Posted by Betty Shubert on May 24, 2016 in Research
Photo courtesy of Janice Moerschel
Photo courtesy of Janice Moerschel

This story began when Janice Moerschel sent a photo of a handsome, fun loving group of people in a wedding party in Scotland. I dated it as approximately 1933-1935 based on the hairstyles, long soft dresses on the women and well-tailored, formal suits on the men. Within the photograph, there is an adorable little boy who was wearing a kilt so I asked if other researchers knew the history behind the kilt he was pictured wearing.

Shirley Obrzud of Scotland’s Gengenie, who specializes in Probate Research, responded that it’s common practice for boys and men to wear kilts at formal occasions such as weddings. Shirley and I have since developed a long distance friendship and she’s helped contribute to this post.

You’ve likely seen the Ancestry TV commercial, where Kyle dances in German lederhosen to honor his German ancestry only to discover he is really Irish -Scottish after taking the AncestryDNA test. He then dances a jig in a kilt.

Kyle Scottish Kilt

Plaid kilts were first mentioned as the battlefield dress of the Highlands in 1538 but you won’t believe how they were first constructed.

The lower garment that would eventually become the kilt and the fabric for the shoulder sash or scarf were at first, a continuous piece of fabric. A leather belt was placed on the ground, fabric pleated or folded on top of the belt (future shoulder sash hanging loose) then the man would lie down on top of the belt (that became the back of the kilt). He would reach over, fold more fabric over to cover his front, then fasten the belt tightly around his waist. Then he’d loosen the sash fabric at his back to over his left front shoulder where it would be secured with a large broach or pin and voila, a kilt was built!

The sash or scarf as we known it today is not worn by men, only women.

edited Scanned Kilt 2016Scottish clans now have their own kilt colors which are known as tartans, not plaids. Today, there are over 4,000 tartans. Colorful tartans were woven with yarns dyed from native plants, mosses, berries & seeds. As new designs for tartans were developed, they became associated with certain areas of Scotland, and later, specific clans chose their own tartan designs to identify their clans.

It has been said that tartans were simplified, perhaps sewn together instead of just wrapped, around 1725. This is very reassuring to me, because I worried about the possibility of kilts becoming unwrapped during battle.

In the 18th century, kilts grew in popularity after being chosen as the uniform of Highland Regiments serving the British Army. At that time, the Highlanders first identified a family (or clan) by the plaid design and colors of their tartan.

British aristocracy considered all things Scottish, fashionable. In the mid-19th century, Queen Victoria and her beloved Prince Albert visited Balmoral Castle, bringing back not only a kilt for their little Prince, but plaid fabrics, ribbons, trims, etc.edited Scanned child in Kilt 2016

Little boys  internationally, wore kilts as late as 1890, by which time their mothers had explored every variation of Scottish dress including the wearing of Tam O’Shanter berets (a.k.a., Tammies).

You can learn more about Scottish kilt’s on these Clan Sites:

Special thanks to Shirley Obrzud, Scotland’s Gengenie & Genie Probate Research; Sherrie Haber of Social Butterfly Creations who helped to restore the photos and Janice Moerschel who inspired this story.

Betty Shubert

Betty Kreisel Shubert: Costume Designer/Fashion Historian/Author-Illustrator of the book Out-of-Style: A Modern Perspective of How, Why and When Vintage Fashions Evolved (see http://www.outofstylethebook.com/). Named to Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2013, by Family Tree Magazine UK, Our Top Choice and Finalist 2014 USA Best Book Awards: Performing Arts Theatre – Film category. Beverly Hills Best Book Award, Performing Arts.

19 Comments

  1. Dennis

    There was no need to worry about a kilt coming unwrapped in battle since they were taken off and folded prior to an engagement. The kilt acted as a burial shroud when or a sleeping bag when necessary so the wearer would have wanted to keep it reasonably free of blood.

  2. I made a video of a demonstration of making a kilt that I watched while in Nova Scotia. I don’t know if you allow links, so I’ll just say it is available at YouTube. Search for How to Make a Kilt.

