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Kilt Jackets - A History and Guide Part I

By Eric M. January 31, 2017

 

 

Highland dress, unlike many other forms of national dress and traditional costume, has evolved with the times -- it is a true wardrobe and system of dress. Two factors inform this evolution. First, we are a stubborn and somewhat romantic lot, so we like to hang on to old-time fashions and decoration. This is why Highland dress has a “timeless” feel to it. Second, our fashions have long been intermingled with military clothing. Quite obviously, this is due to the proud Scottish tradition of warriorship and Scotland's long history of military service to the British empire. Our genius lies in taking the best of whatever might be fashionable at the time and blending it with the tartan kilt -- the immortal garment of our kin. Outer upper body garments -- jackets, vests and the like -- have always been the most changeable. We have toyed and tinkered with them constantly and this is why today we have some of the greatest variety and style in menswear. It’s also why it is so damned confusing. This is the first of a two-part article to help break it all down for you.

 

17th CENTURY BEGINNINGS

  First came the "doublet", which is actually an ancient term dating back to the 16th century, at least. Here is a typical 17th-century doublet as worn throughout Europe. At first glance, it may seem far removed from what we think of as a doublet today; usually a pipe band uniform. But the doublets of King James I's time left us certain elements -- the “tashes” (also called tassets or Inverness flaps) and the shoulder decoration, which would evolve into the “shells” or “wings” on military doublets. In non-Highland dress, the doublet would diminish over time and become the waistcoat. Overcoats worn over the doublet would slowly morph into suit coats.   
       



Late 17th-century doublet  (Lord Mungo Murray).
   In this case, the fashion was borrowed from Louis XIV. Don’t worry. It dyed pretty quickly. But as an aside, note the lace -- lace cuffs and neck wear (“jabots”) were popular throughout the 17th and 18th centuries and were retained for formal wear in the 19th. Scotland is the hold-out. Even today we sometimes still wear lace cuffs for formal attire (see Montrose jackets in Part II).
     


 

18TH CENTURY - PICKING UP SOME KEY ELEMENTS

 

18th-century doublets and coats.

On the left  we see two typical 18th century doublets. Note that the red one on the left has epaulettes - a military convention for wearing the baldrick (sword hanger). On the right, we see a common suit jacket of the 18th century rendered in a Scottish style. Later on, this fashion would become known as a “Highland Jacket”. It was a more "civilian" or gentlemanly look of the period, especially when made from tartan as in this portrait of John Murray, 4th Earl Dunmore (1765). Clearly, the more "military" doublet was a more practical fit when worn with the copious fabric of a Great Kilt, or any kilt for that matter. It's easy to see why shorter jackets have been generally preferred while longer designs have mainly fallen by the wayside. 

Tartan Jacket, 1760s

 

18th-century coatee (Hugh Montgomerie 12th Earl of Eglinton, circa 1780).  The 18th century military "coatee" would later be resurrected for civilian use in the form of the Prince Charlie jacket (See Part II). To the right you see good old Ben Franklin. Why? To reinforce a point about gauntlet cuffs. Gauntlet cuffs, as we see on our modern doublets and “Argyll” jackets, began as an 18th-century suit jacket fashion found all over Europe. Like many other aspects of Highland ornamentation, it is arguable that if these had not been retained by the British military, beyond their civilian popularity, they would not have been retained by the Scots. Ben Franklin, 1767.
     

 

 

 

19TH CENTURY - THE VICTORIAN TIDALWAVE

 

   

As with so many other aspects of Scottish dress, the 19th century saw the greatest level of development in jackets thanks to the Victorian passion for all things Scottish and the steady growth of Scottish national pride. Highland dress took on more modern stylings and was rounded out as a system for Victorian gentlemen. Various "new" renditions of layered garments evolved for different situations; day wear, hunting and sporting, formal evening dress.  

A wide variety of elements were incorporated from past centuries and military dress. And yet the main goal was, as is is the case now, to adapt current garment types to work well with the kilt. many of these fashions have since become conventional; more or less set in stone as "bog standard" wear. 


Prince Albert in Highland dress. Note the new interpretation of the doublet.
   
 

One obvious examplke of a hold-over from the 18th century was the so-called "Highland Jacket" which was cut long, single-breasted with no lapels and a row of six or more buttons. It did not remain popular into the 20th century, however. And in fact the gentleman pictured here is not even Scottish but Frederick III of Germany. 

Simultaneously, uniform doublets of the Scottish units of the British army continued to evolve. We will in Part II how many of these jackets transformed into formal wear. Below: Trumpeter John Rennie, 72nd Highlanders (1856), Highland regiment rifleman (1860s or 70s) , piper of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (1899). 

 

Highland jacket_frederick

 

 

 

Victorian civilians wore both doublets and ordinary "sack jackets" with their kilts. Sack jackets were a less formal suit jacket type universal to the period -- our modern business suit jackets evolved out of it.  Sack jackets were particularly common for sporting activities like hunting - the simplicity, coverage, and comfort made them an easy option.

 

 

Very quickly, a hybrid of the sack jacket and the traditional, shorter-cut doublet developed and became a day wear standard.  This is the origin of the tweed and barathea-wool jackets we commonly refer to as "Argyll" today. True doublets of various sorts were also worn during the day, but were increasingly thought of as formal wear.  We can thank the Victorians for providing us with variety and choice.  

 

We will cover formal dress and contemporary options in Part II.

Host a Burns Supper!

