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  1. #1
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    Ghillie brogues - why the dislike and resentment..?

    It seems that whenever ghillie-brogues become the object of focus, the response they produce is often dislike or dispise.

    Why is this?

    What is the reason for railing against them?

    I can see that to some eyes they are so unlike 'normal' shoes that they could be seen as too much a form of costume, or even theatrical.

    But they are not a new invention, and are far older in their style and tradition than the Oxford or Derby (two English county towns) styles that frequently get suggested for kilt-wear, and descriptions of a form of ghillies can be found in accounts from the 1500s onwards. I cannot think of any other current shoe style that the same can be said of.

    I have seen that some think Ghillies are too dressy for anything but the most formal occasions, but the MacLeay and MacIan portraits of the 1870s and 1840s show them to be quite 'every day' as the written accounts tell us.

    The one thing about ghillies is that they are totally and uniquely 'Highland', and primarily intended for kilt-wear - which other styles would struggle to answer. Even 'closed' full-brogues are more frequently seen with trousers than the kilt.

    So what have I missed?

    Is it that they have become associated with kilt-hire, and so not-quite-right? Are ghillie-brogue wearers seen as not knowing the 'rules' of correct Highland dress form?

    When there are various versions available, in both black and brown, soft and flexible or stiff and thick soled, there are surely enough styles to suit most tastes and occasions. Some of the early how-to Highland dress guides suggest that the long laces are prefectly correctly tied around the instep, rather than around the ankle, or can be substituted with more normal short laces.

    So, other than personal taste or preference, why the dislike.

    Is there anyone out there who has the definitive answer..?

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  3. #2
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    I can't give a definitive answer for anyone but me; but I've never found them in my size as I have very wide feet.
    I did find one UK store online that 'said' they carried the wide sizes, but I never buy shoes without trying them on as there are no standard sizing. I have managed several shoes stores in my varied career and trying to never let anyone out of my store without trying on the shoes, as it saved us all the time and hassle of a return later.
    B.D. Marshall
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  4. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by bdkilted View Post
    I can't give a definitive answer for anyone but me; but I've never found them in my size as I have very wide feet.
    I did find one UK store online that 'said' they carried the wide sizes, but I never buy shoes without trying them on as there are no standard sizing. I have managed several shoes stores in my varied career and trying to never let anyone out of my store without trying on the shoes, as it saved us all the time and hassle of a return later.
    I know just what you mean...

    But do you like ghillie-brogues otherwise?

    Would you rather wear them when a-kilted, instead of a less distinctly 'Highland' style?

    I'm guessing you fall into the pro-ghillie category - like me, who usually wears a pair of 'regimental' ghillies that are made with double leather sole and fitted with steel toe and heel tips as standard. Not a version for dancing in - unless it's heavy-footed clog-dancing!

    I wonder if those kilties you see wearing shiny, pointy 'ordinary' styles ever get asked why they don't wear 'real' kilt-shoes.

    I have a copy of the 1914 Gamages (a London department store supplying the Empire with wondrous goodies) that shows two styles of heavy full-brogue, and classes them as 'Real Scotch' brogue shoes, and so distinct from 'English' styles.

    In my younger days (40-odd years ago) I was (I now realise) priviledged to have and eventually wear out a couple of pairs of what we might call country brogues these days, made by a now defunct Northampton maker. Stout walking-shoes, they certainly were, and I remember them having 'Clansman' on the label.

    Both these sources were giving clear Scottish Highland associations to brogues, which is why I am puzzled at the resistance to ghillies today, when they are so obviously Highland.

  5. #4
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    Good questions!

    That's the problem with Ghillies- there are always more questions than answers.

    Are they traditional? (That is, having an unbroken lineage of use and evolution of form as far back as our sources allow us to trace.)

    Or are they a Revival? (That is, a thing not in current use which is freshly created, either copied from a relic or an invention based on imagery, textual reference, or mere conjecture.)

    If a Revival, when did they appear?

    How were they regarded in times past?

    To make a case for them to be traditional, that is, having an unbroken chain of use, one would have to produce a series of images of them being worn covering every period from the mid-19th century back to our earliest clear images of men wearing Highland Dress (around 1700).

