A guide to Tartan Kilts

A guide to Tartan Kilts

The longstanding tradition of Tartan Kilts which dates back to the 16th century means that its wear is surrounded with expected behaviour and custom. The modern tartin kilt is roughly 100 years old and has barely changed in style since that time.

If you’re new to this traditional Highland dress, we’ve highlighted the most important things you need to know before you buy men’s kilts. After this, kilt selection should be simple. Here’s a simple guide to purchasing men’s kilts.

Tartan Kilts
Tartan Kilts

What are the various parts of a men’s kilt?

  • Pleat: Fabric that’s switched over itself in a fold. It makes up the back of the majority of kilts
  • Apron: It is unpleated panel at the kilt’s front that overlaps
  • Great Kilt: A full-length men’s kilt that can be also wrapped around the upper body
  • Small Kilt: It is also known as a Walking or Philabeg Kilt. It covers the lower half of the body from the waist to the knees. It is the most famous men’s kilt.
  • Sporran: Traditionally a purse made of skin with the fur or hair left on that’s worn at the front of men’s kilts.
  • Kilt Pin: A decorative item that’s worn on the front layer of the apron, but without holding the flap closed.
  • Kilt Straps: Buckle at the kilt’s side to fasten it.

A great alternative to a kilt for boys are boys tartan trousers.

Which tartan should your men’s kilt be made from?

A sett is the name for the specific tartan pattern that’s used on a kilt. It relates to the number of threads, weaving pattern, weight, and colours used. While most setts aren’t trademarked, thus don’t legally restrict those allowed to wear them, most are registered to clans, which means that there are social conventions regarding who’s allowed to wear them.

If you don’t have an acknowledged clan tartan, you can use a search website (ex. House of Tartan) to try tracing your roots back. Just enter your surname to know the clan that you belong to, and by extension the tartan sett you need to be wearing on your men’s kilt.

If you don’t have any direct ties to clans, there are several universal tartans, such as Caledonian, Black Watch, Jacobite, and Hunting Stewart tartans. Still, you should search for your mother’s and grandmother’s maiden names to check whether you have some connection.

Tailored made kilts for men

A true men’s kilt is usually bespoke, much like a black-tie outfit or a good interview suit. Off-the-rack or cheap rack kilts tend to be unflattering and don’t allow for proper sizing, which can lead to the kilt not hitting you at the mid-knee, which is regarded as very inelegant.

Many of the men’s kilts are handmade to ensure a perfect fit. Your kilt will obviously be worn multiple times, at celebrations and events, and in front of others that know their men’s kilts. A low-quality kilt can be immediately spotted and subsequently met with disapproval.

The areas where you will need to know your measurements are your hips, waist, and possibly also your rise, which refers to the distance from the waist to the groin. This ensures that you wear your handmade, traditional men’s kilt with style with respect to tradition.

traditional kilt
Tartan Kilts

What should you wear with your traditional kilt?

You shouldn’t forget the right accessories when dressing for a formal event. Men’s kilts need to be ideally paired with a waistcoat, jacket, shirt, tie, and knee socks, which are known as hose. It can also be a good idea to wear a kilt pin, sporran, and Ghillie brogues, which are a specific shoe type, to complete your look.

To achieve a completely authentic look, it can also be a good idea to add:

  • A Sgian Dubh: A tiny ceremonial knife that’s worn partially concealed in the hose with only the hilt being visible.
  • Sock Flashes: Small tartan pieces attached to the hose, are also an option, and need to be worn to match your kilt tartan.

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