By Eric M. January 11, 2017 1 comments

January 25th marks the annual celebration of Scotland's national poet, Robert Burns (1759-1796). Tributes to the man and his art are held around the world on this night in the form of the 'Burns Supper'. The first recorded supper was held in 1801 around the anniversary of the Bard's death by a small group of friends and acquaintances. The suppers are now held annually on the date of his birth, January 25th.

Robert Burns 

 

Burns Suppers, theoretically, are meant to be informal with an air of rustic simplicity -- romantic ideals of Highland life which Burns extolled in his poetry. However, modern Burns Suppers vary in style and level of formality according to the hosting group's vision. They can be as simple as a party held at a local pub, or as formal as a black tie affair. Regardless, there are certain ritual elements which must be included to make it a true Burns Supper...

 

After the guests have gathered, the host will say a few words of introduction. After everyone is seated, the host or another speaker will recite the Lowland Scots 'Selkirk Grace', also known as the 'Galloway Grace' or the 'Covenanters' Grace':


Some hae meat and canna eat,
  And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
  Sae let the Lord be thankit.
And sae the Lord be thankit


Burns is said to have delivered an extempore version in Standard English at a dinner given by the Earl of Selkirk on St. Mary's Isle:


Some have meat and cannot eat,
  Some cannot eat that want it;
But we have meat and we can eat,
  So let the Lord be thankit.


A starter of soup is then served; usually Scots broth or Cock-a-Leekie.  The main event of the meal comes next: the Piping in of the Haggis. A large, piping-hot Haggis (called by Burns "the 'great chieftain o' the puddin'-race") is carried into the dining room on a tray with a bottle of whisky and glasses. A piper leads the procession playing 'A Man's A Man' or another Burns song. The haggis is set down before the host, who now recites Burns' famous 'Address to a Haggis'.

 

As he reaches the line of the poem, "His knife see rustic Labour dicht, An' cut you up wi' ready slicht", the host draws his Sgian Dubh and plunges it into the haggis, slicing it open from end to end in dramatic fashion. A whisky toast is then proposed to the haggis. Mashed potatoes (champit tatties) and turnips (bashed neeps) traditionally accompany the haggis.


After the meal is concluded, one of the guests delivers a speech commemorating Burns and proposes a toast to the great man, known as the "Immortal Memory." A second toast is made "to the lassies" in recognition of Burns' fondness for the fair sex. Oftentimes, a female guest will reply with a humorous toast "to the laddies."


After the speeches, there may be singing of songs by Burns. Some Suppers include Scottish country dancing and many dance clubs host Burns Suppers as an occasion to hold a cilidh. Whisky tastings are also popular.


At the very end of the evening, the guests will stand together to sing Auld Lang Syne; the Burns song which has become an international anthem of camaraderie and has been translated into over thirty different languages.


Want to host your own Burns Supper?

It's not hard to do! Haggis, despite a lot of bad jokes here in the USA, is a very tasty dish you can make yourself (see the recipe below). You'll want to invest in a nice bottle of whisky and, naturally, a volume of Burns' poetry. Another nice touch is to play some of the music composed by the Bard. We recommend "The Complete Songs of Robert Burns, Vol. 1 & 2" available from various online sellers and including interpretations by a variety of accomplished Celtic musicians.


MAKE YOUR OWN HAGGIS

Here is a classic Haggis recipe you can make in a common casserole dish (no sheep’s stomach required!)


Haggis


Ingredients:

18 oz ground lamb
18 oz ground beef
5 oz suet (beef or vegetable)
4 oz oats
1 1/4 cup stock (you can strain this from the boiled meat, or use a prepared beef stock)
1 cup onions, finely chopped
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground mace
1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp ground coriander
sea salt
ground black pepper


1. Preheat your oven to 320° F.

2. Cover the lamb & beef with water and bring to the boil in a large pot. Simmer for about 40 minutes and cool. Save the stock from the meat.

4. Roughly chop and toast the oats in a hot pan, shaking occasionally to make sure they don't burn.

5. Mix all the ingredients together with the stock and transfer to a well-greased casserole dish and cover with a layer of tin-foil.

6. Place in a water bath using a pan large enough to accommodate the dish and add boiling water around it. The water should come about 3/4 of the way up the side of the dish. Check this occasionally and top up the water level. Cook for about 2 1/2 hours and serve immediately with whisky sauce and mashed potatoes and turnips.



Traditional Whisky Sauce:

2 cups cream
2 tsp wholegrain mustard
1 tbls Dijon mustard
2 tsp Irish whiskey
sea salt
ground white pepper
3 tbls chopped scallions


Heat the cream in a pan over a medium heat. Add mustards, scallions and whisky and whisk together. Increase heat until the mixture is simmering. Let simmer for 1-2 minutes until it thickens up a bit. Remove the pan from the heat and season with salt and pepper.

15 Tips for enjoying Highland Games & Festivals

By Eric M. June 2, 2016 No comments

Festival season is here! Whether it's Highland Games or a Celtic Music Festival, you are in for an awesome time. But in case you're new to the scene, here are our top 15 tips for attending a Celtic Festival...

  

1. Check the event's web site before going in case they have an online/downloadable program, guide to parking and amenities, a map, etc.

 

2. Arrive early. Parking can be a bit dicy at some festivals and occasionally, you have to take a shuttle bus from the parking lot to the festival.

