Scottish Kilts: The 1950s

Figure 1.--This photograph is my two sisters and me. The girls are wearing the kilts that eventually became mine and were then passed on to my younger brother.


I am course am Scottish and I grew up in the 1950s and 60s in Scotland. I don't really have much knowledge of how wide spread the wearing of the kilt was throughout Scotland, as I said before our horizons as children were very close. I can only tell you about my family and village. My mother was a big believer in the kilt. Both my sisters and I wore kilts. I wore short trousers as a small boy, but my mother preferred the kilt and through most of my boyhood that was what I wore.

My Village

I can tell you my boyhood memories about wearing a kilt in northern Scotland from 1948 to 1958. We lived in a small village on the outskirts of Aberdeen, it has now been absorbed by the city , but when I was a boy the village was very much a separate entity.

Clothing practices were probably quite different in the rural comunity that I grew up in that they were in the large cities. I'm afraid that I don't or should I say didn't have any experience of living in cities during my boyhood. It may be difficult for you to understand but back in those days we didn't travel avery much staying mostly within our own tight knit community. Holidays were not taken the way they are now. The family would perhaps visit a relative and stay for a few days , but travelling any distance from home was something I didn't really experience until much later. Our Horizons as children stretched no further than we could walk or run.

My First Kilt

I remember quite clearly being put into the kilt for the first time, it was on my 6th birthday. My kilt was one which was handed down from my older sister. Both my sisters wore kilts. Those kilts eventually became mine and were then passed on to my brother. I didn't mind wearing a kilt that my sister had worn before me. The kilt is after all a male garment and was not really associated with girls even though girls wore the kilt too. Unlike my sisters I usually got to wear a sporan with my kilt. My brother used to say that his kilt was already third hand by the time he got it, but he still wore it, not perhaps as much as I did.

I suppose back then, not that long after the end of the war, and with clothes still on ration and even then hard to get, hand me downs were the order of the day and if you had a mixed family the kilt offered a way to keep both boys and girls smartly dressed with out too much duplication. Of course there were some things that boys wore with the kilt that the girls didn't, a sporran for instance, but mostly everything else was the same.

You know my parents weren't insistant about us wearing kilts, or it certainly never appeared that way to me. Back then you were given your clothes and you wore them and that was as far as any discussions went. My Sisters went to a girls school where the kilt was ---- and still is part of their uniform and I don't mean a pleated tartan skirt, I mean a proper kilt. I cann't remember ever asking for or being refused shorts, it was never discussed as far as I can remember. I wore the kilt , some boys wore shorts, it didn't make any difference to me or to them, we did as we were told and that was that.


I wore my kilt always, to school, for play, to the cubs and scouts, on holiday and every other occasion. Then from the age of 6 when I was given my first kilt I wore the kilt every day of my boyhood until I left school at age 16 years. The only times that I wore any thing else was if I was given a particularly messy job to do and then I would wear a pair of dungarees, and of course for P.E. and sports at school I would wear white or navy cotton shorts. Outside of school it wasn't all that common but I wasn't unique by any means. Several boys that I went to school with and some that attended cubs and scouts with me also wore the kilt most of the time.

Figure 2.--Here I am at about 5 years of age with my mother. I am wearing my kilt with a sweater. Note the sporan.

My outfits varied some what, depending on the occasion.
Play: For play I normally wore a jersey (sweater), kilt, socks and either plimsolls or sandals.
Dressup: For dress occasions I wore a shirt or jersey and tie and perhaps a pullover, a kilt, knee length socks and lace up shoes. I always wore my kilt with a Harris tweed kilt jacket when dressing up.
School: For school I wore my kilt and the school blazer with a shirt and tie and school knee socks and black leather lace up shoes and all the other bits and pieces, vest and green pants.


The kilt was worn to just on the kneecap when new but as you can immagine as a boy grew so the lower edge of his kilt moved up his thigh. The waist as I am sure you realise can be easily let out to accomodate any expansion in that direction but once the kilt got to about an inch or so above the knee a new one was aquired and the old one was worn for play until it got just too short. Unlike trousers, kilts hardly ever wore out.

