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Posts tagged 'highland wear'

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.



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




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.





 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. 

Scottish Symbols

By Erik Munnrson March 22, 2017


All of the national symbols of Scotland may be seen in the Royal Coat of Arms




When putting together a highland wear outfit, most men think about the kilt first and foremost. However, a good deal of thought can also go into the accessories. Here at the shop, we are often asked by customers to explain the symbolism on our belt buckles, brooches, kilt pins, cap badges, and sporrans. Our first response is to remind them that which accesories they choose is entirely up to them -- it’s a matter of taste, style and the context in which they wish to use the outfit. For those who want their kilt ensemble to really scream Alba Gu Brath!, there are many options that speak to Scottish pride through ancient national symbols. Here’s a quick re-cap of the most popular.



The thistle may be the most ancient symbol of Scotland


The Thistle:

The thistle has been a symbol Scotland since the reign of Alexander III (1249–1286) who was probably the first monarch to use the humble thistle as an emblem. Another early appearance is on silver coins issued in 1470 by James III. It is the emblem of Scotland’s high chivalric order, the Order of the Thistle and also appears in the base of the Royal Coat of Arms . The so-called “guardian thistle” is also the origin of one of scotland’s official mottos: “No-one harasses me with impunity." Usually written in the Latin, "Nemo me impune lacessit." According to legend, the night before the Battle of Largs (1263) Norwegian troops were sneaking up on the resting army of Alexander III. One Norse warrior stepped on a thistle and his screams of agony alerted the Scots to the threat. The legend can’t be proven, but the thistle certainly reflects the prickly attitude of the Scots towards those who would subdue them.



 The rampant Scottish lion takes many forms


The Lion Rampant:

The rampant lion we all know and love is technically the central charge (heraldic symbol)on the Royal Banner of Scotland (Gaelic: Bratach rìoghail na h-Alba, Scots: Ryal banner o Scotland). This golden flag is very familiar and is reproduced on many articles even though technically its use is restricted to the King of Scots and Great Officers of State -- official representatives of the Sovereign. The banner is “emblazoned” in heraldic language as Or, a lion rampant Gules armed and langued Azure within a double tressure flory counter-flory of the second. Translation: a red lion standing upright with blue tongue and claws within a red two-lined border decorated with opposing pairs of floral icons, all on a yellow or gold background. It will always be seen flying above royal residences when the Sovereign is not present.


The earliest depiction of the rampant lion of Scotland 


Probably the earliest recorded use of the Lion Rampant was by King William I who became known posthumously as “William the Lion” because of the symbol (even though various forms of the lion had been used by earlier Scottish monarchs going back to the 11th century). His successor, Alexander II adopted it around 1222. Alexander III (1249–1286) also used it but added the double border set with lilies. Since 1603, when James VI acceded to the thrones of England and Ireland, the Lion Rampant has represented Scotland in the royal arms and banners of successive British monarchs.



 The Saltire flag of Scotland is based on the cross of St Andrew


The Saltire and St. Andrew:

‘Saltire’ is actually a heraldic term for any X-shaped cross. THE Saltire, the national flag of Scotland, gets its name from this shape (Gaelic: Bratach na h-Alba, Scots: Banner o Scotland). More importantly, the Scottish Saltire is a representation of the cross of Saint Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland, who was crucified on such a cross in the 1st century AD. According to legend, the blue/white saltire shown on the flag appeared as a mystical symbol during a battle which pitted Scots and Picts against the Angles (Athelstaneford, 832 A.D.). King Óengus II, the Scottish leader, had prayed to St. Andrew for victory the night before the battle. The next morning, he and his men beheld a white cross of clouds in a perfectly clear blue sky. Taking it as a sign of divine support, the Celtic army was spurred to victory and in gratitude, Óengus declared St. Andrew the patron saint of Scotland.


Images of St. Andrew with or on his cross appear in Scotland as early as 1180 during the reign of King William I (the Lion king we mentioned above). Andrew may also be seen on official seals dating to the late 13th century. Scottish soldiers fighting in France in the 14th century wore a white saltire on their tunics - perhaps the earliest solid use of the symbol in a military context. The earliest print image of a St. Andrew’s cross flag appears in the Vienna Book of Hours (1503), but in this depiction the white cross is on a red field. Use of a blue field is about as old -- Sir David Lyndsay of the Mount's Register of Scottish Arms (1542) depicts such a flag.


 The Jacobite Highlanders wore blue bonnets into battle


Perhaps the most romantic and stirring image of the Saltire is in the form of a hat. Not just any hat, but the famous blue bonnets worn by Jacobite rebels during the Uprising of 1745-46 which ended in the tragic Battle of Culloden. Dyed with woad, the felted wool "scone cap" was actually a very popular workingman's hat for years - perfect practical protection for damp weather. The Jacobites made it a symbol of affiliation on the field of battle by decorating it with a white ribbon sewn into the the shape of St. Andrew's cross -- a wearable a saltire.  


Anyone with pride in their heritage can wear the Scottish National tartan


The Scottish National Tartan:

There are several universal tartans listed on the official national registry.  A few, like Royal Stewart and Blackwatch, are defacto national tartans -- instantly recogizable as emblems of Scotland the world over. However, there is an official national tartan. Created in 1993 and recorded by the Scottish Tartans Society in 1994, 'Scottish National' was designed originally for the Scottish National Party. It has since lost any specific political association and merely represents Scottish pride and heritage. It's an easy option for anyone who is unsure about wearing a clan tartan but wants something more significant than a "fashion tartan".