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  1. #1
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    Fashions at the 2019 World Pipe Band Championships

    I just finished the live stream of Saturday's Grade One MSR contest. It started at 2:45am local time

    This year's G1 was down considerably- only 15 bands- which rendered the two-day format instituted to accommodate the usual 25 or so G1 bands unnecessary. (The RSPBA continued the two-day format this year despite the protests of the bands.)

    In any case, for someone like me who has played in pipe bands since the 1970s and is interested in the development and history of Highland Dress, each year's Worlds is a snapshot of the glacially slow evolution of pipe band dress.

    The background is that in the 1980s a new pipe band kit emerged. It became standard, practically required, for serious competition bands. This costume was:

    -black Ghillie brogues
    -pure white bobble-top hose
    -kilt (the only tartan item)
    -flashes
    -black leather Hunting sporran with chrome cantle
    -black Barathea waistcoat with square chrome buttons
    -white shirt
    -necktie
    -black Glengarry, with cap badge
    -black or Navy blue bag-covers

    As far as colour goes, the main aspect of this costume was for everything to be black or white except for the tartan of the kilt. Yes sometimes you would see red flashes and red touries on the Glengarries, but these were often black to complete the look.

    Throughout the 1990s and well into the 2000s one could see contest after contest with every band so dressed.

    Here's a perfect example: everything in the costume is black or white except for the tartan of the kilt. This is the classic c1985-present look, the more recent touches being wearing waistcoat only (by the early 2000s jackets had all but become extinct in competition) and the trend which followed ditching the jackets, the ornate sporran chain



    (Boghall is unique AFAIK in wearing cap-badges on their kilts.)

    Around 2010 white hose suddenly became out of fashion and serious competition bands went to dark hose, usually black but also Navy blue and charcoal grey. Occasionally the Lovats, St Andrews Blue, bottle green, mid-grey, etc made an appearance.

    And there Pipe Band Fashion has been parked, for the last decade.

    Recent trends making an appearance at the 2019 Worlds include:

    1) the increasing number of bands switching to bespoke tartans. This year nearly half of the bands were wearing bespoke tartans, or bespoke weaves of existing tartans with colour-changes. The tartans of the 78th Frasers and Simon Fraser University have been discussed in the Tartans forum.

    2) more bands switching from the black Barathea waistcoats with chrome buttons to waistcoats in various colours of Barathea and tweed (including fleck tweed) with horn buttons or plain plastic buttons. Only 6 of the 15 bands were still wearing the black & silver waistcoats.

    3) more bands switching from the formerly standard black Hunting sporran to plain black Day sporrans and fur Evening sporrans. This year only 7 of the 15 bands were wearing the black Hunting sporrans.

    4) a few more bands switching to mid-blue hose. Still 11 of 15 bands were wearing black, Navy, or charcoal. (Sorry, white and off-white are not allowed.)

    The rest remains the same. Still most bands are wearing white shirts, dark striped ties, black Glengarries, black or Navy bag-covers, etc.

    BTW all 15 bands today had their kilts pleated to the stripe.

    (One poor fellow in Shotts had something strange going on with his kilt. Perhaps the top buckle had come undone? The top of the kilt was folded over and hanging down in front, so you could see the lining. Never seen that happen, in my 40 years in pipe bands.)

    Where is Pipe Band Fashion headed?

    It is my opinion that G1 bands like Inveraray & District and Glasgow Skye Association are blazing the path away from the stark black & white Service look to an earthier, tweedier (or dare we say Outlander-ish) look.

    Glasgow Skye Association Pipe Band wears brown fleck tweed waistcoats, a brown & grey Weathered tartan (like the Outlander tartans) and furry brown sporrans.

    Inveraray & District Pipe Band wears rustic mid-grey tweed waistcoats, kilts in Ancient Colours, and grey seal sporrans.

    Perhaps a decade from now such things will be common.
    Last edited by OC Richard; 19th August 19 at 02:50 AM.
    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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    just out of curiosity, what was the de facto standard prior to the 80's 'uniform'?

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bad Monkey View Post
    just out of curiosity, what was the de facto standard prior to the 80's 'uniform'?
    It was a period in flux.

    The civilian pipe band thing got big starting around 1900, and then there were two looks bands went with

    1) Military-style full dress. This was the piper's costume introduced in the Cameron Highlanders in the 1840s which by the time of the 1881 reforms had become general throughout the army. It still defines "military style full dress" today.

    2) Civilian Evening Dress. This, like all civilian Highland Dress, went through changes in the 1910-1930 period which brought it from the typical Victorian civilian Highland costume to our familiar 20th century Highland costume.

    This was the situation with civilian pipe bands up into the post-WWII period.

    WWII had a temporary impact on pipe band costume, with many bands adopting versions of the Battle Dress jacket (or Ike jacket as we call it in the USA) in the 1940s and 1950s.