 

3. Bring a backpack. For anything that won't fit in your sporran, a backpack is essential. It will allow you to keep your arms free for food, selfies, dancing, shopping, etc.

 

4. Hydrate! Yes, you will be able to buy beverages, but you will wait in line for them. Sun, excitement, walking and dancing takes it out of you - bring a bottle of water!

 

5. Wear sun screen and bring a hat. Even if the festival is in the fall (with presumably cooler weather) you will want these.

 

6. Dress in, or at least bring along layers. Weather at festivals can change dramatically and you should assume you'll want to stay well into the evening for concerts when it will be cooler. A packable windbreaker or rain jacket is a great idea. Or, go piper and bring a Rain Cape.

 

7. Bring cash. Lots of vendors will take cards, but cash is still really handy and won't fail you if the merchant's connection is down. It may also be needed for buying food tickets.

 

8. Speaking of food, bring small snacks such as energy bars, fruit and nuts. Festival food is great fun, but sometimes waiting in line isn't.  Or you may be a parent with picky eaters. Or you may need a pick-me-up after an evening concert when the food vendors have shut down.

 

9. Wear comfortable shoes. We've mentioned lines already, but there's also a lot of walking and standing during performances. And remember, there will be crowds -- open-toed shoes and flip-flops won't keep your toes from getting crushed.  Sneakers or ankle boots are the ticket.

 

10. Make sure your devices are fully charged and have room for photos/videos.

 

11. Apply Body Glide. Trust us. It is your friend.

 

12. Bring a spare pair of hose. This is always good advice for pipers.  Hose can get dirty or sweaty after a long day.

 

13. Bring ear plugs - these days this is a common concert-goer's precaution. And no, we don't necessarily mean you will need them for pipe bands. Most pipe band performances will be in open areas where the sound can dissipate. However, folk- and pub-rock acts in side venues may have some pretty loud amps punching out the tunes.

 

14. When shopping, you can use your camera (with the merchant's permission) to take shots of products you like or the merchant's name/info. This can help you remember where you saw "X" so you can go back and get it before leaving the festival.

 

15. Finally, wear a kilt! You knew we'd say that, right? Well, we also want you to wear the right kilt. if you want to dress up in your clan tartan 8 yard, go for it. However, given what we've been saying about crowds, heat and physical activity, our personal favorite festival kilt is the USA Kilts Casual. In a nutshell, it's...

 

- Light-weight, machine-washable fabric with No-Pill technology

- Teflon-coated for optimal (beer) stain resistance!

- Secure Velcro closure system - no belt required, no bulky straps and buckles!

- Over 100 tartans available!

- Custom-made for YOU

- Select tartans in stock for immediate delivery

 

Our Casual Kilts are built to outlast Highland athletics, marathons, tough-mudders, through-hiking and even all-night Guinness sessions.  Grab yours now and we'll see you at the Festival!

Happy Tartan Day!

By Eric M. April 2, 2016 17 comments

Happy Tartan Day April 6

 

I’m going to recount an old tale. One you have heard before.


On April 16 1746, a ragtag band of men hobbled, weak from hunger and bloody with wounds, away from a field called Culloden. The tatters of their kilts caught on the heather. Their legs were scratched by thistle as they made their escape into the hills and glens of their homeland. A home which soon they would not be able to call their own. They carried little besides their pride. And a forlorn hope for the return of their leader, the Bonny prince.

 

In the years that followed, from 1746 to 1782, the men and women of Scotland hid their pride, along with their traditional dress and armaments. The so called Proscriptions imposed by the English crown and the nominal government in Edinburg sought to make these, as well as the lifestyle they represented, a mere memory. Or worse, an embarrassment a backward way of life no modern enlightened man would admit to loving. But the seeds of the old thistle simply slept tucked away in mattresses. Hidden under the floor. Wrapped in oil cloth in the bottom of a trunk.  And also in cryptic songs and poems. Waiting to bloom once more.

 

And bloom it did. With wild abandon. As soon as the proscriptions were lifted, Scottish Societies sprang up in Edinburgh and London seizing the time to revive old Highland dress, music, customs and culture. The tartan reappeared from under the bed clothes. Clan chiefs and ordinary folk began to wear tartan once more. Pipes once again echoed across the glens and lochs. And the soul of Scotland was heard in the songs of Robert Burns and the tales of Sir Walter Scott

 

All this proved the English had been wrong Scotsmen could look both backward and forward. 

 

The revival became a fever. Until one fateful day in 1822 King George the Fourth of England visited Edinburgh. The first visit of a reigning monarch to Scotland since 1650. Pride walked hand in hand with royalty as the English king processed the streets in full tartan regalia, kilt and all, surrounded by clan chiefs and the Royal Company of Archers. Tartan blazed as never before.

 

Sounds romantic, doesn’t it? But there is much more to our story than old battles and the pageantry of the elite. You might say there is more to tartan... than tartan. 

 

Indeed, by the time of the King’s visit, tartan had been traveling the world for over 80 years. Wrapped in plaids and shawls, hundreds upon hundreds of the children of Scotland had crossed icy waters to new lands.

 

Many were soldiers, fighting for Britain in North America, India, France, Spain and more. The sons of Scotland tasted blood and inhaled gun smoke in places whose names they had never heard before Assayee, New Orleans, Waterloo, Paoli and Balaclava.

 

Still thousands more were civilians desperate for a new start. Scotland’s sons wove their own colorful immigrant saga. Crammed below the decks of oak ships by the hundreds, they endured stink, retched food and fetid air for two months or more before greeting the sunlight of the New World.

