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  1. #1
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    Belting the Plaid: How'd They Do It??

    Many of us - especially reenactment types - are familiar with the current method of donning a plaid ("great kilt"):
    Throw it out full-length on the ground with the belt underneath, kneel on one end and hand-pleat it by pulling even lengths of fabric towards you, lay on it, fasten the belt, and stand up. You end up with loose "knife" type pleats in the rear and sides, and relatively flat aprons in front. Not really easy and quick, but it works.

    But, is that how they actually accomplished this feat back in the day when belted plaids were a common garment in the Highlands?

    Consider a couple of images, both from the 1740's. In the first, a famous full-length portrait of Lord George Murray, the plaid is carefully pleated in the entire circumference with precise, evenly spaced pleats of equal size:



    In the second image, a drawing of Highland soldiers in Europe by a German artist, the plaid's pleating is again carefully depicted. In this case they are in the form of box-pleats, not at all like what you end up with when you hand-pleat the plaid on the ground:



    So, what are we missing? Niether of these historic images resemble "great kilts" as modern reenactors and faire-goers wear them, in terms of the pleating. So, how'd they do it back then? Sewn in belt-loops? Drawstrings? Or simply some method of putting it on that's lost to history?
    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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    I've put mine on by laying it out on the floor (when I want it to look nice) and standing up, gathering it, throwing it over my shoulder, and gather my belt around me whilst adjusting the plaid (demonstrating to friends the fastest way).

    I really can't imagine highlanders laying 4yards of fabric out on boggy ground (or some other poor condition) and trying to manually fold the pleats nicely and such.
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  3. #3
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    One thing that we as reenactors often forget is that to the people in question, these things were not costumes- they were clothing. There is no long lost trick- the people in the pictures are simply wearing clothes. You, Woodsheal, would have a different way of wearing a pair of trousers, shirt, tie, and accessories from me. Does that mean I am wearing mine correctly and that you are not? Of course it doesn't! It just means that there are two different people wearing the same basic set of clothing to their own respective tastes. That's all- unless of course, it's a military uniform. When it comes to uniforms, there is (of course you know this, so forgive me- I'm working towards a point.) a correct way and an incorrect way to wear and accessorize. You wouldn't wear an SS badge with a uniform for the 101st Airborne, for example. On the other hand, you might choose to wear an English doublet with a Scottish kilt. I wouldn't think that an unheard of thing, especially given the fact that Scotland was poverty ridden and the Scot wearing the doublet may have been poor, seen something that would have kept him warm for the winter, and stolen it. It comes down to the simple question- what would have been easiest and most practical? What would the situation warrant? If the Highlander in question were meeting Queen Victoria (substitute anyone of importance here), he very well may take the time to pleat his kilt very neatly. He may also do the same if he were having his portrait painted. However, if he were simply going out to the field to plow, he may not have bothered, and may have used Sir Daniel's method! So when you think about it from the perspective of day to day clothing, it seems (to me anyway!) a whole lot simpler that when you look at it from the perspective of reenactment costume.

    On that note, I have a weathered MacKenzie long plaid that I wear with my Albannach tartan wee kilt from USA Kilts. (Even though it's a modern tartan, I like the Albannach because it has very muted, weathered colors that seem to me would be fairly accurate to the late 1600's. So that's why I wear it.) I mix the two because in battle, a lot of Highlanders would throw off the plaid to free up their arms. It's not at all a far leap to figure that they would just pick up whatever was handy after it was all over, as opposed to searching for a matching plaid. Especially given the fact that clan tartans weren't in existence at that time. My persona needed a blanket. He took one from a dead man who no longer needed his. As simple and pragmatic as that. And then there is the fact that I've seen numerous paintings of Jacobites wearing 2, sometimes 3 different tartans.

    So... My long and rambling thoughts on the subject... You're welcome!
    "Two things are infinite- the universe, and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe." Albert Einstein.

