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June 2017

Kilt Jackets - A History and Guide Part II

By Erik Munnrson June 21, 2017

MODERN AND FORMAL HIGHLAND WEAR

 

Blending a number of influences dating back 100 to 200 or more years, contemporary kilt jackets, (and highland wear in general) offer more variety now than any other genre of gentlemen’s clothing. Here is a run-down of the origins and details of the standard jacket types you can buy. As we mentioned in Part I, the Victorians set the mold for most modern Highland attire. However, there have been a few innovations and refinements (as well as throw-backs) developed in the 20th century.

 

Argyll Kilt Jackets

When most people think of Argyll jackets, they envision a basic black suit jacket and vest with some fancy buttons. And that is accurate -- the Argyll is the modern go-to if you need a multi-purpose suit option for formal or semi-formal occasions. It is a hybrid of traditional doublets and suit jackets developed by the Victorians. You can think of it as a doublet minus the tashes (tails on the front and back). Argyll jackets once had more variety before splitting off entirely from doublets. Old photographs show quite a variety. Below, we see first a Victorian doublet (left), a transitional Argyll Doublet circa 1912 (center), and a modern Argyll Jacket and Vest (right).

 

Modern Argyll jacket and vest combinations evolved from Victorian doublets and tweed suit jackets

 

Standard Argyll features:

  • ~ Single-button closure "Gauntlet" cuffs 
  • ~ Scalloped pockets (pocket flaps designed after the braiding and decorative buttons on doublet tashes) 
  • ~ Epaulettes (flat or braided) 
  • ~ Metal buttons (silver, pewter or gilt). In time these were standardized to the square "Clann Nar Gael” buttons we see today, though the exact origins of the “loyalty” button are obscure. 
  • ~ Worn with a matching five-button vest. The vest can be worn by itself for warmer, less formal occasions such as festivals.
  • ~ Suitable for black tie affairs such as weddings, formal suppers and dances.
  • ~ Also can be worn with a necktie and used like a regular suit, particularly if you are "on display" (for example - judges of competitions are almost always in Argyll jackets).

 

 

Wallace Jacket and Vest

“Argyll” is sometimes used as a general term for “Scottish suit jacket” or “kilt jacket”. But it is more accurate to use other terms when discussing contemporary designs. Most contemporary jackets emulate ordinary (“Saxon”) suit jackets in their minimalistic detailing and sillouttte, but are cut short in the body to accommodate the kilt. (This is why jacket conversions are a really bad idea, by the way)  One of the most popular contemporary kilt jackets is the “Wallace” also known as a Crail kilt jacket.  As you can see below, it more or less evolved out of the Victorian sack jackets.  

 

Crail and Wallace kilt jackets evolved out of Victorian sack jackets

 

Wallace Crail Jacket Features:

  • ~ No ornamentation 
  • ~ Single-button “Crail” cuffs 
  • ~ Traditional “Clann Nar Gael” buttons usually in pewter or matt black
  • ~ Herringbone barathea wool, usually black 
  • ~ Matching five-button vest

 

 

 

Kilkenny Jacket and Vest

The “Kilkenny” is a modern variant on the Argyll designed to add Irish flair. It features simialr styling to an Argyll, but with an elegant irish twist. Some of the styling was borrowed from Victorian military fashion.

 

The Kilkenny jacket and vest were developed to give Irish men a more personal choice for formal wear. 

 

Kilkenny Jacket and Vest features:

  • ~ Usually made in black or bottle green barathea wool 
  • ~ Pewter or bronze Irish Harp buttons 
  • ~ Pointed cuff decoration borrowed from Victorian military shell and mess jackets.
  • ~ Two-button closure 
  • ~ Can be worn with a matching five-button vest.

 

 

 

Tweed Jackets and Vests

Technically there's really no difference between the standard black Argyll jacket and vest most kilt-wearers have in their closets and a tweed set...except the fabric. But this is a hugely important difference. Tweed Argyll jackets are usually day wear -- suitable for the office, festivals, the pub, Burns Suppers, etc. Although the least formal of all jackets, they are by far the most interesting. There are hundreds of tweeds available including herringbone and windowpane patterns. The fun lies in finding that perfect tweed to match your tartan and personal style. 

 

Since most tweed sets are custom-made, the options you may consider also extend to other features. Do you prefer scalloped pockets and gauntlet cuffs? Flat or braided epaulettes? Lapels on the vest? Or perhaps no ornamentation at all for a more streamlined "crail" look? Antler, leather or pewter buttons? The sky's the limit!

