Some comments recently on the X Marks the Scot kilt forum have led me to wonder -- when and why did the kilt begin to be seen as a "celtic" garment rather than a specifically Scottish garment? I'm not trying to say that non-Scots should not wear the kilt, I'm just wondering about when and how the notion started that the kilt was something generally "celtic."
Some history. As we all know, the kilt developed in the Gaelic Scottish Highlands in the end of the sixteenth century. In fact, the first reference we have to the feileadh-mhor (the first type of kilt) is an Irish document from 1594 saying that you could tell the Hebridean soliders from the Irish soldiers specifically from the way they were dressed. Their kilts marked them as Scottish and not Irish. Over the next two hundred years, the kilt evolved, in Scotland, from the feileadh-mhor to the feileadh-beag and finally, at the end of the eighteenth century, into the tailored kilt. All the while this was seen as a specifically Highland mode of dress. Even in the lowlands, the kilt was seen as "barbaric" and was not worn.
Now, this begins to change somewhat after the Union of the Parliaments in 1707. Now, some Scottish lowlanders who were against the Union would wear the kilt as a sign of Scottish unity -- they would rather be identified with those barbaric Highlanders to the north than with the English. But this wasn't really common until the nineteenth century, when being Scottish was made popular, and the kilt had ceased to be worn as a daily garment and was instead used mostly for ceremonial occasions. Now lowland families began to wear tartans and all of that.
So we have the kilt change from a garment that is specifically worn in the Scottish Highlands to a pan-Scottish garment, identifying Scots, at home and abroad, whether Highland or Lowland in origin.
So why then do we today have the Irish, Welsh, Cornish, and Manx wearing the kilt, and speaking of it as a "celtic" garment? It was never worn by any other celtic group. I think the origin must lie somewhere in the twentieth century. When H. F. McClintock wrote his Old Irish & Highland Dress, published in 1954, he was already dispelling myths about the kilt being part of the Irish national costume. But these myths were being put forth, not by the Irish, but by Scots who wanted to claim an ancient date of origin for the kilt and so believed it to have been worn by their Irish ansestors who crossed over some 1500 years ago. The only kilt wearers in Ireland at the time were members of pipe bands and military regiments, based largely in Northern Ireland and of Scottish descent.
Keep in mind, as well, that until the latter nineteenth century, no one thought of themselves as "celtic." One was a Scot, and Irishman, a Welshman, etc. There was no sense of belonging to some overarchign "celtic culture" at the time.
Today, though, we have kilts being worn by people of Cornish, Breton, Manx, Welsh, and Irish descent, who see the kilt as part of their "celtic heritage" -- despite the fact that none of these groups ever wore the kilt before modern times. But now they all have tartans and other regalia. When people see me in the kilt, I'm asked just as often if I am Irish than if I am Scottish.
So why the change? When did the kilt become a "pan-celtic" garment? Again, I'm not saying here that non-Scots should not wear the kilt. But when did this shift occur?