  3. Sandra McGraw

    Ref: The story of the kilt- hence to saying “the whole nine yards” comes from. This original kilt was 9 yards of fabric belted on and the extra fabric tossed over the shoulder. (Braveheart)

  4. Dear Dennis,Vera Marie, & Sandra McGraw, your comments are so interesting.! Thanks for writing.I wonder how they could have removed their kilts for battle, since my friend,Shirley Obrzud,Scotand’s Gengenie answered the age old question, “What did Scotsmen wear under their kilt?” she said “nothing”, but this was censored out from my article.She said that in later years, men did wear underwear….I am delighted to learn the origin of the term,”The whole nine yards”…makes sense..I would love to have the link to “How to make a kilt” My 94 year old husband, a WW 2 P-38 fighter pilot with a DFC, is of Scottish -Irish descent. His ancestor married famous American Explorer, Daniel Boone…Any more Scotsmen out there who found this story interesting & informative? Best, Betty Shubert, Costume designer/ Fashion Historian ,Author-illustrator of the book. Out-Of-Style

  5. Linda Ellington

    Loved this article, so very interesting. I had forgotten the origin of the expression “the whole nine yards.” My grandmother who was a seamstress use to say it a lot when I was a child. She had Scottish-Irish ancestors, so her having grown up hearing this expression makes sense.

  6. Shirley

    When I mentioned to Betty that “later” men did wear underwear I was referring to modern times Suzanne. In Scotland true Scots still do not wear underwear 🙂

  7. An important fact edited out of the original article is that Shirley told me one never calls anything or anyone Scotch..that is only an alcoholic drink. Instead ,it is Scottish or Scots or Scotsman.

  8. Janice

    I submitted the wedding photo shown in this article to determine when it may have been taken. I have researched the tree of my uncle’s wife a bit and now think that the groom could have been my aunt’s first cousin (who wed in 1933). Groom ~may~ be James Dewar Williamson and, if that’s the case, his wife was Violet Edgar. If anyone is related to these folks – probably from Renfrewshire, Scotland – please post here as I’d be interested in connecting. I may have other pictures of them. And thanks to all for info about kilts!

  9. MK

    “The Whole Nine Yards,” has nothing to do with kilts, which probably were a lot less than nine yards. The phrase is American in origin, and appears to date to the 1950’s. Some theories say nine yards is the length of belted ammunition, such as was used in WWII.

  10. Dear MK: you are probably right, because as I now visualize, one yard is three feet: 9 yards would be 27 feet…a whole lot longer than a kilt would require. I want to check out the video from Vera Marie who said she watched a kilt being built!…Best, Betty

  11. Sheila M

    I love this article. I’m a US citizen and lived in Machrihanish Scotland for two years. It is a wonderful place with warm and welcoming people. I miss it sometimes!

  12. Ted W

    I too had heard the stories of ammo belts for bomber gunners were “the whole 9 yards”. Makes a little better sense, I think. I was giggled out over he Scot, Scots, Scottish, vs Scotch. Had heard it before and mentioned to my mother. She giggled and mentioned her Uncle George and others who would have roared with laughter. Her parents (my grandparents) were Cothren and Knox, both good Scot names. Scotch was the main word I heard growing up when discussing ancestry.
    One other tag for them was given by the Indian tribes of north eastern USA and Canada. When the British Army brought some of them over to fight, the Indians had never seen such a sight. Big tall muscular men, wearing a skirt like a woman, but carrying a big long sword. I can imagine meeting one of these guys with just a wooden handled tomahawk to try to avert a blow. That big sword took not only the tomahawk, but arm and shoulder with it. The Indians called them the “Women from Hell”.

  13. Kerry

    I submitted the photographs of the Military man & the little boy shown in this article. These 2 photos were in a beautiful leather bound photo album that belonged to my Great Grandmother Ann Lindsay (nee Duff) she migrated to Australia in 1913 along with her husband James Lindsay & only child John Lindsay. Please post here as I’d be interested in connecting with anyone who may know the names of these people. I have approx another 30 unnamed professional studio portraits that unfortunately I have no knowledge who they are. Thank you for all for info about kilts it’s a fascinating article 🙂

  14. Dear Kerry, Remember how totally illegible the original photos you sent of the Military man & the adorable little fellow in a kilt was before Photo Restorer Sherrie Haber,( www. Sherrie@Social butterfly Creations) requested a SCANNED photo , instead of a photo of a photo?? They are now as clear as can be! Kerry, if you have some other choice photos that you would like me to time-date for you, using the style clues illustrated in my book, OUT-OF-STYLE, send them to me at Ancestry.com blog. I will tell you all about the people & their eras from style clues in the clothes , as illustrated in my book, OUT-OF-STYLE…Best, Betty Shubert

  15. Great piece of information about the culture of the kilt….excellent information to read and comprehend and update on the great history about the kilting culture….keep sharing more information.

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