Why did Scots wear kilts? What was the practical purpose?

Chrissie Nyssen

A kilt was originally a blanket, worn by cattle drovers and shepherds, belted at the waist, and could be unrolled and used as a blanket at night to sleep in. The kilts you see nowadays with their pressed pleats and fancy embellishments are largely a Victorian invention, that has evolved from the original working man’s blanket-garment.

Response by Chris Hawkes
June 12, 2019

I used to climb with a crofter’s son from Mull. When we camped, he’d carry half our tent but would always sleep outside with his kilt (filleadh mòr?) wrapped around him like an enormous blanket. I don’t think he did this because of my sleeping habits! (He also told me that on very cold nights he would soak the plaid in water to make it more insulating. I’m not sure I believe that part!)

Response by Rachel Taylor
June 18, 2019

That’s true Chris. That’s what the highlanders used to do.

Response by Philip Machanick
January 6, 2020

I hope no one suggested it was a skirt. People have been kilt for less.

* This question was originally answered as, “Why did the Scottish wear kilts? Why wasn’t there a kilt (or skirt) wearing tradition in other parts of the UK?”

Answered by Seren Verch Dafydd
June 15, 2019

The traditional Scottish kilt with its sew in pleats, belt loops, and pins is modern, dating from the time of Queen Victoria. The Scottish Highlanders, the Irish, Welsh and other native tribes of Britannia all wore a similar piece of clothing called a Great kilt which was a long piece of cloth about a 3′ to 4′ wide and 27′ long. It was pleated around the body and held in place with a belt and the last 6′ to 9′ was pulled up across the body and draped over the shoulder. It served as clothing and blanket, tent, etc.

The men and women also wore loose tunics under the kilt. These were basically an outline of the body on the material which cut out and then stitched by hand. Overtime the shirts/tunics lengthened and most men in the early middle wore what we would recognize as dresses [robes]. Rural people learned to make trews [loose pants] which were basically cut out like the tunics. Outline the body, cut out and sew up and add a draw string. If you look at most any culture you see similar garments.

Last revised 1/16/20

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