 

And as we all know, a great many landed here. They came to work this land. They came to offer their trades and skills in a young city which hungered for them (not like home where many young men were seen as less desirable than English sheep). Their ranks included men of letters such as a former Paisley cleric named John Witherspoon who became president of the College of New Jersey. An Aberdonian named William Small tutored Thomas Jefferson at William and Mary College. And there was William Keith , 15th Deputy Governor of Pennsylvania. 

 

When revolution came, Scotsmen fought and died some for Britain, some for the Colonies. Nineteen of the fiftysix delegates who signed the Declaration of Independence were Scotsmen. As this new and unique nation grew, these sons of Scotland grew with it. Their families put down roots and left their names on the landscape Ardmore and Glenside. Montgomery and Radnor. To name just a few.

 

Scottish Americans fought on both sides of the Civil War. Among them Ulysses S. Grant, Winfield Scott, and Jeb Stuart. George McClellan and Stonewall Jackson were both Scotch Irish. 

 

Those who made the trek across the sea did not take opportunity for granted, and they seized it. Scottish industry and Scottish intellect have been powering this nation ever since. We drive across steel bridges built by a Scotsman born in Dunfermlin named Andrew Carnegie.

 

The Scottish born Alexander Winton built one of the first American automobiles in 1896, and broke the world speed record in 1900. David Dunbar Buick, another Scottish immigrant, founded Buick Motors in 1903. And of course, we drive these vehicles on “Macadam”, the road surface invented by John Loudon McAdam of Ayrshire. 

 

Did you know that Alexander Graham Bell was a Scotsman born in Edinburgh? If you have visited a National park, you can thank the great Scottish American conservationist, John Muir. And when you look at the night sky, you can feel proud that the first men on the moon, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, were both of Scottish descent.

 

In our schools, the works of Scottish Americans are considered canon Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper, Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville and William Faulkner. Even America’s beloved national personification, Uncle Sam is based on a Scotsman Samuel Wilson, who provided the army with beef and pork during the War of 1812.

 

So many household names. And yet, today t he number of Americans of Scottish descent is about 20 to 25 million. Only 8.3% of the total US population. Let that sink in for a moment. It seems to me that our collective contribution to America is greater than our numbers could possibly hint at. So….We know the legends. The themes are familiar. The players are well known to those of us who study history. Is it old hat? Perhaps. Does it bear repeating? Always. What does it all have to do with Tartan Day? Everything.

 

Despite our talk of clans and families, There is really only one single tartan that is all of Scotland, and America. It’s threads are our people survivors, explorers, warriors, leaders, craftsmen, artists and entrepreneurs. Each man a single thread, each accomplishment a single color. Woven together, they are not only brilliant, they are mighty.

 

You and I stand upon their shoulders. Future generations will judge us on whether or not we were worthy of the sacrifices and the gifts of our ancestors. What have you and I woven into the national tartan? Dignity? Charity? Wisdom?

 

I leave you with that question. Answering it for yourself will be the greatest source of Gaelic pride you will ever feel. I invite you to embrace the past. Harness the present. And build the future. It is the Scottish thing to do.

Kilt Up for Hogmanay!

By Eric M. December 24, 2015 No comments

Hogmanay is the Scots word for the last day of the year and is the name of the Scottish New Year's celebration. And it is one heck of a party. The Edinburgh Hogmanay celebrations of 1996-97 were recognised by the Guinness Book of Records at the world's largest New Year's party with about 400,000 people in attendance! In fact, New Year's Eve is usually only the start of Hogmanay festivities which last through the night until the morning of January 1st and often into January 2nd, which is a Scottish Bank Holiday.

 

So what is it exactly? Hogmanay is one part Celtic fire festival and one part Norse winter solstice festival. It has been celebrated in one form or another since ancient times. The Vikings, who ruled portions of Scotland and England during the 9th through 10th centuries, had imported their twelve-night-long winter holiday of Yule (the origins of the Twelve Days of Christmas, sometimes called the "Daft Days" in Scotland). This holiday was also celebrated by the Anglo-Saxons to the south. Hogmanay is the culmination of the twelve nights, and hence the big blow-out party. It became an even bigger deal after the establishment of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland which actually discouraged the celebration of Christmas Day (considered "too Papist"). In fact, Christmas Day was just a regular work day in Scotland until the 1950s.

 

FIRST-FOOTING:

Immediately after midnight begins the practice of "First-Footing". An ancient luck charm, first-footing involves being the first person to cross the threshold of a friend or neighbor. The first-foot theoretically sets the luck of the household for the coming year.

 

Traditionally, tall, dark (and kilted) men are preferred as the first-foot. Nowadays, the ceremonial visiting can go on well into the dawn hours, or even for days into the middle of January as friends pay visits to friends far and near. Symbolic gifts such as salt, coal, shortbread, whisky, and black bun (a rich fruit cake) are presented to the hosts; each intended to bring different kinds of good luck. In return, the householder offers gifts of food and drink to the visitors, often from a quaich. Hogmanay parties generally involve singing, dancing, storytelling, strong drink, and eating of the traditional steak pie or stew.

 

AULD LANG SYNE:

Perhaps the most famous Hogmanay traditon is the singing of "Auld Lang Syne." The song was originally a poem written by Robert Burns, who based it on a few lines of a traditional song he heard from an "old man." As the clock strikes midnight for New Year's Day, the singing begins. Singers form a circle, cross their arms and hold hands. In Scotland, this is done only during the final verse, but in other countries people tend to link up for the whole song.

