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  1. #1
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    rethinking "traditional" dress and the Hire impact

    I suppose everyone's view of Highland Dress is conditioned by when they first started wearing it, or perhaps when they were first exposed to it.

    Only recently, when I started looking at the timelines (as best I can tell) of changes in various aspects of civilian Highland Dress, did I fully realise that I came into kiltwearing at the very point it was undergoing significant change. It was the mid-1970s.

    People who went further back, like Jock, had often spoken of the impact of the Hire Industry. But for me, only recently did several of the disparate pieces begin falling into place.

    I've always held that "traditional" Highland Dress is a living thing, the current manifestation of things going back to unknown origins. If you go back in time and pluck out a particular period the discussion shifts to "historical" Highland Dress.

    It becomes as circular as "art is what artists make", the defining of "traditional Highland Dress" as what the practitioners of traditional Highland Dress wear. Yet we can look at people like the Duke Of Rothesay, and many others, and observe that not every new thing which has come along in Highland Dress has found acceptance in certain quarters.

    Looking at the timelines of various things, from what data I have (not having actually worn Highland Dress through the period like Jock and many others have) I was struck over and over by the coincidence of the timing of changes.

    They seem to occur around the time that the Kilt Hire Industry began taking off, which I read is the early 1970s. (That corresponds to the boom in the Formal Wear Rental Industry in the USA.)

    Until that time, from the 1920s to the 1960s, Highland Dress had remained remarkably stable.

    What are these timelines? They involve the sort of minutiae that I seem to love.

    I collect vintage Highland Dress catalogues and I also have hundreds of vintage photos. They tend to tell the same tale, it's what the average or ordinary Highland Dress wearer would have available and actually wore.

    To take the matter of the styles of jackets worn in Evening Dress, the 20th century began with only two, the Doublet and the Argyll (or Evening Argyll, to differentiate it from the tweed Outdoor Argyll).

    By 1914 an "entirely modern" style had appeared, the Coatee, or Prince Charlie Coatee.

    By 1930 the Montrose had appeared, a shell jacket. New was the stand collar worn with jabot.

    In the 1930s came the Kenmore, introduced by Andersons, which was merely a variation on the traditional Doublet.

    And there things stayed. In the mid-to-late 1940s Battle Dress influenced Evening Dress jackets appeared but didn't last. Even a catalogue in 1978 only lists the Prince Charlie, the Doublet, the Montrose, and the Kenmore.

    Next I'll look at sporran styles. By WWI small "round" (pocket shaped) leather sporrans, and animal mask sporrans, had become the norm for Day Dress (Outdoor Dress, Field Dress, Morning Dress). The leather sporrans are invariably brown and often mentioned as being buckskin or pigskin. But the long goathair sporrans of the Victorians persisted for Evening Dress.

    By the 1930s new small "round" Evening sporrans, of sealskin with silver cantles, were replacing the long hair sporrans.

    And there it stayed, all sporrans small and pocket-shaped, seal & silver for Evening, brown leather or brown animal mask for Day, up through the 1960s. I don't have a single catalogue that illustrates any other sort of sporran including a catalogue from 1978. However that 1978 catalogue does mention, in addition to 9 brown leather Day sporrans, 2 brown leather Hunting sporrans, and brown Rob Roy and animal mask sporrans, 2 sporrans available in black leather.

    What about Day hose colours? All the catalogues from the 1930s through the 1950s speak of hose colours "to tone with the jacket". The colours seen are Lovat Blue, Lovat Green, and Fawn. These are the only colours listed in catalogues from the 1950s and 1960s.

    Then, the 1978 catalogue lists, in addition to those colours, off-white, navy, and bottle green.

    Another thing is Ghillie brogues. Today we associate them with Pipe Bands but photos from Highland Games from as late as through the 1960s show bands not wearing them. Band are either in military kit with spats, or in Evening Dress with tartan hose and buckled shoes.

    The sum of all these things is a shift occurring in the 1970s, just when the Hire Industry was taking off.

    Coming back to trying to define "what is Traditional Highland Dress" should we circle the waggons around the Highland Dress of the 1930 to 1970 period? And reject the innovations such as the Sheriffmuir doublet, and white hose, and black leather Day sporrans, and "semi dress" sporrans?

    There's no way to know which of these things, a half-century from now, will have continued in use, or have been dropped and forgot, like the Battle Dress inspired Evening jackets of the 1940s.
    Proud Mountaineer from the Highlands of West Virginia; son of the Revolution and Civil War; first Europeans on the Guyandotte


  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by OC Richard View Post
    The sum of all these things is a shift occurring in the 1970s, just when the Hire Industry was taking off.