 

 

Tweed highland jackets and vests come in a wide variety if styles and colors

 

 

 

Tartan and Tweed Kilt Suits

While less common today, tartan suits have been around for as long as tartan itself. Modernly, the easiest way to think of a tartan kilt suit is like a tweed set -- you can customize each element to suit your tastes. Usually, sedate tartans will be more pleasing to the eye, so consider using a hunting tartan, weathered or muted tartan. Ancient colour-palette tartans can work. However most modern colour-palette tartans will look garish to the modern eye. A Tartan Vest can be used with a tartan kilt, a tweed kilt, or with trousers, so it is a great option for occasions where you do not wish to wear a kilt.

 

 

Tartan suits are as old as tartan itself

 

 

Tweed kilt jacket suits are currently fashionable. But nobody should think they are something “new”. John Brown, ghillie to Queen Victoria, had one. Essentially a tweed kilt suit is just using the same cloth for an entire outfit. It can be very sharp looking. One interesting look is to use a tartan necktie with a tweed kilt suit -- thus adding a splash of color and interest while also denoting one’s clan affiliation. 

 

 matching tweed kilts and jackets are a modern, yet traditional form of Celtic wear.

 

 

 

Prince Charlie Jacket and Vest

The most recognized formal kilt jacket is a relatively late evolution; the Bonny Prince Charlie jacket, originally named the "Prince Charlie Coatee". The Prince Charlie (or PC) with its accompanying low-cut waistcoat, was developed in the early 20th century. The name "Prince Charlie" was certainly a marketing device of the originating tailors. What it was, in essence, was a Highland option for younger gents who wanted to look stylish and sleek while also traditional. It was presented as a less fusty alternative to the formal doublet worn by Victorians like Grand-dad. 

 

A true hybrid, the PC is part Jazz-age tuxedo and part "coatee" decorated with elements common to 19th-century doublets. The coatee was originally a military cut-away coat with tails adorned with buttons and braiding; a style with roots in the 18th century and streamlined in the early-  to mid-19th. Below, you can see some of the evolution: Napoleonic era Coatee (left), Victorian Officer’s Mess Jacket with low-collar waistcoat (center), modern Prince Charlie (right)

 

 

The popular Prince Charlie jacket and vest is a wonderful hybrid of styles!

 

 

Bonny Prince Charlie "Coatee" features:

  • ~ Tails with silver “Clann Nar Gael” buttons 
  • ~ "Braemar" cuffs 
  • ~ Braided epaulettes
  • ~ Silk / satin peak lapels 
  • ~ Upward-angled bottom hemline (true coatees are straight-cut, like a Montrose jacket) 
  • ~ Low-cut, shawl-collared three-button waistcoat 
  • ~ Black as the standard color, though custom colors are available
  • ~ Suitable for black-tie and white-tie occasions only (“after six”)

 

  

Brian Boru Jacket and Vest

An Irish twist on the Prince Charlie, the Brian Boru is interestingly more similar to the Officer’s Mess Dress jacket which inspired both jackets. I personally prefer it since it looks more Edwardian to my eye. Brian Boru jacket.

 

 

 The elegant Brian Boru jacket and vest gives Irish men a dashing formal kilt outfit

 

 

Brian Boru features:

  • ~ Tails with pewter irish harp buttons 
  • ~ Chain-button closure on jacket
  • ~ Pointed Chevron cuff decorations 
  • ~ Braided epaulettes
  • ~ Silk / satin shawl collar 
  • ~ Low-cut, shawl-collared three-button waistcoat 
  • ~ Black as the standard color, though custom colors are available
  • ~ Suitable for black-tie and white-tie occasions only (“after six”)

 

 

 

Modern Doublets

Doublets in various designs have never gone away. They are now reserved strictly for bagpipe bands or formal wear (unless you are a rock star or a really fashion-forawrd person). Modern doublets still bear all the hallmarks of their Victorian predecessors. However, there is a marked difference between the military-esque doublets used by pipers and those for civilian formal dress. 

 

The modern civilian version is known as a "Regulation Doublet" and was first offered around 1900. Like the Prince Charlie, it is a hybrid. It looks, for all intents, like a PC jacket but with tashes instead of the coatee-style tails. It is usually made of black barathea, but bright red is another popular option -- especially for men with a military background.

 

Then there is the highly romantic Chieftan's Vest. This garment is actually a sleeveless doublet designed to emulate a historical look but with modern penache. It is not really consdiered rormal wear, though it is a very popualr choice for fantasy, rennaisance, or historically themed weddings. it's a fun accessory for festivals and fairs or parties and looks great paired with a highland shirt or even a Great Kilt. 

 

Below: Military-style Pipe Band Doublet (left), Regulation Doublet (center), Chieftan's Vest (right). Quite a difference! And yet each one still retains distinct doublet features such as the tashes - the flaps hanging down from the waistline.