    We can do that with the kilt, the sporran, the bonnet, the dirk, etc. But as far as I know Ghillies don't show up in images of men wearing Highland Dress until Victorian times.

    Which leaves us with Ghillies being a Revival.

    A revival of what? Yes we have a verbal description of Highlanders making their own deerskin moccasins, and we have a survival of something possibly akin to that with the pamutai of the Aran Islanders. And we could throw into the mix the footwear similar to the pamutai which are traditional in the Balkans.

    But the Ghillies which seem to appear out of nowhere in the Victorian period aren't like any of those things. They're built-up ordinary shoes, but are open-topped with one to four pairs of tabs holding the shoestrings.

    I do wonder if the Allen Brothers, the very men who in the second quarter of the 19th century were whispering into Clan Chiefs' ears "just to let you know, you're not wearing the true ancient tartan of your clan. If you would like, we will share with you our unique knowledge and provide you with a sketch of your true tartan you can take to a weaver" the sketch actually being of a tartan entirely from the imagination of the brothers, were also appearing at Highland functions wearing Ghillies which they themselves devised and had made, explaining to all who asked that these were the true ancient Highland shoes.

    What to me smacks of Revival is how the earliest large-scale record we have of Ghillie wearing, The Highlanders of Scotland, show nearly all the Ghillies being tan roughout hide, indicating that they're thought to be a rustic rural shoe. There's one pair of black Ghillies and they have decorative buckles attached at the toes.

    There are plenty of photos of men in the mid 19th century wearing Ghillies, however these are invariably black (or possibly dark brown).

    The only photos I've ever been able to find of tan roughout hide Ghillie Brogues are the pair made for the future King Edward VII as part of his quasi-historical Highland costume.



    Last edited by OC Richard; 16th April 24 at 04:16 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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  7. #5
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    Why are Ghillies hated?

    In Pipe Band circles Ghillies are generally hated

    1) because they're part of the band costume that everyone has to wear to compete in. The whole costume is hated, not just the shoes.

    2) because so many band people are wearing uncomfortable Ghillies. It's always been puzzling to me why people who would never wear a pair of uncomfortable shoes of any other sort do purchase and wear uncomfortable Ghillies. (They come in regular, wide, extra wide, and orthopedic.)

    Traditional kiltwearers hate them because they're tinged with the dual stink of Kilt Hire Shops and Pipe Band costumes.

    Both things are recent: Pipe Bands started wearing Ghillies only in the late 1970s/early 1980s which is the same time that Kilt Hire began booming.
    Last edited by OC Richard; 16th April 24 at 04:20 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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  9. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by OC Richard View Post
    Why are Ghillies hated?

    In Pipe Band circles Ghillies are generally hated

    1) because they're part of the band costume that everyone has to wear to compete in. The whole costume is hated, not just the shoes.

    2) because so many band people are wearing uncomfortable Ghillies.

    Traditional kiltwearers hate them because they're tinged with the dual stink of Kilt Hire Shops and Pipe Band costumes.
    But is this not true of all elements of Highland dress?

    It is human nature to dislike or resent what we are 'forced' to do, so the opposition to ghillie-brogues is probably more the association the individual gives to them than careful reasoning.

    The so-called Traditional Kilters' stance on various elements of Highland dress is curious to me - being what seems to be based on the inter-war years catalogue ideal that the prevailing fashions and trends lent to it.

    It could be said that nothing about the upper-body garments have any real historic value to them, and the tweed-coatee-and-weskit that we all now love so much is essentially English leisure styles adapted to kilt-wear.

    Certainly by the 1940s, this Traditionl Kilters' style was being heavily criticised in print, for its continual dulling-down of Highland style to match more closely the prevailing Lowland fasions. Lord Lyon condemned it as a desire of the self-concious, and called it un-Scottish and contemptible.

    MacIan's portraits from the 1840s show various representatives of the clans in ghillies - or, as the descriptions usually say, Brog - so they have been appearing in illustrations for almost two centuries, even if not in modern production form.