 

 

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne*?
 
CHORUS:
For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak' a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
 
And surely ye’ll be your pint-stoup!
and surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak' a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
 
CHORUS
 
We twa hae run about the braes,
and pou’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin' auld lang syne.
 
CHORUS
 
We twa hae paidl’d in the burn,
frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin' auld lang syne.
 
CHORUS
 
And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
and gie's a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak' a right gude-willie waught, for auld lang syne.
 
CHORUS

Holiday Gifts for Pipers

By Lucas December 5, 2015 No comments

Buying a gift for a piper doesn’t have be difficult as the needs of the instrument and uniform are nearly endless!

 

Piping Accessories

 

If you are unfamiliar with the reeds that your piper uses, basic maintenance supplies make perfect stocking stuffers.  All pipers use plain and waxed hemp to keep the joints of their pipes secure and airtight, a few rolls of each will be plenty for the entire year! 

Other items like brushes, oil, and reed protectors are inexpensive and practical supplies that pipers will always need. 

 

Reed Protector Reed

 

Many pipe bands issue dress sporrans to their members for all performances.  This sends pipers searching for a less formal sporran to wear throughout the year.  A day or semi-dress sporran will be suitable for a variety of occasions and will last a lifetime.  We currently have a sale on all types of sporrans throughout the holiday season of 25% off!

Band mates and instructors are a great resource for specific gift suggestions, they will certainly narrow your search. We've also put together a full list of "Gift Suggestions for Pipers" here.

If you are still uncertain what to get your piper, a gift certificate is always a safe option!

We can also make a personal recommendation for you.  Call us at the shop (800) 368-8633 or email lucas@usakilts.com to get help from our resident bagpipe expert.

Posted in: Products

Veterans Day

By Eric M. November 3, 2015 2 comments

Veterans Day is an official United States federal holiday observed annually on November 11, honoring people who have served in our Armed Forces. Our holiday's roots lie in Armistice Day. Now known as Remembrance Day in the UK, Armistice Day commemorated the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Compiègne, France, for the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front; the "eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month" of 1918.

 

Most countries changed the name of the holiday just prior to or after World War II, to honor veterans of that and subsequent conflicts. The United States officially changed to 'All Veterans Day' (later shortened to 'Veterans Day') in 1954. Veterans Day should never be confused with Memorial Day. Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans, while Memorial Day specifically commemorates men and women who gave their lives in service.

 

 

THE LAST KILTS IN BATTLE

 

The beginnings of this most important holiday coincide, for the most part, with the end of the use of kilts on the battle field.

 

During the Great War, many regiments of the Commonwealth forces wore the kilt not only as a dress or garrison uniform element, but also in the field. Among these units, the most well known were the Royal Highlanders (Black Watch tartan), Cameron Highlanders (Cameron tartan), Gordon Highlanders (Gordon tartan), the Seaforth Highlanders (McKenzie tartan), and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. Of the Territorial Forces, a few individual battalions of certain regiments wore kilts such as the 6th Battalion and 9th Battalions of the Highland Light Infantry and the 9th Battalion (The Dandy Ninth) of the Royal Scots. In addition other Regiments contained kilted battalions.

The London Regiment contained the famous London Scottish, 14th Battalion, which wore a Hodden Grey kilt (see photo).

 

 Hodden Grey Kilt

 

The practicality of the kilt in modern war was, even then, a matter of controversy. Did its effect on morale out-weigh its seeming impracticality? Most kilted troops were issued canvas kilt covers; apron-like garments which protected the kilt from mud. An odd thing to do if the kilt itself was up to the task. (see the photo of our own Dan McMichael in his Canadian WWI uniform). Many soldiers suffered for their kilts. A common experience was that when the bottom hem became damp and then froze in cold weather, the edge of the kilt would cut into the backs of the wearer's knees, even drawing blood. Many units in Canada were initially issued kilts, but switched over to trousers before going to the front.

 

Mac in his WW1 uniform 

 

And yet one British officer, Lt/Col Norman MacLeod, specifically argued the opposite -- that kilts were better for a soldier's health, as well as easier to move in during combat. He felt that kilts prevented trench foot , provided better torso warmth (due to the thickness of the woolen layers worn very high on the body; the "military rise"), and helped a trooper stay dry in the trenches. He even thought it helped mitigate the effects of mustard gas, a skin inflammatory, by allowing air flow around the legs, dissipating the pooling gas. Finally, MacLeod pronounced, "With reference to morale, I believe that the association of the kilt with the great deeds of valour on the part of the Highland Regiments, inspires their members. I know of no inspiration to be got from trousers."

 

Indeed, kilts did seem to boost pride and in doing so, may have worked as a psychological weapon. Many pipe bands went kilted into the trenches. Most famously, the ferociousness of the Black Watch led to the Germans nicknaming them the "Ladies from Hell."

 

By the beginning of the Second World War, the kilt had lost its practical credibility. Highland regiments entered the conflict in kilts, but the garments were rapidly recognized as impractical for modern warfare. In the first year of the war, they were officially banned as combat dress. The kilt may have had its last major appearance during the evacuation of Dunkirk in May 1940.

