Think you know all there is to know about kilts? Think again.
‘Scotsmen have always worn tartan skirts’
The truth is, the Scots didn’t actually wear tartan kilts until the eighteenth century. They wore tartan, but they didn’t wear kilts. Rather, they wore knee-length tartan shirts, held up by a belt around the middle.
‘The kilt is a Scottish invention’
The kilt was actually invented by an Englishman in 1727. The man was Thomas Rawlinson, and he came up with the idea while in the Highlands – surprisingly, it was a simple case of charity and practicality. You see, during the eighteenth century, the average Scotsman was poor – so poor that he couldn’t afford a pair of trousers. As an entrepreneur of ironworks in Scotland, Rawlinson felt that his men were hindered by their clothing. He also knew they couldn’t afford trousers (and he didn’t want to cough up the cash himself) so invented the kilt, which proved to be an immediate success. Most Scots didn’t fancy it to be as good as a pair of trousers, but then they were already used to wearing those awkward knee-length tartan shirts.
‘Wearing a kilt is legal’
Well, it is now. But the thing is, kilts were banned in 1745. After the Scottish rebellion against the British (cough, English), the British Parliament believed that the kilt needed to be banned. These pieces of tartan cloth were a positive threat to the British way of life! Of course, they weren’t worried about Englishmen suddenly abandoning their pants – rather, they thought it made Scotsmen believe that they were different to Englishmen. Of course, the Scots are – in many ways – different to their English counterparts arguably, but not because of the way they dress. Considering the English spent hundreds of years trying to make other countries act, speak, and dress like them, it’s not surprising they banned the kilt really.
‘Kilts are loved by the Scots’
Again, they are now. But prior to the ban in 1745, most Scotsmen couldn’t care less about the kilt – many actually detested them. You see, because kilts had been invented for the lower or working class man, members of the upper class wouldn’t go near them. But after the ban of 1745, everyone wanted to wear one. Thus was born the national costume of Scotland. And after the entire country began flaunting their new attire, each clan claimed they had always been known for their particular tartan. Strangely, none of those chiefs stood up to say ‘Hang on a minute – we only started wearing these yesterday…’
Rather, a scholar called John Pinkerton did. Everyone ignored him, of course, and instead succumbed to reading the romantic tales of Sir Walter Scott. His essay of 1805 actually claimed that different tartans could be traced back to the third century.
But while that may be true, they only graced knee-length shirts.