 

 

USA Kilts offers a variety of doublet styles  

 

 

 

Alternative Jackets:

 

The Sheriffmuir Doublet Jacket

Gaining popularity fast, the Sheriffmuir is a hybrid formal jacket styled after 18th- and 19th-century military doublets. It is similar to other doublets except that it features a standing collar and is not made to close. It is usually worn with a matching high-cut, five or six button vest, but tis optional and varies. The Sheriffmuir may feature Braemar or gauntlet cuffs depending on the maker (the gauntlets are more common). It is often rendered in velvet instead of wool. Black is still the standard color, but it may be made in other colors such as grey, red, green or even purple. Sheriffmuir sets are often worn with a Jabot (a lace ruffled neckerchief) and lace cuffs. USA Kilts can custom order a Sheriffmuir  for you. Feel free to contact us. 

 

 

 The Sheriffmuir is an interesting hybrid doublet

 

 

 

The Montrose Doublet

The Montrose is a double-breasted variant doublet. However, it's military pedigree comes from the 19th-century Shell Jacket (below, left). This accounts for the double-breasted construction and two rows of five buttons as well as the lack of tashes. The Montrose is typically worn with a belt, a lace jabot and lace cuffs. It can be made of barathea wool or velvet.  USA Kilts can custom order a Montrose Doublet  for you. Feel free to contact us. 

 

 

 The Montrose Doublet can be special ordered from USA Kilts

 

 

Sheriffmuir and Montrose jackets have an odd reputation. They are seen by some as very romantic and appropriately traditional. By others as too effeminate to the modern eye. They are certainly not ubiquitous the way the Prince Charlie is -- more of an option for someone who wants something different.

 

 

 

The Kenmore Doublet

The Kenmore doublet, also designed around 1900, is a single-breasted version of a Montrose Doublet, but with tashes. It is a middle-ground between the old-fashioned doublet and more modern wear. Another way to think of it is as a stiped down military bagpiper's doublet. The point being, it offers a military look for civilian formal wear.  It is typically offered in velvet, but barathea wool is also used. It can be worn with or without a jabot.

 

 

 The Kenmore Doublet, available by special order, from USA Kilts

 

 

Clearly, Highland fashion is the culmination of many elements. And certainly it will continue to evolve as gentlemen re-examine old styles, invent new pieces, and combine elements to create all-together new looks. This just goes to prove that ours is a dynamic tradition full of romance and elegance as well as creativity.

Kilt Jackets - A History and Guide Part I

By Erik Munnrson June 9, 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. Below 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. In the picture on the right, we see a slashed doublet -- a fashion made popular by Louis XIV. it didn't last too long. Do note the lace on the outfit. 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 and the jabot for formal attire (see Montrose jackets in Part II).

 

 early Scottish doublets were not unlike those worn in other countries

 

 

18TH CENTURY - PICKING UP SOME KEY ELEMENTS

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). In the center, 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 fallen by the wayside.

 

in the 18th century, Scots modified their jackets to fit with the great kilt

 

The 18th-century military "coatee" shown below would later be the inspiration for the civilian Prince Charlie Coatee (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.

 

 In the 18th century, gauntlet cuffs were common on both civilian and military dress.

 

 

 

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 contemporary garment types to work well with the timeless kilt. Many of these fashions have since become conventional; more or less set in stone as "bog standard" wear. 


Victorian Highland wear borrowed from the past while adapting current jacket designs to use with the kilt

 

One obvious example 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. 

 

Frederick III in Highland jacket

 

Victorian civilians wore both doublets and ordinary "sack jackets" with their kilts. Sack jackets, as seen below, were a less formal suit jacket type universal to the period ( as opposed to the long frock coat used by professional classes like lawyers). Our modern business suit jackets evolved out of it.  Sack jackets were particularly common for sporting activities held at one's "Country place" like hunting or hiking. The simplicity, coverage, and comfort made them an easy option and to the upper classes who had to wear more formal gear in the city, tweed sack jackets felt less stuffy.  Their length varied, but generally became shorter over the years.

 

 Sack jackets were adapted to Highland dress by the Victorians

 

Very quickly, a hybrid of the sack jacket and the traditional doublet developed and became a standard. This is the origin of both the tweed and barathea-wool jackets we commonly refer to as "Argyll style" today. They could be made for use as day wear or evening wear. True doublets of various sorts were still worn, but were increasingly thought of only as formal evening wear.  

 

The Victorian Scots created a hybrid doublet and jacket for the first time. It became our modern Argyll jacket

 

Simultaneously, uniform doublets of the Scottish units of the British army continued to evolve. Below: Trumpeter John Rennie, 72nd Highlanders (1856), Highland regiment rifleman (1860s or 70s) , piper of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (1899). 

 

Scottish military dress also borrowed from traditional forms

 

 

Clearly the roots of Scottish highland dress run very deep indeed. And perhaps we can thank the Victorians most for providing us with a wide variety of options for every occasion. In the next segment, we will cover the evolution of 20th century formal dress and go over contemporary fashion options.