 

However, we should also note the famous D-Day episode of Lord Lovat, commander of 1 Special Service Brigade, who came ashore at Normandy in 1944 accompanied by his personal piper Bill Millin, who wore a kilt and played the pipes while German bullets whizzed around him.

 

 Bill Millin on D Day

 

KILTS IN SERVICE TODAY

 

Kilts are still worn with pride today by many units of the British, Canadian and Australian armies. They are largely relegated to honor guard duty and dress occasions, but their impact on the martial spirit is as powerful as ever. Naturally, many military units across the globe support pipe bands. And of course, many veterans wear the kilt on their own time as a mark of pride both in their heritage and their service. In the USA, all five branches of the Armed Forces (Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard) have registered tartans.  Of those, the only one to be "officially approved" by a branch of the military service is the US Coast Gaurd tartan (the others have been adopted through wont and usage).

 

Castle Gaurd

 

Though it is not as common as in the UK, some specific military units also have their own tartans, such as the U.S. Army Rangers. Tartans have also been designed and registered to commemorate important military events, such as the Federal and Confederate Memorial tartans which honor the deeds of Civil War combatants.

 

This Veterans Day, kilt up and thank a vet.

 

 

Veterans, please take note: USA Kilts offers a standard 10% discount to all Vets (with valid military ID) on all 'non sale' items. Please let us know if you have questions about military highland wear or service tartans. We thank you for your service.

Posted in: History

Going Kilted on Halloween?

By Eric M. October 17, 2015 No comments

Everything we sell at USA Kilts is serious highland wear built for years of use, but that doesn't mean it won't help make a great Halloween costume! So while you may pay more for this year's Halloween costume by getting authentic highland wear, you are getting an outfit that will be great for festivals, renaissance fairs, parties, concerts, etc. for years to come. If you are considering doing a kilted costume for this year, we have some advice as well as some great deals on complete outfits. Check out our Pub Packages!

 

Jamie Fraser 

 

Quick Tips:

 

Outfit: For Halloween, simple is usually better. It's easy to have "too much costume" and end up tripping on your broad sword while dancing or spilling caramel apple goo on your sporran. (Ack! Nooo!)

 

Kilt: We recommend a hearty, machine-washable kilt like our Casual or Semi-traditional. If you want to go full-on William Wallace Highlander or Jamie Fraser, grab one of our Great Kilts.

 

Sporran: Don't wear your best sporran for this particular holiday - save the fur for Thanksgiving or a Burns supper. The best sporrans for a classic "Highland Rogue" or "Outlander" costume will be all-leather, such as our Rob Roy, Celtic Knot, or Simple Pin Day Sporrans -- they look awesome and they are easy to wear and clean. They’re perfect for a long trick-or-treat hike with the kids or a rowdy party.

 

Shirt: We offer a high-quality Highland shirt (also called a Ghillie shirt) in both cream and black. Cream is more traditional, but black is more roguish (ask your wife or girlfriend's preference).

 

Rob Roy and Braveheart

 

Shoes: Boots or sneakers will be fine, but if you have black ones, wear those. Most people won't notice them in the dark, especially if you wear kilt hose. Make sure they are comfortable, you're going to be on your feet all night!

 

Add a hat: Most people forget about head wear when doing a Celtic outfit. For this occasion, a Balmoral hat is your best option. Its design dates back at least 300 years, so it just looks right.

Celtic Roots of Halloween

By Eric M. October 9, 2015 No comments

Our modern holiday of Halloween, or Hallowe'en, has quite ancient roots in Celtic lands such as Wales, Scotland and the Isle of Mann.  But nowhere are the roots stronger than in Ireland and most of the elements of the holiday we enjoy come from there.

 

Keep Calm

 

FEAST OF THE DEAD AND NEW YEAR

Halloween's original name, and that still used by some, is 'Samhain' (pronounced SAH-win or  SOW-in):

Samhain roughly means "summer's end" in ancient Gaelic. It was the fire festival which marked the end of the old year and the beginning of the new. The celebrations were mainly held at night because the Celts measured time by nights rather than by days, as we do today. At this time of transition, it was said the veil between the worlds was quite thin, and therefore it was easy for the dead and other spirits to cross over into our world. Samhain/Halloween is thus the "feast of the dead". The later Christian name was "All Hallow's Eve" representing the night before "All Saints Day", a catch-all holiday to honor saints who did not have their own holy days. Samhain is still used in modern Irish to refer to the month of November.

 

FOOD

Hallowe'en has overtones of a harvest festival. Seasonal fruits and vegetables such as apples were always enjoyed as was cider and beer.  The traditional dish for the holiday feast is 'Colcannon', a mixture of mashed potato, cabbage, and onions. See the recipe towards the end of this article.

Another fun food and game combined is the traditional fruitcake called 'Bairin Breac' (barmbrack). This delicacy has special tokens baked inside for foretelling the future (always a big part of Celtic fire festivals). Some slices would be lucky, some unlucky:

-  a pea or rag = poverty
-  a bean or coin = wealth
-  a religious medal = the finder may enter a convent or seminary
-  a ring = marriage or at least romance
-  a stick = tough times or a fight

 You can bake your own Barmbrack using the recipe towards the end of this article.

 

BONFIRES

No one knows exactly why bonfires were a part of Samhain festivities.  There are probably several reasons, from keeping evil spirits at bay to lighting the way for celebrants and providing a warm place to gather for drinks and music. Today in Ireland, many people also set off fireworks. This custom may have been borrowed from the English Guy Fawkes Night celebrated on November fifth. It is traditional to drop a cutting of your hair into a Halloween bonfire; that night you may dream of your future spouse. 