    Coming back to trying to define "what is Traditional Highland Dress" should we circle the waggons around the Highland Dress of the 1930 to 1970 period? And reject the innovations such as the Sheriffmuir doublet, and white hose, and black leather Day sporrans, and "semi dress" sporrans?
    I would go one step further and suggest that perhaps we should also look at the influence of Highland outfitters, not just hire shops. I would venture to say that in the 1800s, Highland attire was made by a lot of smaller tailors, home craftspeople, and of course some well known larger shops. There was no set definition of style, and there was a vast array of regional or personal variations. By the turn of the century, it appears that more established shops were taking over the industry and by the 1920s they were setting the standards. The mail-order catalogs, to which you often refer, became the de facto standard for fashion. This isn't to say that custom jackets, sporrans, hose, etc., no longer existed, but they were certainly dying out. Highland attire became homogeneous, more streamlined and simple, as people chased the new dashing look of clean-cut lines depicted in their catalogs.

    And then, of course, I agree that the hire industry changed everything as you suggest. But in my opinion, the 1920-1970 era was still a very rigid period in terms of fashion, as dictated by a handful of outfitters who made and sold their products as generic fashion items, rather than individually tailored custom designs. This certainly had a striking effect on "tradition".

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  4. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by OC Richard View Post
    Yet we can look at people like the Duke Of Rothesay, and many others, and observe that not every new thing which has come along in Highland Dress has found acceptance in certain quarters.
    It must be noted that it is necessary for the Royal Family (and, to a lesser extent, the general aristocracy) to appear "old fashioned" in public to underline descent from a ancient royal past. Without public recognition of that, the right to be head of state is on shaky ground. (I think Meghan M. finds this a very difficult concept as do many of her compatriots.) Thus, HRH must wear a pocket watch strung across his waistcoat as a reflection of a past era even though he is also wearing a modern wrist watch but this affectation has nothing to do with Highland dress.

    Alan

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  6. #4
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    As a child in the early 1950s I was dressed in the same style as the children of the royal family - but so were many of the children I mixed with.
    The kilt was normal for small children back then even in the West riding of Yorkshire.
    I presume to dictate to no man what he shall eat or drink or wherewithal he shall be clothed."
    -- The Hon. Stuart Ruaidri Erskine, The Kilt & How to Wear It, 1901.

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  8. #5
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    Traditional kilt attire is very much a "living" thing and moves slowly, much more slowly than some new-----mainly, but, not always, those from outwith Scotland leading the charge------ to kilt attire may think or even, wish. Traditional kilt attire has never been frozen in time, nor should it ever be. I hope that I never see "Kilt Hire Attire" (KHA) being regarded as Traditional. However, it may well be seen as Traditional at sometime in the future.

    With the shear weight of KHA internet advertising leading the charge and the impatience of the next generations,------ who have not the access to the dwindling number of those with real traditional kilt attire knowledge------ who want instant access and gratification at mass produced knockdown prices, then it is almost inevitable. Without wishing my life away, I hope that I don't live to see it!
    Last edited by Jock Scot; 12th June 20 at 07:56 AM. Reason: found my glasses.
    " Rules are for the guidance of wise men and the adherence of idle minds and minor tyrants". Field Marshal Lord Slim.

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  10. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tobus View Post
    By the turn of the century, it appears that more established shops were taking over the industry and by the 1920s they were setting the standards...in my opinion, the 1920-1970 era was still a very rigid period in terms of fashion, as dictated by a handful of outfitters who made and sold their products as generic fashion items, rather than individually tailored custom designs. This certainly had a striking effect on "tradition".
    Yet, people like the Duke of Rothesay, clothed in bespoke things, are to be seen wearing the same styles, even to the present day.

    Highland outfitters could produce anything they want, but they can only sell what people want to wear.

    I've mentioned before that I reject the notion that the catalogues of Highland Outfitters, or for that matter Sears & Roebuck or any other firm, would waste space in their catalogues for things that people aren't purchasing. Printing and distributing catalogues is expensive, much more so in the 1920s than today, and space in a catalogue is pricey real estate.

    My theories aside, I can produce hundreds of vintage photos showing that people are wearing the same things seen in the catalogues, and not wearing things not seen in the catalogues.

