Scottish Kilts: Usage Conventions

Figure 1.--Here we see two Scottish boys boating in kilts. You might think that they were Boy Scouts, but Scouts wore their Scout shirts, not jackets with kilts. Kilts were not normally worn when boating. The boys were probably attending some kind of event and decided to have a spin in a row boat or perhaps the event was on a small island. Note the one boy's glasses that helps date the snapshot, probably to the early-50s.

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.

School Uniform

One of the most common places where kilts are still worn is Scottish private schools. You occassionaly see them in state schools, but not very commonly. They are almost always private schools and not state schools. With few exceptions, it was not the standard school uniform. We are not sure about the early 20th century, but by the late-20th centiry we only know one prep school where kilts were the everyday uniform. The kilt is part of the dress uniform at most private schools in Scotland. chools. It is worn with a tweed jacket rather than a blazer. Before World War II, it was only worn by boys. Since the 1980s with many schools going coed, both boys and girls now commonly wear kilts as the dress uniform at private schools. The schools often had rules about wearing the kilt, designed tgo make sure the boys did not wear the kilt where it might gety soiled. Again a major factor here was the cost of the kilt.

Casual Play Wear

We note Scottish boys playing are dressed casually in kilts. We do not know to what extent this was the case in the 19th century. Kilts may have been worn because they could be easily woven at home while trousers were more complicated to make at hime. The popularity of ready made clothig after mis-century probably was a factor here. We suspect it was fairly common for boys to wear kilt in the Highlads, but as photography at the time was mostly studio work, we can not yet substahtiate that. With the advent of the snapshot at the turn-of-the 20th century we know much more. We see boy wearing kilts for play meaning that they were every day wear. We assume that this reflects trends in the late-19th cenbtuyry as well. We do not have many examles so we are not sure just how common this was. This seems to be the case in the period before and during World War I (1914-18). This may have continued to some extent after the War into the inter-War period, but it seems to have been much less common. We have found few examples. The photo graphic record tsuggests that kilts were worn more for somewhat more formal occassions or scouts abd school. A major factor here wa the cost. A kilt became an increasingly expensive garment. A pair of pants or shorts werre less expensive and cane in more easily washable materials anbd a result were more practical for busy mothers.

Formal Wear

We see boys dressing up in kilt outfits. ThevHiglsnf kilt was often usedv for formalwear in Scoitlnbd. We see boys dressed in formal Highland outfits for studio portraits. A good example is Alan Victor Mackenzie about 1910. What the portraits do not tell us is just where they wore these outfits. We know some boys went to parties in them. Perhaps they wore them for church as weddings as well. Boys commonly wear kilts for formal weddings.

Ethnic Events

Boys in Scotland commonly wear kilts to Highland gatherings. Unlike Irish boys who normally only wear kilts for pipe bands and step dancing, many of the boys at Highland gaterings in Scotland will wear their kilts. These are kilts that they wear for a variety of other activities in Scotland such as school, scouts, church, and other events. Kilts are also seen at agricultural fairs in Scotland, which have a bit of the flavor of ethnic events.

Higland Dance

Boys still compete in kilts in dancing competitions at Highland games. Dancing competions were still popular with boys until the 1960s. Now only a few boys compete. Their outfits continue to be fancy, often with caps, lace jabots, velvet jackets, sporans and dirks. Unlike Irish step dancing, it is very rare to see a Highland dancer wearing trousers. The competions are, however, now dominated by girls.

Youth Groups

Scottish boys wore kilts as part of youth group uniforms. This mean either the Boys Brigade or Boys Scouts. Usually the boys wore kilts for special occasions when dressing up and not part of the standar uniform. We note quite a few Scottish kilts wearing kilts, but not very often Cubs.


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Created: 12:49 AM 9/11/2011
Last updated: 2:37 AM 5/7/2012