*** ethnic costumes: Scottish

Ethnic Clothes: The Scottish

Scotish ethnicity
Figure 1.--British boys no longer wear the kilt, except for special occasions. Private schools in Scotland generally require it as part of the dress uniform.

The best known countries around the world tend to be the large countries with substntial populations, countries like America, China, India, and Russia as well as European contries which had colonial empires. There are, however, a few small countries that are very well known. One of those countries is Scotland. This is in part because of the achievements of the Scottish people, but primarily because of the emigration of the Scottish people, defusing the Scotts around the world. After the Norman invasion of England and conquest of the Anglo-Saxons (English) (1066), the Normans encountered the other peoples of the British isles, first the Welsh and than the Scotts. Edward I launched an invasion of Scotland setting in motion the Scottish struggle for independence. Scotland over the centuries was able to maintain its independence, but eventually decided on union with England, forming the United Kingdom (1707). The poverty of Scotland resulted in emigration before the Act oif Union, but the English supression of Highland resistance and the the Higlan clearances forced large numbers of Scotts from Scotland. The countries they emigrated to were mostly other countries in the British empire. Two of the most important were America and Canada. The Scotts-Irish played an especially impotant role in American history. And to these various colonies the Scotts brought their culture--including ethnic clothing.

Scottish History

Intermitent war between the Scotts and English did not end until the 18th century when the issue was finally resolved at the Battle of Culoden. The crowns of England and Scotland upon the death of Elizabeth I in 1603 was inherited by James I, although the crowns were not legally combined until the Act of Union in 1707. It was at Culloden (1746) that the last serious uprising of the clans was defeated. The English proceeded to maker a concerted effort to suppress all aspects of Scottish nationality. One measure was to prohibit the wearing of the kilt. The English were determined to suppress Scottish culture and continuing resistance to English rule. The Act of 1746 made the wearing of any form of Highland Dress illegal for all but soldiers in Highland regiments as it was their uniform. At the same time the enclosure systems drove thousand of Scottish Highlanders off the land and propelled a Scottish diapora that spread the Scotts and their culture around the world. Scottish writers and poets and a very sympathetic Queen Victoria in the 19th century helped to build the modern romantic cult of Scotland. British policies to devolve power has resulted in the opening of a Scottish Parliament in Scotland for the first time in nearly three centuries.

The Scotts in America

The Scotts were one of the important ethnic groups found modern America. As part of the United Kingdom after the Act of Union (1705?), they had free access to the American colonies. The English of course were far more numerous as Sctland is a relatively small country. Scottish immigration to America increased significantly as the English move to supress the Clans and Scottish culture. Immigration reached high levels after the brutal supression following the Battle of Culloden (1746) and the implementation of the enclosures. Scottish immigratiion was relatively small compared to the title wave of immigrants reaching America in the 19th Century. America, however, had a much smaller population in the 18th Century, only about 3 million at the time of War of Indpendece (1775-83). Thus the Scotts that arrived in America played a major role in the evolving American culture that proved to be the foundatiin of the national ethic. The Scotts have blended more into the American salad bowl then many other ethnic groups. Thus they are not nearly as well defined as the Irish and Itlalians and other 19th Century immigrants. The one thing that most Scottish immigrants had in common was a hatred of the English. Some Scotts might add, "And the Cambells." (The Cambells allied themselves with the English at Culloden.)

Higland Dress

The two major components of male Higland dress are the kilt and plaid. Other optional items, however, such as caps, jackers, jabots, kneesocks, dagger, and broges are also associated with Highland outfits.

The Scottish Kilt

The ethnic costume, of course most associated with Scotland is the kilt. No where is the kilt still worn so extensivly by pipers, dancers, school children, boy scouts, weddings, at a variety of public occasions, church attendance, Highland gatherings, and on many other occasions. And it was the Scottish kilt that was adopted by Queen Victoria as a style for boys clothing that eventually influenced boys clothing in America. I am not sure, however, just how extenively the kilt was worn by Scottish boys in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. The kilt today is not commonly worn, except as part od private school uniforms, Scout uniforms, and dress clothes for church or other formal events.

The plaid

Besides the kilt, the plaid is the next most important item of traditional Higland dress. The plaid is a rectangular length of cloth worn folded over the left shoulder. Normally the plaid material matches that of the kilt. The plaid is a residual garment evolving from the longer-length kilts that used to be worn. The kilt and plaid assembly develooed in the 17th cebntury from the f�ile-breacon, a single long piece of wolen cloth whose pleated first half was wrapped around the wearer's waist, while the unpleated second half was then wrapped around the upper body, with a loose end thrown over the left shoulder. In the 17th century, two lengths of cloth began to be worn for these purposes and the kilt and plaid became two separate garments.

Optional items

Other optional items, however, such as caps, jackers, jabots, kneesocks, dagger, and broges are also associated with Highland outfits.