    All of which makes me wonder about the ghillie-brogue. The style and antiquity is at least double that of the 'contemptible' tweed-and-Tattersall of the TKs, and far more appropriate than any English shoe style.

    As for comfort, is that not a matter of fit? Any badly-fitting shoe will be uncomfortable, whatever the style I should say.

    Myself, I have formed the impression that anti-ghillie views are based less on historical evidence than on what they have come to represent to some out-spoken individuals, who then influence the unwitting.

    It would be easy to argue that the anti-ghillie hostility could just as easily (and possibly more rightly) be directed at the tweed coatee, and show it up as a kind of 1930s cos-play. Surely the true traditionalists ought to be arguing for the far more authentic twin waistcoat style that was frequently noted prior to the Dress Act.

    Perhaps the use of 'Traditional' with kilters is the problem - surely only what was habitually worn prior to the ban on Highland dress is authentic, and everything that has come after the Act is Revivalist. If mid-20th century styles are acceptable as traditional, why not the footwear that evolved a century or more before from the original 'Brog'?

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  11. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Troglodyte View Post
    When there are various versions available, in both black and brown, soft and flexible or stiff and thick soled, there are surely enough styles to suit most tastes and occasions. Some of the early how-to Highland dress guides suggest that the long laces are prefectly correctly tied around the instep, rather than around the ankle, or can be substituted with more normal short laces.
    I do own a pair of vintage ghillie brogues (Keltic - "The Scottish Shoe"), and wear them as you describe with short laces tied over the instep like any other shoe. In my opinion, having the laces ties around the ankle is extremely uncomfortable, impractical, ridiculous, and costumish. There is nothing about lacing around the ankles that makes any sense in today's world.

    If indeed the primitive origin of this shoe style was worn in such a manner, it was due to the shoes being made in a very rudimentary fashion from a single bit of deer hide without any additional construction techniques which would allow it to stay on the foot otherwise. I can imagine a primitive Highlander wanting it laced around the ankle so it doesn't completely pull off when he slogs through a bog. Today's shoes are built on a solid, sturdy sole, made from several shaped pieces of leather to fit more correctly to the foot. And we don't typically have to travel through such boggy terrain on a daily basis.

    So whatever need there was for lacing up the ankle no longer exists. The style is purely for aesthetics. But it comes at the cost of comfort and practicality. Personally, I must have my shoes tied snugly around my foot to avoid chafing and blistering. Lacing around my ankle would be too loose for the way I want my shoes to fit my feet. And tying them tighter behind the ankle would risk the laces digging in to the back of my ankle, right in the Achilles tendon area. Perhaps it's just the engineer in me, but lacing around the ankle is perhaps the worst possible method to tie a shoe. It fights with the flexure and rotation of the ankle whilst walking and doesn't adequately cinch the shoe over the foot. If I want my footwear to go round my ankle, I'll wear an ankle boot (which I actually prefer, and wear daily).

    I'm not necessarily opposed to sacrificing comfort and practicality for aesthetics. But I would have to really like the aesthetics. And with ghillie brogues, I just don't. I admit and agree that they have an established provenance in Highland wear (for both daywear and evening wear, depending on the style). But in my opinion, their existence is an attempt to keep alive a distinct look for no good reason. It's pure costumery. Just as the kilt evolved from a feileadh mor to the small kilt we wear today, it's OK for shoes to evolve to a more practical style.

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  13. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Troglodyte View Post

    The so-called Traditional Kilters' stance on various elements of Highland dress is curious to me - being what seems to be based on the inter-war years catalogue ideal...
    The history of Highland Dress displays the "punctuated equilibrium" manner of evolution, which features relatively long periods of stability and brief periods of rapid change.

    The period c1820-1840 was one such period, followed by relative stability during the Victorian period. The next such period was c1905 to c1920 which established our Traditional Highland Dress that's still with us today.

    Time will tell whether the serious challenge to this tradition which has been mounted by Kilt Hire (which took off in the 1980s) and their black Prince Charlie + black leather sporran + white hose + black Ghillies costume will be looked back upon by future Highland Dress historians as another brief rapid sea-change in Highland Dress, or merely a blip.