Dress outfit

Obviosly I eventually had more than one kilt, and the newest one was kept for going to church and Sunday school and other special occasions. When "dressed up" most of the boys that I came into contact with wore the kilt, sometimes with a velvet jacket but mostly with a tweed kilt jacket. When required to dress up I would wear my proper Harris tweed kilt jacket with stags horn buttons.


At Junior school though it wasn't compulsary for the boys to wear the kilt in was encouraged and as a result most boys did wear the kilt at school. I only wore shorts at school as previously mentioned, for P.E. or for games (Sport.) I never did wear the grey flannel shorts that some boys wore at school. The percentage of kilts to shorts at junior school would have been about fifty - fifty, it varied up and down a bit but when we got to primary 7, the final class before moving up to senior school. We were all required to wear the kilt on certain days. We all marched to church on founders day and Primary 7 led the parade, with every boy wearing the kilt.

At secondary school I wore the school uniform blazer with my kilt and also a grey woolen school uniform pullover. When I moved up to the senior school the percentage of boys wearing the kilt dropped dramatically, probable only about 10 to 15% of boys wore the kilt and then not all the time. Shorts began to dissappear in senior school after the first year and by the time we were in the third year long trousers was more or less universal. There were no girls at the senior school either, it was the same school as my junior school.


The other boys would normally change into shorts when they got home from school before they went to play. When at play I wouldn't normally wear a jacket, more likley I would wear a jersey , probably hand knitted by either my Mother or my Gran. In the summer if it was warm I would normally wear my kilt with an open necked shirt and short socks.

Figure 3.--Here I am in my cub uniform. Most of the other cubs wore shorts--except for special occasions.


In The cub pack that I attended, it varied, most of the boys had a kilt but only a few wore their kilt to every meeting. But for church parades or parents nights most of us, probably as much as 80% wore our kilts. I wore one of the kilts in cub uniform. Latter my brother also wore the kilts. In my cub pack, most of the boys wore short trousers. Occasionally, however, one of the us cubs wore kilts. Whether a boy wore kilts or shorts was determined by the parents of the boy. Some cub packs requested prospective cubs to wear the kilt, but mostly it was up to the parents. In our pack Akela liked the boys who had the kilt to wear them and would say so. So I guess that could be construed as encouraging the wearing of the kilt by the cubs. It was more common for Scouts to wear kilts, but some us cubs occasionally wore them also. Cubs that wore the kilt used to wear the kilt when they moved up to the scout troop.


There was a cap connected with the school uniform but the wearing of it was not enforced and I never had one, on dress occasions again I never wore anything on my head.

My Friends

My chums never thought anything about me wearing the kilt all the time, most of them either did or had worn the kilt at some time in their youth. Kids being kids there was always some one who would call you names and try to get the mickey of you.

It was a boys school that I attended so the question of girls at school making comment about wearing the kilt never happened , there were several girls in our circle of friends though and very little comment was made, I cannot honestly remember any of the girls making any specific comment on the fact that I wore a kilt. As I said before you would get the occasional ribbing and just a bit of horse play.

Shoes and Socks

At school we wore black leather lacing shoes and grey woolen knee length socks with the school colours in the top rib. At play usually plimsoles or sandles very often with the same sort of socks that we wore at school or grey woolen ankle socks.

Long Trousers

I first wore long trowsers when I left school at sixteen to start work, and I must admit it took me a long time to get used to having my legs covered.

Class Conotations

I'm not sure about the class conotations concerning the wearing of the kilt but perhaps it may have been more affluent children that wore them, I suppose that they were quite expensive even then.


Looking back over your list of questions I see i've missed one out, the kilt in adult males was more common then than it is now , my own father wore the kilt on occasions, so I do not believe that the kilt was seen essentially as a boy's costume and as I have said my sisters wore the kilt as part of their school uniform.


The tartan was usually chosen through family names and connections. Yes I did have a brother who complained vociferously that the kilts he wore were at least third hand by the time he got them but that wasn't always true.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: August 21, 1999
Last updated: October 21, 1999