    Except of course for members of the aristocracy with their bespoke clothing, and they too follow the same styles.
    Proud Mountaineer from the Highlands of West Virginia; son of the Revolution and Civil War; first Europeans on the Guyandotte

  11. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by OC Richard View Post
    Yet, people like the Duke of Rothesay, clothed in bespoke things, are to be seen wearing the same styles, even to the present day.

    Highland outfitters could produce anything they want, but they can only sell what people want to wear.

    I've mentioned before that I reject the notion that the catalogues of Highland Outfitters, or for that matter Sears & Roebuck or any other firm, would waste space in their catalogues for things that people aren't purchasing. Printing and distributing catalogues is expensive, much more so in the 1920s than today, and space in a catalogue is pricey real estate.

    My theories aside, I can produce hundreds of vintage photos showing that people are wearing the same things seen in the catalogues, and not wearing things not seen in the catalogues.

    Except of course for members of the aristocracy with their bespoke clothing, and they too follow the same styles.

    I don't think that I can honestly recall ever perusing a kilt attire catalogue. I was always guided by what my peers and my immediate family were wearing and of course I had the advantage of hand-me-downs. I well remember going to the kilt maker and after describing a style of jacket that I had in my minds eye and being extremely miffed when he suggested firmly, that if I wanted a jacket in that style, then I had better go elsewhere! So yes tailors had a real imput to kilt attire style.

    I Have not always followed the traditional line though! in my 20's I was at ball and I spotted a kilt jacket that I thought was just me! A Sheriffmuir, as I later discovered, and had one made. There was no off the peg option in those days, I loved that jacket and almost went into decline when I grew out of it. I still see it occasionally being worn by a nephews son. My senior family were really not impressed with that jacket and never were!

    Much later, when I recycled amongst the larger family a large wardrobe of inherited kilt attire and streamlined my kilt attire requirements, I bought a black leather sporran and black leather strap that I still use today. I spotted it in a shop window as I walked by and I have never regretted buying it and in a minor way even set a trend.

    I really dont think catalogues had much influence in the Highlands, kilt attire was expected to last and a purchase of kilt kit was left to when we were in town and could choose our kit after personal inspection.
    " Rules are for the guidance of wise men and the adherence of idle minds and minor tyrants". Field Marshal Lord Slim.

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  13. #8
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    Just a thought

    I have to concur with Jock about catalogues. The first time I recall seeing any kind of clothing catalogue was a visit to the city mainland and that was if I remember correctly Littlewoods Store. We always went to the same tailors/clothiers etc that my grandfather had used.
    Aye Yours.



    VINCERE-VEL-MORI

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  15. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by OC Richard View Post
    Highland outfitters could produce anything they want, but they can only sell what people want to wear.

    I've mentioned before that I reject the notion that the catalogues of Highland Outfitters, or for that matter Sears & Roebuck or any other firm, would waste space in their catalogues for things that people aren't purchasing. Printing and distributing catalogues is expensive, much more so in the 1920s than today, and space in a catalogue is pricey real estate.
    I didn't claim that people didn't want what they were offering. In fact, I agree that the reason they were successful in cornering the market was because they offered stylish designs. But by the same token, this was part of the decline of the wider range of styles created by small shops and tailors. We see similar patterns today where "big box stores" drive out smaller shops so that they can sell bulk products from larger suppliers. People love it and flock there to buy their wares. But make no mistake; when that happens, there is a reduction in variety and options. The large sellers may not be intentionally driving others out of business or intentionally killing off alternative suppliers, but over time that's what happens. Nobody really intends it to, but people wake up one day and realise that the one supplier is the only place to get what they're looking for.

    Granted, the comparison isn't completely accurate, but this is a similar pattern that has happened in many industries over the last century. Regional styles have fallen to national fashion. Craft workers have been driven out of business by industrial producers. It's the way of the world, and I'm not claiming it's either bad or good. I'm just saying it had an effect on what we view as "traditional" Highland style clothing. Within the span of a couple of decades, much of the variety went away (led by consumer desire to chase fashion, as you point out) and the definition of Highland attire became the purview of these outfitting companies.

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  17. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by OC Richard View Post
    Highland outfitters could produce anything they want, but they can only sell what people want to wear.
    Or to turn it around, people (generally) wear what the Highland Outfitters offer off-the-peg. Most novices going into a kilt shop have no idea of what could be available and are guided (firmly steered) by the shop staff. The old adage that one gets what one pays for is equally true n Highland wear as with any other clothes.

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