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Saturday, March 04, 2006

Where do people get these ideas?

While doing an unrelated Google search, I came across this article, from 1999, about a local kiltmaker in Indiana.

The first thing that caught my eye was the photo -- the gentleman (presumably the kiltmaker himself) is wearing a jacket that is not cut for a kilt. And his hose, likewise, look like fairly standard sports socks. Not that I am disparaging anyone's choice of clothing (please read the quote in my left sidebar from Erskine), but I would have assumed that someone made and sold kilts for a living would make an effort to at least have a shorter kilt jacket.

Reading on through the article, though, I just got more frustrated. The writer, discussing the styles of kilts, states, "There have been various styles of kilts worn over the years, but Pommehern [the kilt maker] prefers the traditional Renaissance box pleat design used by both Scots and Irish."

There are two huge mistakes in this one sentence. First of all, I'm going to assume that by "Renaissance" the writer here is referring to the time period typically portrayed in the Renaissance festivals here in the US, which would be the sixteenth century. The only style of kilt that was worn in the sixteenth century was the feilidh-mhor or "great kilt," which can only be documented back to 1594, so it barely makes the cut. This style of kilt was not tailored at all, and so was not really pleated so much as gathered up and belted on. It is unfair to say it was "box pleated" as opposed to "knife pleated." Besides, one doesn't really "make" a kilt like this so much as one learns how to arrange the cloth when it is worn.

Secondly, I have no idea where the writer got the idea that the box pleated kilts were worn by both the Scottish and the Irish. The Irish have never worn kilts, until modern times. It's simply never been a part of the traditional Irish garb.

However, I am sure that the author of this article is only repeating the misinformation that she heard from the kiltmaker, for she then quotes him directly (as I can only presume correctly) as saying, "The knife pleat kilt is an English monkey suit that Scots were allowed to wear after the period of Proscription."

Just to review a few facts here -- the period of Proscription, when Highland Dress was outlawed in the Highlands, lasted from 1746 to 1782. The earliest tailored kilt (with the pleats sewn in) that we have any kind of documentation of is from 1792; this is box pleated, and contains less than 4 yards of cloth. Box pleating was the norm in both military and civilian kilts from that point until the latter part of the nineteenth century. When we get into the twentieth century, knife pleating was the norm, with kilts having, on average, 8 yards of cloth.

So to say that the knife pleated kilt came about "after the period of Proscription" is technically true, but also quite irrelevant. Tailored kilts, period, came about after Proscription. And I have seen absolutely no evidence to suggest that "the English" had anything to do with the change in style from box pleating to knife pleating. Honestly, why would the English care???

The article also claims that the English were responsible for creating the clan tartan system. While it is very true that prior to the nineteenth century there was no system of clans and families being represented with particular tartans, to give the English credit for creating this system is not justified. It completely ignores the influence of such Scottish figures as Sir Walter Scot, James Logan, and the tartan weavers themselves, such as Wilsons of Bannockburn. A full account can be read in my article on the Sources of the Tartans.

While it is true that the first collection of "clan tartans" was created by the Highland Society of London, we must not think that the Society was made up of a bunch of Londoners! It was a Scottish ex-patriat club whose membership was very Scottish indeed!

The writer goes on to explain the other aspects of Highland Dress, such as the sporran, which is supposedly held shut with a penannular brooch. Penannular, according to the article, is "Celtic for not quite a circle." The confusion of Gaelic (there was never a language called "Celtic" so I assume she means Gaelic) with Latin is indicative of the general misinformation found in this piece. (Oh, and I've never seen a sporran, historic or otherwise, that was held shut with a penannular brooch).

Why am I wasting my time pointing out the mistakes in this article that very few people have likely read? Isn't it a given that misinformation and myths abound on the subject of Highland Dress? Well, yes, and I've come to accept that. It's a fool's errand to try and correct every error out there on the web dealing with this topic. But sometimes I encounter an article like this that is trying so hard to be informative, yet contains so many blatant errors, it almost seems like someone is trying to see how much malarky they can get away with.

The box pleated kilt was worn by the Scottish and the Irish in the Renaissance, until after Proscription when the nasty English forced the Scots to wear despicable knife pleated kilts. Those ratty-bastards! Arggh!

I mean, who comes up with this? Really?


TJW said...


You only scratched the surface regarding all of the errors in this article; I had a nice chuckle about the "Victoria Pins" myself, as well as his "ancestor" being "knighted" by William Wallace!

Maybe someone will do him a favour and e-mail him your rebuttal!



Oswulf said...

Hey Matt,
Glad you keep pointing out some of the silliness associated with kilts and tartans. Keep up the good work.

Had a guy the other day recognize that I was wearing a Black Watch kilt who proceeded to claim his family was Black Watch Clan. Didn't matter how I tried to explain that the Black Watch was a military regiment and not a clan, the bugger wouldn't give up his claim to be a member of that clan.

Oh well.....