The kilt as we know it today has ancient origins. It is generally associated today with Scotland or the Gaelic peoples
of the British Isles and Normandy. The kilts use as a style of boys' clothing is much more recent in origin. In the
British Isles, the kilt is mostly associated with Scotland and to a lesser extent Ireland. Boys in England itself, however, also occasionally wore kilts, especially after Queen Victorian began dressing the princes in Highland kilts during the 1840s. The full extent to which English boys wore kilts is somewhat difficult to determine. The photographic record shows that while it was not common, neither was it an extremely rare garment. Available photographs often do not indicate who the boy is or where he is from. Thus it is difficult to determine if it is an English or Scottish boy involved. We mostly see English boys wear kilts as dress garments. For some boys it was their party outfit.
Boys in England itself occasionally wore kilts, but after Queen Victorian began dressing
the princes in Highland kilts during the 1840s it became more common. The Scottish Highland kilt had become popular in
England after Winterhalter painted Queen Victoria's children in 1849. Queen Victoria's sons in 1851 wore kilts at the
opening of the Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition in 1851. [Gagon, p.147.] The boys in the English royal family
subsequently were often dressed in kilts. This was the case right through th children of Queen Elizabeth. Prince Charles'
sons William and Harry, however, want nothing to do with kilts.
As far as we know, English boys did not begin wearing kilts until Queen Victoria and Prince Albert began dressing the
young princes in them. This would have been some time in the 1840s, although I am not sure about the precise year. I am
not sure just how rapidly the fashion caught on. For some reason we have not been able to find English daguerreotype
portraits. We do begin to see English boys dressed in kilts in the 1860s when CDVs become available. The boys involved are
boys from aristocratic or affluent families. We continue to see English boys wearing kilts for formal occasions and
portraits throughout the 19th century. This continued to be the case in the Edwardian era in the early 20th century. This
changed after World War I (1914-18). We see very few such portraits after the War, although there were a few exceptions
such as the Royal Family. But they generally only wore kilts when they went up to the royal residence, Balmoral in
The full extent to which English boys wore kilts is somewhat difficult to determine. The photographic record shows that
while it was not common, neither was it an extremely rare garment. Available photographs often do not indicate who the boy
is or where he is from. Thus it is difficult to determine if it is an
English or Scottish boy involved. We mostly see English boys wear kilts as dress garments. For some boys it was their
party outfit. Scottish boys may have worn kilts for everyday wear or to school. This was not the case for English boys.
The kilt in England was primarily a dress outfit. Of course as formal clothing was more common in the 19th and early 20th century, the range of events for which dress outfits were worn was much greater than the case with modern boys. And it seems to have been boys from well-to-do families wearing kilts and they tended to dress up more than working-class and middle-class boys. Most of the photographs we have found of English boys wearing kilts are formal studio portraits, but e have found a few other images.
We are not sure if there were any pronounced regional trends concerning kilts in England. One might think that kilts
were most popular in northern England, closer to Scotland. But we have not yet noted that. Kilts seem particularly
popular in London, presumably because it was the fashion center of the country. Many affluent families lived in London and
believed in dressing their children stylishly. Wearing kilts was not, however, just a London style. We have, however,
noted boys wearing kilt outfits in many different English cities. What ever was popular in London was soon copied
throughout the country. One question we are not sure about is to what extent kilts were worn in the country's Celtic
fringe--Somerset and Wales. Of course we treat Wales as a separate country and unlike Scotland separation from England is not a major issue, but the issue still stands as to whether kilts were more common in the Celtic fringe of western Britain. Somerset of course would be the area of England the furthest from Scotland.
We note English boys wearing a range of kilt outfits. They seem to be mostly dressy outfits, including Highland kilts
and kilt suits. English boys sometimes wore kilts with full Highland regalia. Almost always these were boys from wealthy
families. The kilts were worn as dress outfits for formal events. This became fashionable beginning in the mid-19th
Century after Queen Victoria and her decedents began dressing the princes in kilts. Few English boys in the 19th Century
wore proper Scottish kilts with Highland regalia. Another kilt fashion was the kilt suit. I know that the kilt suit was
very commonly worn by American boys in the late 19th Century. American mothers used the kilt suit as an intermediate step
between dresses and outfits with knee pants, such as Fauntleroy suits and sailor suits. These mothers were not yet ready to
fully breech their sons, but felt that they were becoming to old to still wear dresses. I am not sure if this fashion was
as common in England as it was in America. Some English mothers bought kilts for their sons for casual wear. Again this was
mostly boys in affluent families. This was most common for English families which spent time in Scotland or the north of
Scottish boys wore kilts with their clan tartans. English boys did not have clan tartans to wear. We are thus not sure
just how the tartans they wore were selected. Of course some English boys had Scottish relatives, but most did not. We
suspect that mother may simply have selected patterns that appealed to then from the tartan patterns in the shops. Perhaps
our English readers will know more about this. Another option was to do the kilt it suiting material rather than a tartan.
Here we are talking about Highland kilt outfits and not kilt suits that were commonly done in suiting material rather than
tartans. Based on the available photographic record, selecting a colorful Scottish tartan seems to have been the option that mothers preferred. These images are much more common than the plain suiting material.
The conventions for wearing kilts varied from Scotland. There kilt might be worn for everyday wear as well as dressing up. In contrast, English boys mostly wore kilts for dresswear. We know that they were worn to parties and outings, but are unsure as to just what other occassions where they might be worn such as church are visiting relatives. They were not worn to school. We see boys wearing kilts for special occassions. We see many different kilt outfits. There may be some regional differences such as in Cumbria along the Scottish border, but even there we mosly think kilts were dress wear. This is reflected on the photographic record, although during the 19th century most photographs were studio portraits in which children were usually dresed up in their best clothes. We see quite a number of English boys dressed up in kilt outfits. Actually there are more exmples than we expected to find. Actually we have found about as many English as Scotish examples, but this probnly reflects the much larger English population. In contrast, the girls were never dressed up in Scottish outfits. As far as we can tell, this fashon began only in the mid-19th centuryy, but it is difficult to confirm this s thi was when photogrphy was developed, and thus there is no photogrphic record for the early-19th century.
The English royals are of course British and thus dressing the young princes in kilts was an adroit political move. It
may, however, reflect more Queen Victoria's love of Scotland. Whatever the reason, each generation of British royals has
been dressed in kilts. George V thought the kilt and sailor suit the only
appropriate dress for boys. He gave great attention to what his sons wore, including which kilt outfit should be worn at
which occasion. This tradition appears to have come to an end. The current royals, William and
Harry, do not seem to care for kilts. Unlike previous generations, the boys seem to have considerable say in how they
Of course it is the English royals that are best known for wearing kilts. It was not, however, just princes that wore
kilts in England.
Here are some short items dealing with the personal experiences that English boys have experienced concerning kilts. They are only short items which do not merit an entirely new page.
This account describes a boy on an isolated English island, about as far away from Scotland as you can get in Britain,
wore kilts as a boy during the 1950s.
Gagnon, Louise. "L'apparition des modes enfantines au Québec" (institut québecois de la recherche sur la culture, 1979). Collection Edmond-de-nevers. No 11.
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