    But in the main civilian pipe band costume really hadn't changed much up into the 1970s when I joined my first band, with bands wearing Evening Dress or military-style full dress.

    In the 1970s bands started simplifying their costume. A typical 70s costume might include

    -Prince Charlie coatee
    -Balmoral bonnets, or even hatless (it was a time of big hair)
    -bow ties or long ties (yes long ties with Prince Charlies, it was a thing)
    -Evening Dress sporrans
    -heavy cream-coloured hand-knit Aran hose
    -Ghillie brogues

    The latter were actually new to the pipe band world; before the 1970s it was either spats, or buckled Evening Dress shoes with full tartan hose.

    It was around that time that bands started going to the black Argyll jackets as an alternative to Prince Charlies.

    So before pipe band dress became standardised around the 1980s you would still see bands in Evening Dress and military-style Full Dress and bands with the newer costume with the Aran hose, Ghillies, etc.

    Civilian pipe band in Evening Dress, early 20th century



    Civilian pipe band in military-style Full Dress, competing at the 1980s Worlds.



    The changing fashions: Canadian pipe bands in 1976





    In the early 1980s Scottish Grade One bands like Shotts and Boghall are appearing in the new costume of

    -black Argyll
    -long tie
    -black Glengarry
    -Ghillie brogues
    -off-white hose

    and by the end of the decade this costume had become the new standard.

    In 1984 RUC was still competing in Full Dress, said to be among the last holdouts.

    About the "when" of white hose, the 1970s was the start.

    About the end of the white hose era, the number of G1 bands wearing white at various points:

    2006: 11 of 14
    2014: 3 of 14
    2018: zero
    Last edited by OC Richard; 18th August 19 at 05:53 AM.
    Proud Mountaineer from the Highlands of West Virginia; son of the Revolution and Civil War; first Europeans on the Guyandotte

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  5. #4
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    Glengarry hat

    Quote Originally Posted by OC Richard View Post
    It was a period in flux.

    The civilian pipe band thing got big starting around 1900, and then there were two looks bands went with

    1) Military-style full dress. This was the piper's costume introduced in the Cameron Highlanders in the 1840s which by the time of the 1881 reforms had become general throughout the army. It still defines "military style full dress" today.

    2) Civilian Evening Dress. This, like all civilian Highland Dress, went through changes in the 1910-1930 period which brought it from the typical Victorian civilian Highland costume to our familiar 20th century Highland costume.

    This was the situation with civilian pipe bands up into the post-WWII period.

    WWII had a temporary impact on pipe band costume, with many bands adopting versions of the Battle Dress jacket (or Ike jacket as we call it in the USA) in the 1940s and 1950s.

    But in the main civilian pipe band costume really hadn't changed much up into the 1970s when I joined my first band, with bands wearing Evening Dress or military-style full dress.

    In the 1970s bands started simplifying their costume. A typical 70s costume might include

    -Prince Charlie coatee
    -Balmoral bonnets, or even hatless (it was a time of big hair)
    -bow ties or long ties (yes long ties with Prince Charlies, it was a thing)
    -Evening Dress sporrans
    -heavy cream-coloured hand-knit Aran hose
    -Ghillie brogues

    The latter were actually new to the pipe band world; before the 1970s it was either spats, or buckled Evening Dress shoes with full tartan hose.

    It was around that time that bands started going to the black Argyll jackets as an alternative to Prince Charlies.

    So before pipe band dress became standardised around the 1980s you would still see bands in Evening Dress and military-style Full Dress and bands with the newer costume with the Aran hose, Ghillies, etc.

    Civilian pipe band in Evening Dress, early 20th century



    Civilian pipe band in military-style Full Dress, competing at the 1980s Worlds.



    The changing fashions: Canadian pipe bands in 1976





    In the early 1980s Scottish Grade One bands like Shotts and Boghall are appearing in the new costume of

    -black Argyll
    -long tie
    -black Glengarry
    -Ghillie brogues
    -off-white hose

    and by the end of the decade this costume had become the new standard.

    In 1984 RUC was still competing in Full Dress, said to be among the last holdouts.

    About the "when" of white hose, the 1970s was the start.

    About the end of the white hose era, the number of G1 bands wearing white at various points:

    2006: 11 of 14
    2014: 3 of 14
    2018: zero
    Richard,

    When and do know why the bands switched from balmoral to glengarry bonnets? Always thought the glengarry was the standard.

    Thanks much

    Jacques
    Hold Fast

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  7. #5
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    Richard, I always enjoy your fashion summary of the World's each year. Thanks!
    The competition members of our band were there in Grade 4A this year.
    "Touch not the cat bot a glove."

