Sunday, January 29, 2012
Hello, my name is...
Yes, that's right. Name tags. What on earth does this have to do with Highland dress, you might ask. And why is this a big deal? No one really wants to wear a name tag, anyway, right? People only wear them if they are forced to for their jobs - sales clerks and fast food employees and the like. Why would people want to wear a name tag with their kilt?
Well, people do. This is something that I believe stems from the Highland Games culture here in the US (and I can only assume the practice is similar in other nations where Highand Games are held, though not in Scotland).
For many people, their first exposure to the kilt, and the major influence in how they think the kilt should be worn, is what they see at Highland Games. And at Highland Games, all of the "important people" wear name tags. Just pay attention the next time you are strolling about the field at your local Games or Scottish festival.
You will see name tags identifying people as a commissioner in their clan society, as an officer in their St. Andrews society, as a member of the Highland Games organizational committee, as the president emeritus of the local Burns Club, and the list goes on.
Now don't get me wrong. These name tags have a purpose. When one is staffing an information table at the Highland Games it is helpful for people to know that your name is Bill Wallace and that you are the southeast regional commissioner for the Clan Wallace Society. It helps people feel more confidant that the information you share with them is accurate. It tells them both that there is an active clan society in the region and that you are a good person to talk to about it for information.
If you are a member of the grounds committee of the festival, your name tag helps to identify you as someone who could help if a patron can't find their clan tent, or needs assistance with getting their vehicle on to the field.
The unstated assumption is that those kilted men with the name tags are those who are very involved in Scottish cultural activities in the area. They are "in the know." They are the important people. I say this not to belittle anyone with a name tag (far from it), but just to point out why to many people having such a name tag becomes something of a badge of honor.
Which brings me to my pet peeve. As I said, I have no problem when people wear such name tags when representing their society or organization at a Highland Games info table or a similar situation. It has a purpose then. My pet peeve is when these name tags are worn at any and all times someone is in the kilt. I've seen it a lot. I'm sure you have, too.
The most recent example was just yesterday. I attended the funeral of a friend who was a very active member of the Scottish-American community in my area. Many men there were kilted. And among the tartan clad figures I spied more than one name tag. In a church. At a funeral.
Really? Is this the place for your name tags? Some people think so. The minister was not wearing a name tag. The grieving family were not wearing name tags. Absolutely none of the non-kilted guests were wearing name tags. And, I must say, most of the kilted guests were not wearing name tags. But a few were. Why?
I think it has to do with the tendency people have to view the kilt as a uniform. And no, you do not need to be in a regiment or a pipe band to see your kilt as being part of a uniform. For these people, the kilt is part of their "Scottish uniform," as in, "this is the outfit I wear when I do Scottish things." And the name tag has become part of that uniform.
I see a parallel in certain fraternal organizations. For example, at my Catholic parish, there are many men who belong to the Knights of Columbus. These men are not in the habit of generally wearing a name tag to Mass, or to pancake breakfasts or church picnics. However, if they are attending any of these events as a Knight of Columbus, with their tuxes, sashes, capes and fancy hats, you bet they will also be wearing a name tag. It's not because we all don't know who they are. It's because it is part of their uniform.
The kilt has become the same thing for many people in the Scottish-American community. If the kilt goes on, so does the name tag. It doesn't matter if they are attending a Highland Games, a Robert Burns Dinner, a Tartan Ball, a church service, or simply going for a hike. The name tag is pinned proudly to their chest.
I suppose part of the reason this bothers me is that I do so much to try to steer people away from the "kilt as uniform" mentality. It is not a uniform. It is an article of clothing that can be worn as a part of a uniform, but does not have to be. So wear your name tag when you are representing your clan society (or whatever) at the Highland Games. But leave it at home for Burns Night, or for that church service. You will look much better without it.
For formal functions especially, adding a plastic name tag to an otherwise elegant Highland outfit ruins the effect. It turns your nice formal clothing into... well, a costumed uniform. I don't know how else to put it. I have even known people to have their formal portraits made with their name tag on!
So let's all make an effort. The next time you don your kilt, if you have a name tag in your drawer, before you put it on, ask yourself, Is this really needed? Is this an appropriate situation where a name tag might be useful? Or am I just wearing it because that is what I am used to wearing with my kilt? If I were not wearing my kilt, would I still be wearing this name tag? If the answer is "no," best leave it home.
It's ok. So people might have to ask for your name. That will give them a good opportunity to also tell you theirs! And your kilt will look more like a natural part of your clothing rather than a uniform you have put on for the occasion. To me, that's a very good thing!