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  1. #1
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    Did highlanders 'trouserize' their kilts during the bans?

    Musings on a recovered memory: Back in my teenage reading, a novel by Robert Louis Stevenson and I suspect it was "Kidnapped,' had the hero travelling through the highlands in the wake of the Bonnie Prince and him observing that some of the men were still wearing the kilt but with 'a few stitches' taken between the legs to make them trousers under the legal definition. Just curious, has anyone encountered this in a legitimate history or was it just a literary device to show the regional Scots' defiant attitudes?

  2. #2
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    An extract from the "Dress Act":

    That from and after the first day of August, One thousand, seven hundred and forty-seven, no man or boy within that part of Britain called Scotland, other than such as shall be employed as Officers and Soldiers in His Majesty's Forces, shall, on any pretext whatever, wear or put on the clothes commonly called Highland clothes (that is to say) the Plaid, Philabeg, or little Kilt, Trowse, Shoulder-belts, or any part whatever of what peculiarly belongs to the Highland Garb; and that no tartan or party-coloured plaid of stuff shall be used for Great Coats or upper coats, and if any such person shall presume after the said first day of August, to wear or put on the aforesaid garment or any part of them, every such person so offending ... For the first offence, shall be liable to be imprisoned for 6 months, and on the second offence, to be transported to any of His Majesty's plantations beyond the seas, there to remain for the space of seven years.

    So converting a kilt to trousers wouldn't really have worked - no doubt a defiant Scot would most likely have just worn a kilt...

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  4. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tomo View Post
    An extract from the "Dress Act":

    That from and after the first day of August, One thousand, seven hundred and forty-seven, no man or boy within that part of Britain called Scotland, other than such as shall be employed as Officers and Soldiers in His Majesty's Forces, shall, on any pretext whatever, wear or put on the clothes commonly called Highland clothes (that is to say) the Plaid, Philabeg, or little Kilt, Trowse, Shoulder-belts, or any part whatever of what peculiarly belongs to the Highland Garb; and that no tartan or party-coloured plaid of stuff shall be used for Great Coats or upper coats, and if any such person shall presume after the said first day of August, to wear or put on the aforesaid garment or any part of them, every such person so offending ... For the first offence, shall be liable to be imprisoned for 6 months, and on the second offence, to be transported to any of His Majesty's plantations beyond the seas, there to remain for the space of seven years.

    So converting a kilt to trousers wouldn't really have worked - no doubt a defiant Scot would most likely have just worn a kilt...
    It was not quire as clear cut as a reading of the Act might suggest. In a letter of 22 November 1748, James Erskine, Sheriff-Depute of Perthshire, wrote to Colin Campbell of Glenure with guidance on enforcing the Act.

    ‘The act prohibiting the use of the plaid and philibeg should be proclaimed at the church doors in Erse …. You may take all the opportunities you can of letting it be known that tartan may still be worn in cloaks, westcoats, breeches or trews, but that if they use loose plaids they may be of tartan but either all of one colour, or strip’d with other colours than those formerly used, and if they have a mind to use their old plaids, I don’t see but they make them into the shape of a cloak and so wear them in that way, which tho’ button’d or tied about the neck, if long enough, may be taken up at one side and throwne over the other shoulder by which it will answer most of the purposes of the loose plaid. And if they could come into the way of wearing wide trowsers like the sailors’ breeches it would answer all the conveniences of the kilt and philibeg for walking and climbing the hills.’


    It is clear, as least in this instance, that despite various Highland Clothes being listed in the Act, the reals concern was to restrict the use of the belted plaid which was seen as a martial garment and one synonymous with rebellion.

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  6. #4
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    I remember reading somewhere that the ban wasn't always enforced as many highlanders only had the one set of clothes and couldn't afford others. Is there any truth to this?
    “Never wear anything that panics the cat.”- P.J. O’Rourke
    “A man should look as if he has bought his clothes (kilt) with intelligence, put them (it) on with care, and then forgotten all about them (it).” Paraphrased from Hardy Amies
    Proud member of the Clan Urquhart.

  7. #5
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    The picture of the Mcdonald Brothers one wearing trews the other a phillabeg was painted during the period when Highland Dress was still proscribed.

    I'm pretty sure there's other images of Highland clothing painted as part of a portrait before the 1782 repealment of the act.

    Perhaps if it was the belted plaid that was banned but not other forms of Highland Dress as the richer members of society could afford tailored clothes whereas the poorer members could not?
    Last edited by Allan Thomson; 4th August 22 at 02:37 PM.

  8. #6
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    Both Johnson's and Boswell's account of their trip through the Highlands in 1774 tell of several (3?) gentlemen in highland dress.
    "There is no merit in being wet and/or cold and sartorial elegance take second place to common sense." Jock Scot

  9. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Allan Thomson View Post
    The picture of the Mcdonald Brothers one wearing trews the other a phillabeg was painted during the period when Highland Dress was still proscribed.

    I'm pretty sure there's other images of Highland clothing painted as part of a portrait before the 1782 repealment of the act.

    Perhaps if it was the belted plaid that was banned but not other forms of Highland Dress as the richer members of society could afford tailored clothes whereas the poorer members could not?
    The MacDonald Boys were effectively 'Wards of the State' at the time and so the portrait probably had the permission of the government. Add to this the fact that under the terms of the original Act (which followed the '15) the gentry were allowed to carry arms and employ armed men to protect their property. This exception also applied to the Dress Act meaning that it did not apply to the gentry and which accounts for the majority of portraits painted during the early years of Proscription. Like so often is the case, and was far more the case in the mid-18h century, the poor and less well off always suffered more. In the case of the Act, it would have had a major effect of them whereas the gentry would have had more clothes, including Lowland clothes, meaning that they could adjust more easily.

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  11. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by DCampbell16B View Post
    Both Johnson's and Boswell's account of their trip through the Highlands in 1774 tell of several (3?) gentlemen in highland dress.
    Including Allan MacDonald of Kingsburgh, husband of Flora MacDonald.

  12. #9
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    Bear with me for using my memory rather than actually checking the facts, but I think all were gentry (as figheadair described), and one was described as a "blueish philabeg" so perhaps it was a solid color material, which would have been a way around the Act.

    By the way, figheadair, thank you for the letter of Erkine in 1748. I was not aware of that. Access to material like that wasn't possible 30-40 years ago on this side of the pond. I haven't followed much of clothing in that period since that time, and I'm guessing there must be more available on-line now.
    "There is no merit in being wet and/or cold and sartorial elegance take second place to common sense." Jock Scot

  13. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by DCampbell16B View Post
    Bear with me for using my memory rather than actually checking the facts, but I think all were gentry (as figheadair described), and one was described as a "blueish philabeg" so perhaps it was a solid color material, which would have been a way around the Act.
    A solid colour philabeg would still have been covered by the Act; remember, it was the clothing, not the pattern.

    By the way, figheadair, thank you for the letter of Erkine in 1748. I was not aware of that. Access to material like that wasn't possible 30-40 years ago on this side of the pond. I haven't followed much of clothing in that period since that time, and I'm guessing there must be more available on-line now.
    There has been, and continues to be, a lot of research over the past 30 years and lots of interesting information coming to light.

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