  8. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jacques View Post

    When and why bands switched from balmoral to glengarry bonnets? Always thought the glengarry was the standard.
    From the late 19th century up until around 1980 many bands wore civilian Evening Dress, for which the Balmoral was generally used.

    During that same period many other civilian bands wore military-style Full Dress, and that outfit was topped either with the Feather Bonnet or the Glengarry.

    As far as I can tell the wearing the black Glengarry with the black Argyll (an old civilian Evening Dress style) started around 1980.

    As far as the "why" goes, Fashion changes for the sake of change. As Yoda might say, "there is no why".

    Anyhow, as part of full disclosure here's the first band I played in, late 1970s



    This was AFAIK a new kit for them. I saw them compete in Full Dress (feather bonnets etc) a couple years before I joined.

    By the time I joined they were using Full Dress for gigs and the outfit above for competition.

    Notice only one of the pipers is wearing Ghillie brogues.

    Our waistcoats were chocolate brown corduroy, which matched our cover-less L&M Elkhide bags quite well!

    Now some random pics from the old days:

    A pipe band competing in Full Dress, 1976. Gotta love those lemon yellow drummers' doublets!



    Band competing in Balmorals, 1989.



    The new look: at the same 1989 contest, a band with Glengarries and black Argylls, the earliest photo I have of this outfit at one of our local Games. Soon the off-white Aran handknit hose will be discarded, the last vestige of the 1970s, and the new pure white bobbletop hose will complete the standard outfit of the 1990s.

    Last edited by OC Richard; 21st August 19 at 05:15 PM.
    Proud Mountaineer from the Highlands of West Virginia; son of the Revolution and Civil War; first Europeans on the Guyandotte

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  10. #7
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    The first band I played with, a juvenile band, wore glengarries with cock feathers when I first joined in August 1958. It had worn these since its inception about three years earlier. The band later switched to balmorals, with no feather, in early 1960. I have no idea why. The pipe major probably thought they looked smarter. As for footwear, we wore full tartan hose with black brogues or oxfords and fancy black leather flaps covering the laces instead of buckles. For jackets, we wore the regulation doublet with silver trim on the cuffs and pockets, no vest or waist belt. We also wore a long tie in the same tartan as the kilt.

    This was yours truly in 1959 wearing the band uniform. I had no flaps on my shoes because so many of them had been lost that the band had abandoned their use. Note that my stripes were on the wrong arm. This was the pipe major's idea. Again, I don't know why, but in juvenile bands in the 1950s, you didn't question the PM's diktats.
    Last edited by imrichmond; 21st August 19 at 05:25 PM.

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  12. #8
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    Bands can wear whatever they like/can afford. Personally I dislike the waistcoat only thing.

    If I were designing a uniform I would go for a something like a tropical service dress jacket and a khaki field service helmet. Looks a bit like a policeman's helmet in khaki. provides protection from the rain and the sun.

    For colder weather a military style heavy wool pullover. Same colour as the hose.
    The 'Eathen in his idleness bows down to wood and stone,
    'E don't obey no orders unless they is his own,
    He keeps his side arms awful,
    And he leaves them all about,
    Until up comes the Regiment and kicks the 'Eathen out.

  13. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Good Egg View Post
    Bands can wear whatever they like/can afford.
    Oh for sure they can. But in practice the leading Grade One bands set the fashion and all the lesser bands follow suit.

    Pipe Band fashion has a distinct function: it tells the rest of the Pipe Band community whether the band is "in the loop", keeping current on the latest music etc, or whether the band has been living in a Pipe Band backwater somewhere and hasn't got the memo.

    Experienced Pipe Band people can make an educated guess as to a band's playing level just by seeing a photo of it.

    I made this statement on a Pipe Band forum and several people told me I was mistaken.

    So to put it to a test I posted a photo of each of the following:

    1) a Grade 2 competition band
    2) a Grade 4 competition band
    3) a noncompetition "street band" or "sweater band"

    and I invited people to send me their guesses as to which band was which through Personal Message.

    Every responded guessed all three bands correctly.


    Quote Originally Posted by Good Egg View Post
    If I were designing a uniform I would go for a something like a tropical service dress jacket and a khaki field service helmet.
    There was a band here, back in the early 1980s, that dressed like that. Here they are!



    It's a mystery to me why they didn't go with a military tartan. Think of how much nicer that uniform would have looked with Black Watch or Seaforth MacKenzie or Cameron of Erracht or Gordon tartan!

    Quote Originally Posted by Good Egg View Post
    For colder weather a military style heavy wool pullover.
    Ah, a sweater band, as we call them here. Are there "jumper bands" in the UK?
    Last edited by OC Richard; 9th September 19 at 07:09 PM.
    Proud Mountaineer from the Highlands of West Virginia; son of the Revolution and Civil War; first Europeans on the Guyandotte

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