Highland Dance Costumes

Figure 1.--This is a 1920s formal studio photograph of a little girl of about 7 years of age with a boy (I take to be her brother) who is about 10 years old. They are both dressed in Scottish/ Highland costume, including kilts and sporrans and are striking a matching pose. The outfits are identical except their caps (bionnets) and shirt/blouse. The photgraph is not Scottish, but comes from the G.H. Jarrett studio in Dover as far away from Scotlandthst you can get in Britain. .

Scottish dance costumes are a little more complicated than one might expect. Boys and girls wear different costumes, although this has varied over time. There are many different garments involved. The kilt is central, but ionly one garment. And the girls wear Aboyne dress instead of a kilt for some dances. Girls costumes are oarticulrly important as girls are much more involved with Highlnd dancing than the girls. Older photographs show many girls wearing boys's costimes including jackets and sporans. As far as we can tell, the managers of dance competition is striucter now than in earlier periods. The Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing (SOBHD) is the governing body of Highland dancing (1950). They have worked to standardised dance steps in competitions and established rules for both competitions and attire. This has taken some time, but explains why these events and the costumes are now more standardized then in earlier periods. The SOBHD stndards are widekly acceoted in Scotland and around the woirld. Age is another factor. The full costume for skilled dancers can be expensive. So basic costumes for beginners are allowed meaning essentially a white shirt or blouse and kilt. And there is also an option of a kiltie, essentually a pleated skirt that is less expenive than a proper kilt. Coistumes also varied depending on the dance. The Hornpipe is the most obvious example here, but there are special costume requirements for the national dances that are different from Highland dances.

Boys Dancing Costume

The key elemements of the Higlands dancing costume worn by boys is of course the kilt. There are, however, several other garments needed for the complete outfit. Girls often dance bare headed. Boys usually wear caps. The Balmoral is the most common cap. The Glengarry often worn by pipers is less commonly worn by Highland dancers. The cap is often adorned with a colored pom or feather. The kilt is worn by almost all boys doing Higland dancing. The kilt is almost always the clan tartan, contrasting with boys doing Irish step dancing who normally wear solid colored kilts. Girls primarily wear tartan dresses or Aboynes, but when performing certain dances also wear kilts like the boys. Boys usually dance in jackts. Black jackets were common. Waistcoats are made in velvet, mostly with gold or silver trim. The velvet is made in a wide range of colors to complement the dancers kilt. Boys generally wear white shirts with bowties. Some boys with fancy costumes might wear a lacey jabot. Blouses are worn by the girl dancers and come in various styles. The square neck is popular. They are now mostly made in white poly-cotton broderie-angise trim with half sleeve. One of the most popular styles of capes is thae Inverness hooded cape with or without tartan trim. They are mostly made in red, burgundy, emerald, navy and olive. All Highland dancers wear knee socks, often with flashes. The dancers generally tartan socks to match the tartan of the kilt, but some wear white knee socks. There are various styles of Highland dance shoes. The most important is the Ghillie style. "Billy Forsyth" dance pumps are popular. Specials shoes are worn for the jig. Jig shoes are made in red, green or red/green. The sword is an important element for many Higland dancers. It is of course used in several dances.

Girls Dancing Costume

Boys and girls participate in dance competitions. The girls costumes are very important, in part because the vast majiority of participants are girls. The boys and girls engaging in Highlan dance dress differently. Girls wear the 'tartan' dresses (actually called Aboynes) or the white National Dress with tartan sash when performing National Dances. Only girls of course wear the Aboynes. Girls must wear the kilt for the Highland Dances (Highland Fling, Sword Dance, Seann Truibhas, and the Strathspeys and Reels, as well as the Barracks--a National dance, but costume is the kilt in that instance). This is because these were originally dances for men. The Sword Dance was a warrior's dance. These costume requiremebts are rules set out for competition by the Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing as well as the Scottish Official Highland Dance Association. Thus girls must have two dancing costumes. And earlier we see girls wearing dance costumes that look more like the boys' outfits.


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Created: 5:28 PM 6/1/2018
Last updated: 5:28 PM 6/1/2018