  4. #4
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    I've put on my great kilt by the "laying out and pleating method". Quite a few years back I was taught a style that consists of holding the top edge of the plaid in your hand and gathering it into pleats. Then you drape it over your left shoulder, hold it in place with your chin, and belt it on, bringing the aprons around in front of you and then adjusting the rest of the kilt to your satisfaction. The gent that taught me this method stated that the great kilt was a way to wrap 5 or 6 yards of wool around you for warmth, and not look like a bag of rags "from the front".
    I've also been told, but I'll have to look for documentation or sources, that there is evidence of both belt loops, and even small metal rings being sewn into the plaid.
    All skill and effort is to no avail when an angel pees down your drones.

  5. #5
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    This thread has raised a very good question:

    What is the historical documentation that Highlanders lay on the floor and wrapped the paid around them? Piper's suggestion of doing it "standing up" actually seems to make a great deal more sense than the suggestion that the plaid was laid on a dirt floor, or on soggy grass, and wrapped about oneself like a giant beach blanket. Could it be this is just a myth, waiting to be busted?

  6. #6
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    Well, did they do that everyday?

    I've read that they would sleep in it even belted on and the next morning they got up and went about their business. Ofcourse I don't have backup on that...
    Gillmore of Clan Morrison

    "Long Live the Long Shirts!"- Ryan Ross

  7. #7
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    They would probably have slept in the plaid, but I don't think they would have had it belted around them (except when they anticipated having to get up at the drop of a hat). I wouldn't want to sleep with something belted around me. But if you were used to it, you probably wouldn't even notice it.

  8. #8
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    Matt Newsome has an article on evidence of the use of loops and drawstrings in belted plaids between the late 17th and early 19th centuries.

  9. #9
    M. A. C. Newsome is offline
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    The thing to remember is that we are dealing, for the most part, with a length of untailored cloth that has been arranged around the body. Historic portraits show that it was worn in a variety of different ways. So rather than there being one "correct" way to wear the belted plaid, there were a multitude of ways.

    The othe thing to keep in mind, as Rathdown mentions, is that we do not have anywhere written instructions saying how it was put on. This was part of their everyday life. It was something people just learned how to do and did, like us tying our shoes. There was no need for them to record how they did it.

    So I doubt very much we'll ever get a definitive answer as to whether they put it on lying down, or standing up, or some other method. My hunch is the answer would have been "yes" to all of the above, and different people would have had different methods of putting it on at different times.

    In my own experience doing both reenactments as well as educational demonstrations, I've put on the belted plaid both lying down and standing. I am able to achieve a neater and more controlled look when I do it lying down. But sometimes the circumstances of where I was getting dressed made standing up a better choice. I expect the historic highlander would likely have used different methods based on circumstances, as well.

    But for the modern day reenactor, as we don't have written directions from the period, all we have to go on are historic portraits showing it being worn. So any way that you can arrange the plaid so that the end result looks like the portrait or portraits you are going by is a legitimate method.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by M. A. C. Newsome View Post
    The thing to remember is that we are dealing, for the most part, with a length of untailored cloth that has been arranged around the body. Historic portraits show that it was worn in a variety of different ways. So rather than there being one "correct" way to wear the belted plaid, there were a multitude of ways.

    The othe thing to keep in mind, as Rathdown mentions, is that we do not have anywhere written instructions saying how it was put on. This was part of their everyday life. It was something people just learned how to do and did, like us tying our shoes. There was no need for them to record how they did it.

    So I doubt very much we'll ever get a definitive answer as to whether they put it on lying down, or standing up, or some other method. My hunch is the answer would have been "yes" to all of the above, and different people would have had different methods of putting it on at different times.

    In my own experience doing both reenactments as well as educational demonstrations, I've put on the belted plaid both lying down and standing. I am able to achieve a neater and more controlled look when I do it lying down. But sometimes the circumstances of where I was getting dressed made standing up a better choice. I expect the historic highlander would likely have used different methods based on circumstances, as well.

    But for the modern day reenactor, as we don't have written directions from the period, all we have to go on are historic portraits showing it being worn. So any way that you can arrange the plaid so that the end result looks like the portrait or portraits you are going by is a legitimate method.
    A much shorter and more concise way of saying exactly what I was trying to get at! Thanks, Matt.
    "Two things are infinite- the universe, and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe." Albert Einstein.

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