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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Socks, Snobbery, and the High Cost of Highland Dress

Kilts are expensive. Let's face it, when you are used to paying $40 for a pair of blue jeans, shelling out $500 for a kilt seems like a lot. It's not really, of course, when you consider the cost and quality of the material used, and the amount of labor and skill that goes into making one -- and, very importantly, when you consider that kilts are made-to-measure, each a unique custom garment. You can see how they are worth the high cost. But still, for a lot of folks who are not used to buying bespoke clothing from costly fabrics, there is a bit of sticker shock.

But the kilt is not enough. What about the sporran? What about the hose? What about the jacket? All these things also come with their own price tag, and that can add up very quickly. What is the poor man on a budget to do?

This is been a subject of discussion of late. There are a lot of folks who are, understandably, seeking out less expensive alternatives for many of these Highland Dress items. The results, however, are often less than hoped for. "Less expensive" does not always equate to "cheap," but it does often enough to be wary. Cheap not only in price, but in quality as well, and this is often visible in the product. Since we are talking about clothing, and the clothes reflect the man, the question is, do we really want to attire ourselves with the cheapest possible goods?

This seems to be more of a problem when it comes to formal Highland attire, very likely because it tends to be the formal wear that is the most expensive. We can see how this becomes an issue if we take a look at just one item -- Argyle hose. For many, the epitome of Scottish formal attire requires diced or Argyle (tartan) hose. The Argyle hose are usually custom knit to match the colors of your kilt, and custom knit hose in a complex pattern such as this demand a high price. I will use our prices at the Scottish Tartans Museum gift shop as examples, as they are fairly typical of what you can expect to find. A pair of custom knit Argyle hose from us sells for $250.

Like the kilt itself, when you realize the quality of the product and the work that goes into making a pair, they are worth the cost. But that fact does not make them affordable for everyone. $250 is a lot of money for most people to spend on a pair of socks, especially a pair that will more than likely get only occasional wear. You have to look at your own budget and determine if you can justify the cost.

Let's say you like the look of Argyle hose, really want a pair, but $250 is just a bit out of your range. Are there alternatives? Yes. A lot of companies now are making Argyle hose in standard patterns, which they can produce in larger quantities in advance, therefore keeping the cost down. Again, referring to the Scottish Tartans Museum gift shop, you can purchase full Argyle hose in one of four standard patterns for only $140. That's a savings of $110. Not bad! These "stock" patterns are selected to match a variety of tartans, and with four to choose from, chances are you can find one that will look nice with your kilt. No, they won't match every single tartan, but they will match a lot of them. And if your tartan happens to be one that they match, you can save yourself a bundle, and look just as good as if you had a pair custom made.

While $140 for a pair of Argyle hose is certainly more workable in many people's budgets, it still may be out of the range for many others. What does one do then?

Well, there are still many options. One is, of course, to knit your own! I will assume that not everyone who cannot afford Argyle hose is an expert knitter, however. But there are knitters out there who can do this. If you don't happen to have one near and dear to you in your family that you can hit up for Christmas or birthday gifts, you can seek one out on line. You will have to pay her (or him), of course, but by working with the knitter directly you may find that you can get a better price than working through a third-party retailer.

Another option is to keep an eye out for bargains. Highland dress shops often have odd items on sale are reduced rates. Check out ebay and other auction sites. Ask though your clan society or local St. Andrews society. You might not find a pair immediately, but in the end you may just turn up a bargain.

A third option that many are tempted to follow is to buy cheap substitutes. This is not the recommended route! To the untrained eye, Argyle kilt hose look a lot like Argyle golf socks. A quick price comparison on line shows that while Argyle hose can demand a price of $250, one can get golf socks for $20 to $30, a tenth of the sum! So why would any fool pay three digits for Argyle kilt hose when you can get the same thing for a fraction of the cost?

The answer is that they are not the same thing, neither in terms of quality, material, or construction. If you show up to your Burns Supper, St. Andrews Society dinner, Tartan Ball or some other black tie affair wearing golf socks with your kilt... well, the gentlemen who spent their money on authentic kilt hose won't be the ones looking foolish. Hopefully, the people in attendance will be polite enough not to say anything negative or call attention to the faux pas, but people will certainly notice. Put bluntly, it doesn't just look cheap, it looks like you are ignorant regarding Highland dress. You don't want this to be you.

So what to do, then, if you cannot afford even the less expensive Argyle hose? Well who says you need Argyle hose? They look great for formal wear, yes, but nowhere is it written that they are required. Many men wear solid color kilt socks with their formal attire and look very good doing so. And one can get good quality solid kilt socks for the paltry sum of $27.95 (again, STM shop prices). The same cost as those Argyle golf socks, but you will look infinitely better at your next function.

My point here is that yes, Highland Dress can get expensive, especially the fancier items. No, we should not expect certain items to fit within everyone's budget. And while one can often find good quality, lower cost alternatives, sometimes that is impossible. And often going with the cheapest possible option only makes one look cheap. This is to be avoided, especially when there are perfectly good, but less expensive options, such as the solid kilt hose mentioned above.

1 comment:

Heath Barkley said...

Hey Matt. Its been a while since you've had a new topic. But I know you've been busy. I've been following those topics on expensive hose. I think that our society's need for instant gratification also has a lot to do with it. We no longer want to wait to either save the money to make a large purchase or wait to have it custom made. I think you said it right, the clothes make the man. Cheap clothes will always look like cheap clothes. You might fool some, but you will not fool everyone.

Also, I think some need to step back and remember that we are not having face to face conversations. So its difficult to tell what frame of mind the typist is in. And I think often times, people take constructive criticism as an attack.

Go to get back to work, just wanted to say hey.