The History of the Scottish Kilt


Hello, my lovely lads and lasses!

The kilt is one of the most recognizable national garments in medieval and modern Scotland! It’s a sacred symbol of patriotism for the proud Scots! But how did the kilt originate and what is its history? Let’s find out! 

It started back in the 16th century, and it’s name is said to derive from the Old Norse word “kjalta” which means “the garment that is gathered and folded around the body”. Pretty literal, huh?

MacIan Print – shows the romance of Highland Dress. Image source


The Great Kilt

You can wear the kilt in two ways: as a belted plaid or “great kilt”, which was the original, or as a small (or walking) kilt, which is similar to the modern kilt and was developed in the late 17th century! 

Those who wore the great kilt were usually male Highlanders of northern Scotland. These garments were quite multifunctional, due to their wideness and length: they were referred to as a léine (Gaelic for “shirt”) and could be used as shirts, cloaks, or even blankets at night! 

Highland soldier in 1744, an early picture of a Government Tartan great kilt, with the plaid being used to protect the musket lock from rain and wind. Image source: Wikipedia


The Small Kilt

Then you have the “small kilt”! It was developed later, and in Gaelic is called “fèileadh beag”. It’s essentially the bottom half of the great kilt! It is stated that the garment that people recognize as a kilt today, was invented in the 1720s, by Thomas Rawlinson. Rawlinson produced a kilt which consisted of the lower half of the belted plaid, to help him move freely around when working. 

At that time, in an effort to repress the Highlanders, King George II made it illegal to wear these types of garments! However, our brave Scots defied the King and continued to wear the kilt as a form of protest against the oppression of the English King! 

Three Tartans. Image source: Wikipedia. 

The Tartans

Did you know? The colors and tartan patterns you see today in modern kilts weren’t the same that were used originally. Since they didn’t have the technology to create these patterns, they colored them themselves, in white, brown, green or black. The dyes were produced from lichen, tree bark, plants’ roots, or from the leaves of berries and various plants. These products were boiled in water, and the process could last up to 14 days! 

Later on, our wonderful kilts developed to have the tartan pattern, which actually represents clans, families, regions or countries (which we can learn about in another article ;)). 

From the 19th century onward, the kilts were mostly worn in ceremonial events and special occasions, such as weddings, sporting events, Highland games, etc. 

The kilt is now part of the Scottish national identity, as well as the wider Gaelic identity. We are so proud of our brave Scotsmen, who were determined to keep wearing their kilt! 

A bagpiper wearing a traditional kilt. Image source.

Do you like kilts? Did you enjoy my article, dear lad/lassie? 

Let me know!

Until next time…

Written by Lydia Kendall
  • Gwen says:

    Enjoyed reading this article

  • Vicky says:

    It is never answered what if any undergarments they wear.

  • Joy says:

    Very Interesting. Kilts were originally a versatile piece of clothing

  • Judy says:

    Nice to learn the use of the kilt. Also nice to know the time frame of the change in the wearing of long and short kilts. I am Scotch Irish so I enjoy learning about my ancestral clothing.

  • Donna says:

    A very interesting topic. Love the men who wear the kilt. They should be proud of their colors, clans and families from years ago.

  • Bonnie Jacobson says:

    Thank you for this most informative and interesting historical review of the Scottish tradition of Kilts. I knew nothing about them except that men wear them in Scotland, mostly for traditional events … like parades and things.

    • Cobalt Fairy says:

      Thank you Bonnie! That’s what we are here for, to help you learn more about our favorite cultures 🙂

  • Suellen says:

    From this article I learn more about the Scottish garments. The reason for the different styles. Thank you for sharing.

  • Jo Q says:

    My uncle Scottie would give all of his great nieces a Gordon plaid skirt every other Christmas. He taught us to be proud of our heritage. Thanks for the article.

  • Bernie says:

    Yes I ❤️ a man ina kilt

  • Connie Rasmuson says:

    Very interesting

  • Deborah Camden says:

    Nice article Lydia , and as usual very informative! I had also learned somewhere, that the women who were responsible for dying the wool that the Kilts were made from often soaked it in their urine and worked it into the fabric in order to make the colors more colorfast; or less likely to fade over time.

  • Patti Hughes says:

    Hi Lydia, we Welsh people also have kilts. These days mostly worn at weddings.
    I would love to see my Hubby of 49 years in a kilt, he is certainly very braw enough to wear one, at 15 stones & 6 foot 2 inches.
    Back to reading my lovely book of yours.
    Patti xxx

  • Karen Ratcliffe says:

    I was hoping you would answer the age old question of what is worn under the kilt!

  • carol says:

    Awesome

  • Rita Limmer Walsh says:

    My husband plays the pipes, and I love the sway of a kilt when they are marching…it is like it is swaying in tune with the music!

  • Jean M. Martin says:

    Love reading about the kilts ! Surprised the colors lasted only 14 days !