History of the Kilt

The tartan kilt has long been the most recognisable cultural tradition of the Highland Scots. Therefore, it surprises most people that many of the most recognisable features and traditions associated with the wearing of the kilt have, in fact, been developed in the nineteenth century, not by Scottish Highlanders, but by the Nobles of England and Scotland. There is much evidence that many of the more recognisable tartans seen today are in fact creations of Scottish and English tailors during the reign of Queen Victoria. Despite this, it has generally been accepted that the basic concepts of the tartan and the wearing of the kilt do indeed have their origin in the history of the early Scottish and Irish clans, or families. It has been demonstrated that certain clans did aspire to a certain uniformity of design for their garments as early as the 10th and 11th centuries.

Scottish etnicity
Figure 2.--The kilt is worn by dancing competitors at Highland gaterings in Scotland, America, and many other countries around the world.

National Costume

The Scottish kilt and plaid form the only national costume worn for ordinary purposes rather than merely for special occasions. Increagingly the kilt in Scotland is also becoming worn especially for certain activities or special occasions.

Highland gatherings

One of the most widely known and popular ethnic event in America is the Higland Gatherings. The Gatherings in Scotland are of course the best known, but Gatherings are held throughout the United States and Canada. More than 100 such events are held in America annually. They are especially common in the South where much of the Scottish immigtation in the late 17th Century was centered. The Gatherimngs are often held in the summer, so the American Highland Gatherings are usually a bit warmer than those held in Scotland. Whether held in Scotland or Anmerica, many of the major events and activities are quite similar. The annual Highland Gathering or Games is as important to the Scotts in communities around America as St. Patrick's Day is to the Irish. Many Gatherings, especially in America, have mock battles between English redcoats and kilt-clad and sword waving Scottish warriors. Of course the Scotts always win these engagements. An annoucement explains, "A Highland charge, and guess who is going to win." A typical Higland Gathering in America might have 60 or more Clans participating. One of the most popular events is the sheep dog trials. Dog owners put their dogs througgh their paves as an approving audience looks on.

Dancing competitions

Dancing competitions is another popular event at Higland Gatherings. Once it was primarily men competing. Today most of the dancers are girls sometimes wear white shifts with tartan trim, but today mostly perform in kilts. Some boys and men also compete and except for the sailor's jig, almost always dance in kilts and full Higland regalia--including caps. Higland dancing along with the kilt are two beloved symbols of Scotland. Its origins lie in the art of the ancient Celtic Scots. Modern Higland dancing is usually performed solo and is characterized by its typically sharp movements and the accompanying music. It's typically dance to the tune of the bagpipes. The dances are made up of different parts, called steps. There are usually four or six steps to a dance. Traditional Highland Dancing generally refers to a relatively few dances, especially the Highland Fling, Sword Dance, Seann Truibhas, and the Strathspey and Highland Reel or Reel of Tulloch.

Athletic competitions

Many athletic competitions are held. Competitors heave smooth river stones (like Greek shot puts), wooden poles (cabers), matal weights, hammars, and canvas bags. The objective is to toss them as far as possible. The throwing contests, largely unknown to the average American sports fan, are held regularly at hundreds of Gathering throughout America. The often burly winners are acorded considerable within the Scottish community.

Pipe bands

Competitions between pipe bands are also enjoyed by many at Higland Gatherings. The performance of the massed bands is always a major highlight. Pipebands perform at many other parades and civic events. Bagpipes exist in many forms and are found in Scotland, Ireland, Russia, Finland, Germany, France, Spain, and in many other places around the world. In each country the basic instrument is the same, a bag with a chanter and possibly one or more drones. Some of these are mouth blown while others use a bellows attachment to supply the air. It is with Scotland and Ireland, however that bagpipes and the modern pipe band are most associated. Interestingly it is the English who came to fear the wild Scottish highland warriors and pipers who created the pipeband. It was the English Army which recruited Scottish pipers after the disastrous battle of Colloden in 183?. The first formal pipe bands were attavhed to Scottish and eventually Irish regiments. Most active pipebands are Scottish or Irish, both bands in those countries are band in other countries organized primarily by Scottish and Irish immigrants. In fact there are probably more pipe bands in the United States than either Scotland or Ireland. Most modern pipebands are either Scottish or Irish. These bands, except for the school ones, include both men and boys. A few in recent years have added girls. They give great attention to theuniform, which always is a kilt.

Formal events

Klts are worn at a variety of formal events such as weddings. The boys involved in a Scottish wedding, especially the ring bearer and ushers, comminly wear kilts. Many men including the groom may also wear kilts.


Scottish Scouts, sometimes even the Cubs wear kilts as part of their Scout uniforms.

Military uniforms

Higland dress is also the uniform of Scottishbregiments in the British Army. I do not believe, however, that kilts have been worn in battle since World War II (1939-45).


We are not sure about the chronology of Scottish ethnic events. Here we are interested in both the chronology of these events in Scotland as well as he various countries tobwhich Scottish people emigrated. One of course is the United States. We note one boy, Ray Cochrane, who appears to be done up for a Scottish ethnic event about 1912.

Personal Experiences


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Created: September 9, 1998
Last updated: 2:28 AM 3/12/2008