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.
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.
Scottish 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.
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.