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  1. #1
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    From "Normal" to "Formal" - the kilt's place as a Highland garment

    A topic discussed in the "Victorian" thread....

    Somewhere along the line in the early to mid 1800s, the kilt evolved from being the daily working dress of Highland clansmen, to a more "exalted" position as formal/ceremonial garb. Many maintain that this latter role became exclusive, and work-a-day wearing of the kilt ceased to be. Others argue that evidence (written, artistic, photographic) supports a continuing use of kilts in a mundane setting.

    Myself, I find it somewhat astonishing that the kilt just totally died as an everyday, common man's working garment (if it truly did) after three or four centuries in such a role. What prompted such a change? The Proscription of 1746? That was rather short-lived and never heavily enforced, especially amongst the pro-Hanoverian clans. Lack of tartan wool? Hardly! By the early 1800s it was being woven in quantities never before seen.

    What changed the kilt from being the poor man's garment to the rich man's indulgence?
    Brian

    "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." ~ Benjamin Franklin

  2. #2
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    My guess is assimilation. Men who wore a kilt as everyday wear were probably seen as ignorant hicks from the Highlands. To get and keep a job, you needed to look like all the other employees. And, the kilt is not the best garb to wear in many industrial jobs.

    Had it not been for the Highland Regiments, we would probably not see kilts today. As has been pointed out on this forum many times, our perceptions ("the rules") of how a kilt should be worn and what should be worn with it, comes mostly from military regulations.
    Virginia Commissioner, Elliot Clan Society, USA
    Adjutant, 1745 Appin Stewart Regiment
    Adjutant, Post 2, Scottish-American Military Society
    US Marine (1970-1999)

  3. #3
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    Good question.

    I think before we get too deep into the discussion here, we all need to understand that "formal" does not mean the same in the UK as certainly in the USA and perhaps other countries too. For formal day wear in the UK, where a top hat and tails may be worn as Saxon wear. In kilt terms that would mean a black barathea silver buttoned argyll and four in hand tie. Formal evening wear in the UK, would be the black tie(bow)/white tie(bow) and an appropriate accompanying jacket.

    "Formal" in the USA, I am reliably informed, starts at a suit and four in hand tie.

    A suit is not regarded as formal in the UK.

    I think we need to bare that subtle difference in mind ,or we could be talking at cross purposes very quickly.
    Last edited by Jock Scot; 30th May 10 at 06:26 AM.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jock Scot View Post
    Good question.

    I think before we get too deep into the discussion here, we all need to understand that "formal" does not mean the same in the UK as certainly in the USA and perhaps other countries too. For formal day wear in the UK, where a top hat and tails may be worn as Saxon wear. In kilt terms that would mean a black barathea silver buttoned argyll and four in hand tie. For formal evening wear in the UK, would be the black tie(bow)/white tie(bow) and an appropriate accompanying jacket.

    "Formal" in the USA, I am reliably informed, starts at a suit and four in hand tie.

    A suit is not regarded as formal in the UK.

    I think we need to bare that subtle difference in mind ,or we could be talking at cross purposes very quickly.
    Formal, for those of historical mindset, and in reference to the time period, I feel would be almost a universal interpretation. We also must distinguish among the classes of society as well, as some of those who may have previously worn the kilt as work wear, may not have had a need/means/desire for "formal" wear, as formal functions, historically, were for the upper classes. Also, what a lower class worker might consider formal at his/her level would be very different then that of the gentrified or social elite.

    An example of this would be your modern belief that in the USA, we view formal differently than our UK cousins. Let me expand on this, as I feel, in the USA, our size (land space) also regionalizes perception of this. I live in the very large metro area of NYC. I would consider a suit business wear, and I recognize the different levels of formal attire in the same ways as you do. I also travel/function in upper middle class circles, due to the nature of my education and profession. That being said, for many years, I was working class/poverty line, and the concept of wearing a suit was getting "dressed up" and I had no use for it. I am sure that in different regions of the USA, this would be a very different perspective, and perhaps, in some parts of my country the suit is considered formal attire in the upper class.

    I use this example to demonstrate that human nature has not changed, people's views can change as their status changes, region can have vast effect on social norms, as well as socio-economic status. I think we either need to narrow our focus on simply the transition of the kilt from everyday wear to formal and/or festive wear, or broaden our considerations/perspective on the social classes of the times and regions in the highlands as well.

  5. #5
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    I live in the US, and formal for me starts with underwear!

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by BlackFist View Post
    I live in the US, and formal for me starts with underwear!
    Should'nt be a problem with the kilt then, now should it?

  7. #7
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    Going back to your original questions Woodshiel;

    I'd think kilts may have died out quite rapidly after the '45.
    To wear one after that time, could mark a man as a "Highland rebel" ...even if he'd never been 'out'.
    So, If a man Was a jackobite, he'd have a vested interest in concealing the fact, and if he Wasn't he'd not want to be implicted by dressing like one.
    Makes sense to me, even if I'm wrong!

    The very good question you ask has had me thinking, and Charles St John's book, "A tour of Southerland" has I believe some reference to 'Highland laddies' wearing the kilt in his time.
    Also, If I remember right, Osgood Mackenzie in his book "A Hundred Years in the Highlands" makes reference to the kilt as well.
    I must go back and check these references out.

  8. #8
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    Slag 101.

    I think most people of whatever "Class" in the UK, will all have a vague(if pushed) knowledge of the levels of formality, although I think many would struggle on the finer points. They may not ever wish, or care, to get involved in the social scene, or the opportunity may not ever arise for them even to have the chance and that is a fact, but one Brit's idea of "formal" would be pretty much the same as another's.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jock Scot View Post
    Slag 101.

    I think most people of whatever "Class" in the UK, will all have a vague(if pushed) knowledge of the levels of formality, although I think many would struggle on the finer points. They may not ever wish, or care, to get involved in the social scene, or the opportunity may not ever arise for them even to have the chance and that is a fact, but one Brit's idea of "formal" would be pretty much the same as another's.
    My Grandad McElmurry was a shoe repairman but would don his “Sunday goin t’meetin” jacket and tie for church and other special occasions. I suspect others in the USA up through the 1950’s who had no need for social or business dress also wore their best clothes to church. I am not suggesting a Scot would have taken his kilt out of hiding to wear on Sunday, just that some people (even those of little means) like to get dressed up on Sunday.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by McElmurry View Post
    My Grandad McElmurry was a shoe repairman but would don his “Sunday goin t’meetin” jacket and tie for church and other special occasions. I suspect others in the USA up through the 1950’s who had no need for social or business dress also wore their best clothes to church. I am not suggesting a Scot would have taken his kilt out of hiding to wear on Sunday, just that some people (even those of little means) like to get dressed up on Sunday.
    I don't think we differ by much then and things have become more casual in the last few decades, here in the UK. Also the advent of the "cheap suit" and the "cheap" kilt has brought these items of clothing within the reach of many more people's pockets should they choose to want one. Nevertheless "formal" and "dress" in the UK does not, even these days, mean a suit.
    Last edited by Jock Scot; 30th May 10 at 07:56 AM.

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