 

"GUISING"

Guising is an old term for dressing up in a mask and/or costume. It is a common part of many folk holidays (for example Irish "Straw boys" on St. Steven's Day). At Samhain, the masks were likely meant to allow one to pass unnoticed by all the real spirits about (or else be whisked away by them!). It is also likely that the ancient Druids used costumes in rituals during which they played the part of spirits -- good spirits to bless the community or nasty spirits to punish the wicked. This is the most likely origin of Trick-or-Treating. As a householder, you'd want to offer gifts and hospitality to the wandering spirits rather than risk their anger!

By the way, just in case a wicked spirit does spot you, you can stop it from stealing you away by grabbing some dust from under your foot and throwing it in their face. They will also be obliged to release any other souls they have caught. (it's all true, happened to a cousin o' mine...)

 

Halloween Masks

 

JACK-O-LANTERNS

Another classic way to chase off evil spirits from your home is the lighting of jack-o-lanterns. Though the custom probably dates well into the Iron Age, our best myth about its origin is Christian:

A wicked blacksmith named "Jack" who conspired with the Devil was denied entry into Heaven. Condemned to wander the earth for all eternity, he begged Satan for light to carry. He was given a burning coal. This he placed inside a hollowed-out turnip. When the Irish emigrated to North America, they brought the custom of carving turnips with them, but quickly discovered that American gourds and pumpkins worked much better. Nowadays, even folks back in ireland use pumpkins. Carving turnips is hard!

 

Jack O Lanterns

 

LUCKY FUN AND GAMES

"Snap Apple" is the Irish name for the game of biting at an apple hung on a string while blindfolded. "Bobbing for Apples" is essentially the same challenge, but using a bunch of apples in a tub of water. The winner is the one who actually catches an apple or takes a good bite out of one. The prize is the apple, plus good luck for the coming year. Apple peels can also be dropped on the floor to reveal the initials of a future spouse (you have to peel the magic apple in one piece though).

Still not sure about your future spouse after all that? There's one more thing to try: Go to the nearest cabbage patch and blindfold yourself, then try to pick a nice cabbage. The more dirt on the roots when you pull it, the more money your spouse will have. Now take a bite to see if they will be "sweet" or "bitter" to live with.

 

Colcannon Recipe


Colcannon


Ingredients:

-  4 lbs potatoes (about 7-8 large russet potatoes)
-  1 head of green cabbage or kale
-  1 c. milk or cream
-  1 stick (4oz) butter, divided into three parts
-  1 large onion, chopped
-  4-5 scallions, chopped (optional)
-  Salt and pepper to taste
-  Fresh Parsley or chives

Peel and put the potatoes in a pot to boil. While they are cooking, remove the core from the cabbage, slice the leaves thinly, and place in a large saucepan. Cover with boiling water. Keep at a slow rolling boil until the cabbage is just wilted and has turned a dark green (usually 3-5 minutes). Test it. Try not to let it overcook, slightly under-cooked is preferable.

When the cabbage is cooked, drain well and squeeze out any excess moisture. Return to the saucepan. Add one third of the butter and cover. Leave it covered and in a warm place, but not on a burner. Chop your onion. Either saute it in butter, or cook it with the cabbage.

When the potatoes are soft, drain the water and return to the saucepan. With the drained potatoes in, set the burner to low, leaving the lid off so that any excess moisture can evaporate. When they are perfectly dry, add the milk to the saucepan, along with a third of the butter and the chopped scallions. Allow the milk to warm but not boil – it is about right when the butter has fully melted and the pot is starting to steam.

Now use a potato masher or fork to mash the potatoes thoroughly. Do NOT pass through a ricer or beat in a mixer. This will ruin the texture of the dish. Mix in the cabbage and onion.

Before serving, season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with fresh parsley or chives. Make a well in the centre of the mound of potato and add the last third of the butter.

 

Bairin Breac (Barnbrack) Recipe:  Servings: 8-10 (makes 1 loaf)

 

Bairin Breac

 

Ingredients:

-  2 c. strong, black tea
-  2 c. mixed, dried fruit (raisins or currants, prunes, apricots, dates, cranberries, candied orange peel, etc.)
-  1 c. milk at room temperature
-  1 packet (.25 oz.) active dry yeast
-  2 t. +  1/4 c. sugar
-  3 c. all-purpose flour
-  2 t. mixed spice*
-  1 egg, beaten
-  1/3 c. sweet butter, softened at room temperature
-  1 t. salt

Charms, each wrapped in a small piece of parchment or brown paper Honey to glaze

* Mixed spice is a blend popular in the UK. Similar to pumpkin pie spice mix, it is basically equal parts allspice, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg.

 

1. Soak the dried fruit in the tea overnight, then drain well – for an hour or so.

2. Mix the yeast, warm milk and 2 t. of sugar together and set aside for 5-10 minutes to activate the yeast.

3. In another bowl, sift together the flour, 1/4 c. sugar and spices.  Make a well in the center of the flour and add the yeast mixture, beaten egg, softened butter and salt.

4. Stir with a wooden spoon to mix the ingredients well until it turns into dough.

5. Knead the dough on a floured surface for 5-10 minutes, until the dough is smooth but still a little sticky.

6. Knead the dried fruit a little at a time into the dough until all the fruit is incorporated. This is the tricky part; be patient and do it little by little. And don’t over-knead the fruit or it will break into bits.

