varied greatly over time as well as regions within Scotalnd. Kilt usage was very common in the Highlands during the 17th and earkly 18th century. This changed at Culloden (1746), after which the kilt was perscribed. Men were not able to wear the kilt unless they were in the British Army. We are unsure just how the perscription was enforced concerning boys. Gradually attitudes toward the kilt changed in both Scotland and England. Romantic poets like James Burns romaticized Scotland and things Scottish like the kilt. The kilt reappeared in Scottish life in both the Highlands and Lowlands and even in England when British kings and princes began wearing kilts. We are unsure, however. to what extent boys actually wore kilts in the 19th and early 20th century. After World War I (1914-18), the kilt became more a dress garment or worn for specific activities like Highland dance, pipe bands, Scouts, weddings, and ehnic events,


We are not entirely sure as to just where Scottish boys wore kilt. This certainly changed over time. And there may have been regional and demographic differences. We have a number of formal studio portraits which give us an idea of some of the kilt outfits. Highland kilt outfits seem the most common. The formal studio portraits don't tell us just where boys wore these outfits. And boys did not always wear Hihghland outfirs, although they dominate in the studio portraits. The more formal Highland outfits were probably worn to parties and special events like weddings. We are less sure about the more basib kilt outfits. The formal studio portraits are, fof the most part, all we have for the the 19th century. The introduction of the snapshot provides more information on how kilts were actually used. We believe, however, that for the most part that kilts became increasingly formal wear in the 20th century,m especially after World War I. A factor here was cost. Kilts bdecame an expensive item that because of the cost could basivlly only be worn when dressing up.

Scottish Consciouness

The growth of Scottish consciouness and the growing appeal of the Scottish National Party in the 1980s has led to devolution which meant the reinstitution of a Scottish Parliament in 1999?, the first time since the Act of Union in 1707. I am not sure, however, if this growing Scottish conscioness had led to boys more commonly wearing kilts.


The question presents itself as to just what poor Scottish boys were wearing as reference to the kilt often do not provide a detailed description of the garment. It is known that Irish boys wore garments variously described as kilts, dresses, or petticoats. One HBC contributor suggests that they were often old cut down dresses of their mothers or older sisters. Whether that was the case in Scotland, I can not determine. But it seems likely that it may have been to some extent. Certainly a kilt did not have to be a tartan pattern. A Scottish HBC contributor insists that it is the pleats at the back that defined true kilts. Some of the dresses, however, worn by small boys were pleated, in some cases at the front as well. The contributor reports that the material was often white or very pale.


Kilts do not appear to have been worn by very young boys. Until the 1920s, younger boys generally wore dresses. A boy was not likely to have worn a kilt until after breeching, generally at any where from 3-4 years up to 7 years of age. After the 1840s boys after breeching in both Scotland and England might wear a kilt. Boys from affluent familes would be most likely to wear kilts for special occasions, like outings and important family events.

Scottish Assessment

A Scottish researcher, George Mackay, has also addressed the question of how extensively boys have worn kilts over time. HBC has geberally used such articles as sources of information. George's article is so well reserached that we though HBC readers might like to consult it in its entirety. We will thus post it here. We will also draw on Geprge's article for our own assessment of kilt usage.


Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site:
[Introduction] [Activities] [Bibliographies] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Clothing styles] [Countries]
[Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration]
[Boys' Clothing Home]

Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing kilt pages:
[Return to the Main kilt page]
[Return to the Scottish kilt page]
[Scottish kilt usage] [Scottish boys clothing] [Scottish school uniform]
[Highland dance] [Scottish pipe band]
[Irish kilts] [Irish boys clothing] [Irish step dancing]
[Greek kilts] [Kilt suits]

Created: January 4, 1999
Last updated: 10:29 PM 9/18/2021