    • Cobalt Fairy says:

      The process of coloring the kilts lasted up to 14 days! The colors would last for a good while 🙂

  • Patricia says:

    Enjoyed the history Part of the reason for banning kilts was to infiltrate the Scots and teach them humility. How did that work out for the King?

  • Tom says:

    That was very educational. I never knew the history of the kilt. I can see where the full kilt could keep them warm.

  • Joanne Boll says:

    I’ve always wanted to know about the McDowalded kilt . Our family never seemed to know much about it.

  • Joyce says:

    I am a Gordon and bought a lady’s long kilt while I lived in East Anglia, England, while I lived there 1973-1982.

  • Wilma says:

    I enjoyed the article I knew some of the details of tartan as my granny used to tell us all about the McGregor clan and tartan. She also told us her grain used to say when they needed to die the colours all the women would sit and drink the ale then they would pee into a bucket to use the urine to keep the colour.I thought she was telling us fibs until I saw it on the series of Outlander.

  • Karen says:

    I did enjoy the article but thought it may have omitted some interesting information. I’ve believed that nothing was worn under a kilt-is this true or just a fantasy of mine?

  • Kathie says:

    Great piece of history!

  • Janet Gaston says:

    Love the look of kilts!

  • Joyce says:

    Did they wear anything under them, I read that they did at one time, I guess the air felt better for them.

  • Kilts have always fascinated me. I have always wondered about their under garments and the effect that the weather had on their Kilt wardrobes. The Scots are so very masculine and gregarious and mystical. I adore the garb and the legends‼️

  • Joan says:

    I would like to see how the kilt is actually put on. If possible. I’m 76yrs. and will never get to Scotland to see a real Scotsmen wrap it around to stay on. I love everything Scots, and your stories. Sincerely, Joanie.

    • Cobalt Fairy says:

      They have an intricate way of fastening it around their waist! We might learn more about it next time 😉

  • Carol says:

    Love your article, went to Scotland a few years ago and seen a few men wearing them. Including a soldier in the Black Watch, yum!

  • Violet Liles says:

    I really enjoy the articles you write about I love reading anything historical Keep giving us more

  • Lana says:

    enjoyed

  • Sherry Pollock says:

    I really enjoyed your article on the history of kilts. I have researched my husband’s family tartan and found it is light brown, green,cream and a touch of yellow. Now I know it’s history. Thank you so much.

  • Lorraine Flint says:

    Thank you so much

  • Robin Blanks-Guster says:

    Loved the article. I’ve always loved the kilts and the tartan patterns! Robin B-G

  • Magda says:

    I love the article, and I love the Scots!

  • Philomena says:

    Thanks, great information!!

  • Hi, I’ve always had a love of Scotland and the Scottish. I read historical romance novels and love all Scottish history. I just found out that the U.S. banned haggis from being sold, people have improvised it. I watch Outlander and OOH LA LA. I wish to go there some day. I enjoyed your article, keep writing. Take care, Sharon

    • Cobalt Fairy says:

      Thank you, Sharon! Oh my, they did?! That’s awful! We all love Outlander, it’s a wonderful series!

  • Shelby says:

    Would hate to have to wear one if I was a man, seems like they would be terrible without any tights under them for warmth. Strange then women couldn’t show ther ankle but men could show their legs.

  • Janice says:

    Very interesting article. Love to read anything about Scotland.

  • Cheryl Grimshaw says:

    Thank you. The most memorable connection I have with the kilt occurred on the Isle of Skye. On a spring cold Sunday morning we were driving through a rural area traversing through various flocks of sheep. We ban hearing a fainting melancholy tune. As we crested a hill it became clear we were hearing a bag piper. He suddenly came into view and the tune became recognizable as “Amazing Grace.” The vision of the kilted shepherd and the emotions he evoked have lasted 35 years!

  • Cheryl Grimshaw says:

    Line 5 was the result of auto correct.
    Should read:
    We had been hearing a faintly melancholy tune.

  • Betty says:

    Enjoyed this article about kilts. I love kilts. I also love your books. Keep them coming.

  • Michele says:

    Thank you.

  • Elaine says:

    Thankyou so much for the very interesting story
    On the kilt Lydia and for sharing it I thought it was very informative.look forward to more of them

  • Jean says:

    Love reading these articles. Keep writing please. Got to love a man in a kilt.!

  • Sam in NH says:

    Thank you, Lydia the article about the kilts was very interesting. Do they wear the original kilt anymore?

  • Irene Gray says:

    I love kilts!! Long before Outlander & Jaime, I used to wear them myself as a girl. My mother thought they were so lovely & I really liked the red ones with the Black Watch tartan second. I think that one would have to have the legs to wear this kilt ‘cos knobbly knees & skinny shanks just look terrible under the kilt.

  • Barb Hisey says:

    A handsome man in a kilt – there is nothing better!! Love your books.

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