    I do follow Kilt Hire trends and they have steadily been going away from the costume mentioned above and turning back towards Lovat tweeds and coloured hose and brown sporrans, in other words the Day Dress costume established immediately following World War One.

    I do have to address your mention of "catalogue ideal". It's puzzling why in ordinary fashion circles, say people studying the dress of the 1920s, vintage catalogues are heavily relied upon, while in Highland Dress circles the assertion is often made that catalogues don't show what people actually wore.

    I believe that this assertion can be dismissed on two grounds. First, vast numbers of photos show men wearing exactly the outfits shown in the catalogues.

    The second thing is simple logic. Firms making and selling Highland Dress have one goal: to turn a profit. They're not going to make fanciful stuff that sits on the shelves. It wastes production capacity and valuable shelf space. Also quite valuable is catalogue space. Catalogues are expensive to print (colour printing in the 1920s wasn't cheap) add to that the expense of posting the catalogues to Australia, America, etc. Adverts often mention that the catalogues are posted free. Catalogue space is devoted to items expected to sell.

    So yes vintage catalogues are an excellent guide to what people are going to purchase, and presumably wear.

    Quote Originally Posted by Troglodyte View Post

    Certainly by the 1940s, this Traditional Kilters' style was being heavily criticised in print, for its continual dulling-down of Highland style to match more closely the prevailing Lowland fashions.
    This is something I'd love to learn more about. Were they advocating a return to tartan jackets? To the breacan-an-feileadh?

    For sure, as you mentioned, above the waist Highland Dress has tended to follow prevailing European fashion. This seems to have always been around, witness the "slashed doublets" seen in both Highland and non-Highland portraits. (True that these doublets continued in fashion longer with Highland Dress.)

    On the other hand we see in 18th century Highland Dress a love for tartan jackets and waistcoats that's uniquely Highland. In the Regency period tartan jackets remained popular though the cut of these jackets followed the prevailing European fashion.

    In the 1840s tweed jackets began becoming very fashionable for gents' outdoor wear and they were quickly adapted to Highland Dress. So yes tweed jackets aren't traditionally Highland, but if people were criticising them in the 1930s I'm sorry to say that the horse had left the barn.

    Quote Originally Posted by Troglodyte View Post
    MacIan's portraits...
    People may find it nitpicking, but the difference between portraits and illustrations is critical to the subject at hand.

    Portraits are paintings of living persons posed in front of the artist. They attempt to capture the person, the clothing, and the lighting present at the time the painting is executed.

    Illustrations can be based on verbal descriptions, pictorial sources, or imagination.

    The MacIan illustrations are just that, illustrations. Is there any record of where he got his ideas about the costumes of earlier periods? For sure the Western artist Frederick Remington had quite a collection of Native American and Cowboy costume in his studio for his models to wear. Did MacIan have access to a surviving centuries-old pair of Highland moccasins? Or had he seen an image of such? Or was he himself part of the Revival process?


    Quote Originally Posted by Troglodyte View Post

    All of which makes me wonder about the ghillie-brogue. The style and antiquity is at least double that of the 'contemptible' tweed-and-Tattersall of the TKs, and far more appropriate than any English shoe style.
    I love wearing Ghillies precisely because they're specifically Highland.

    About antiquity, who can say. If one wanted ancient Highland footwear they could follow the old verbal description and make a pair out of deer-hide. We have no idea what these looked like other than by referencing footwear from other places like the Aran Isles.

    We can only trace Ghillie-brogues to perhaps to around 1850, the same time that tweed was becoming the standard outdoor wear with kilts.

    It is interesting that the Army never issued Ghillie brogues to its Highland Soldiers, but rather the ordinary period shoes seen in so many 18th century Highland portraits, either laced or buckled.
    Last edited by OC Richard; 16th April 24 at 10:25 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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  15. #9
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    In answer to the earlier query. I just I am fine with them, but since I could never find any that fit I went with wingtip. Having worn out a couple pair of those I now where a wingtip lace up boot. I guess this is to say I try to be as traditional as I can.
    B.D. Marshall
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    One reason for their not so great rep would be people wearing the laces so far up the leg they look like a gladiator. This seems to come from the kilt hire industry especially with the bright white socks.

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