7. Remove the dough to a large, buttered bowl. Cover it with a clean towel and set in a warm corner until it’s doubled in size, about 1.5 hours.

8. Remove the dough to a floured surface and punch it down to deflate.  Knead it lightly for 2-3 minutes, then push the charms into the dough until hidden.

9. Pat it back into a smooth ball and place it in a buttered 8-inch round cake pan. Cover it with a towel and let it rise again until doubled in size, around 60 minutes.

10. Preheat the oven to 400F.

11. Place the loaf in the oven and bake for 35-45 minutes, or until the top is browned and sounds hollow when tapped. Remove to a rack and cool.

12. If you like, brush warmed honey over the brack to glaze it, then slice.

13. Serve with butter and a cup of tea.

Clan Displays and Customs

By Eric M. September 3, 2015 No comments

There's an old joke that says if you ask two Scotsmen a question, you'll get three different answers. We are a cantankerous lot, to be sure. When it comes to Highland dress, there are as many approaches and opinions about "proper style" as there are, well, Scotsmen.

 

However, there is one area where personal opinion, fashion or "what my granddad told me" has no place and that is the display of Clan heraldry. Here's a little background on what it is and how it works.

 

First off, "heraldry" is a broad topic which includes everything from the full coat of arms of an individual British nobleman, such as a clan chief or laird, to the clan crest badges and kilt pins we are used to seeing. Tartan too is often considered a sub-set of heraldic display. It is also the least restricted.

 

There is no solid rule about who may wear what tartan. There is, naturally, convention and etiquette. You may wear any tartan you wish, and many of us who are tartan fans have very full closets. But bear this in mind, by wearing a clan tartan you are implying respect and friendship for said clan, if not actual association by blood or marriage. It's a little like wearing the emblem of a favorite sports team; just because you wear a Yankees cap or Manchester United jersey doesn't mean you are a member of the team. It does say "I support these men."

 Black Watch Tartan

 

To be polite and honorable, at least know the name of the clan if you wear their tartan. You may even want to look up a little history about them. A classic example of why this is a good idea is Black Watch (seen in the image above). Many people are drawn to this tartan because it is so ubiquitous. It is also quite handsome in a simple way -- easy to wear. However, here at the shop we regularly advise our customers to be aware of the tartan's history and associations before selecting it. Many do not know it is also the Campbell tartan, or that British troops wearing it were involved in certain nasty events in Scotland and Ireland. Bottom line: if you wear a clan tartan, wear it with respect.

 

While wearing clan tartan does not fully imply loyalty to the clan or its chief, wearing clan symbols does. This is where casual convention lets go and rules of British heraldry come into play.

 

Stewart Clan Crest  MacDonald Clan Crest

 

The most common clan symbol is the belted crest badge or "clansman's badge": the chiefs crest encircled with a strap and buckle bearing the chief’s motto or slogan. We always assume the crest and motto are a group thing - the possession of the whole clan. However, according to the ancient rules of heraldry, as enforced by the office of the Lord Lyon in Scotland, these symbols literally belong to one man -- the chief. The heraldic belt surrounding them symbolizes loyalty. In other words, if you wear this symbol, you are literally proclaiming loyalty to the chief of the clan. You may bear the same last name, or the name of a recognized sept of the clan, or simply feel a sense of pride due to a genealogical connection. All fine reasons so long as you are sincere.  We carry many different clan crested items for our customers who choose to display their clan badge.

 

But what about other forms of heraldry? Essentially, the belted clansman's badge is the only form of Scottish heraldry you should be wearing or displaying. Unless of course you are A. a clan chief (in which case, why are you reading this article?) or B. a regional supporting chief or chief of a clan branch.

 

Clan Chief Badge                      Chief of Clan Hay

 

Clan chiefs alone have the right to wear their crests as badges either "simpliciter" (by themselves without other decorations) or surrounded with a plain circlet inscribed with his motto or slogan. They may also choose to display three eagle’s feathers in silver behind the circlet (see image above). This particular ornament theoretically harkens back to battlefield dress; you could spot your chief on the field, even from a distance, by looking for the feathers sticking out of the top of his bonnet. Very handy.

 

Heads of large branches of a Clan, who have been appointed by the clan chief and officially recognized as chiefs by the Lord Lyon King of Arms, may wear either their own personal crest or their clan chief’s crest within a plain circlet inscribed with the motto. They may display two small eagles' feathers instead of the Chief’s three. Here in North America, this is a display you might actually see at a large Celtic event since many clans have regional chiefs to assist in managing clan affairs.

 

However, it also means that if you meet someone at an event wearing this regalia and they are obviously not a chief, something is amiss.  Sadly, this sort of thing does occur at larger festivals or fairs where some of the attendees are either new to Highland dress or are costuming themselves based on media images of highlanders. In such an event, you may want to politely, and in a private spot, inform the person that they are making an embarrassing mistake. It shows a certain lack of respect both for the chief as well as for the clan as a whole. Chances are, their natural sense of Celtic honor will kick in and they will apologize.

 

So be positive -- just as you would want to help out a new young person who is wearing a kilt backwards or wearing a woman's sash. You can educate them while expressing your appreciation that they clearly want to show pride in the clan. Show them how in a friendly manner and you will have made an ally. Heck, they might even end up volunteering at your clan table at the next festival or buying the next pint.