All About Kilts (Paper #3) – by Alex Woody

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Photo credit: 21st Century Kilt
Photo credit: 21st Century Kilt

Fashion is an important staple in mass media. It decides who, what, and why we wear the outfits we wear. All over the world, big fashion names like Dolce & Gabbana, Versace, Chanel, and Alexander McQueen travel through the year releasing the new outfits and styles that are ‘in’ for the time period. Normally, a person could sneer at these outfits and say they’re vain and expensive, but through the work of clever marketing and placement it’s a respected part of the industry. Films feature designers, commercials feature designers, and it’s embedded so finely in our culture that it has just came a natural way of life.

Photo credit: Pixshark
Photo credit: Pixshark

In Scotland, the fashion piece ‘kilt’ has been a long respected part of Scottish culture. A kilt is a denim knee-length garment resembling a skirt worn by men. Typically, the stereotype of kilts is that they are worn by red-headed Scottish men who play bagpipes, this is a common misconception that’s generally been provoked by countless children’s cartoons in the last ten years depicting the Scottish in such a fashion. In reality, the kilt in Edinburgh is a hit or miss fashion piece. Sometimes you pass a busker playing bagpipes with a kilt, sometimes you pass guards who wear kilts, and sometimes you just see teenagers who wear it because it’s what they fancy.

Photo credit: Harper Collins
Photo credit: Harper Collins

One of the first documented uses of a kilt was in the 16th century. Back then, it was used as a full body clothing that wrapped around the shoulders. This contrasts very differently from the modern kilt, which wraps around the hips and appears just as a modern women’s skirt. The modern kilt that you see people wear today in Scotland was not developed until the late 17th century, then called a walking kilt because it made every day actives more practical. While it is not known why the kilt was original invented, one could assume that comfort had some play in the original design, while also adding a sense of pride and fashion for the male figure, who was then generally expected to dress in the same colored attire. While the original kilt was used in the military, it was soon banned in a Dress Act in Scotland because the government wanted control of warrior clans. However, this act was appealed approximately forty years later and the kilt continued to be an important part of the Scottish fashion culture. I find it interesting how the Scottish adopted the kilt in their military uniform. While it might provide comfort, I don’t necessarily see a kilt as a practical outfit to wear in a combat. However, I did notice that some guards around the street still wear kilts, so maybe they just know what they are doing.

Photo credit: Jack Collier
Photo credit: Jack Collier

The Royal Mile is a collection of streets in the heart of Edinburgh. In the Royal Mile, independently owned shops, pubs, and eateries make up a highlight for my trip through Edinburgh. In the Royal Mile, you can find countless shops that sell novelty and authentic kilts, and I noted how interesting and out of the ordinary this advertising was. While in America we have become so accustomed to the fashion ads, in Scotland they seem to reject that. In Scotland, the fashion is very similar and it all blends in together. Kilts look the same as they did hundreds of years ago, and they are sold and manufactured on the same (albeit larger scale) model.

Advertisements for kilts are surprisingly slim. While I guess this can be attributed to the fact that it’s not needed, because it’s such a commonly noted fashion staple in the country. Upon researching, I did manage to find some commercials relating to kilts, but most of them were tongue in cheek and not advertising a specific brand, and that’s primarily because authentic kilts are generally not mass produced. Either specially tailored or sold in a mom and pop shop, these kilts are the ones generally worn by the locals. While the ones made for novelty found in souvenir shops do not have the same craft as the authentic ones, they have a more flashy and bright appeal to their marketing. The souvenir shops I examined (one called Great Scot, which I thought was a very funny homage to Back to the Future) had more flashy signs pointing customers to their kilts. The advertisements had clip art and colorful lettering to draw customers into buying one. I found it interesting that the novelty kilts, which are significantly cheaper than the authentic kilts because of the materials, need more flashy advertisements to sell the product. One would think that tourists, a big target demographic for non-local sales, would be automatically drawn to the cheaper prices so the more authentic kilts would need the help lifting the product, but from the looks of things the product was selling well.

I should note, however, that while kilts are advertised entirely differently, that does not mean that Scotland (or Edinburgh for that manner) has exempted themselves from our style of advertising. After you travel beyond the Royal Mile just past the train station, you can find yourself very easily surrounded by the designer stores that you can find anywhere else in the world. Primark, Zara, H&M, and Forever 21 still exist in Scotland, but the kilt is not adapted to those chains (yet).

Photo credit: BBC
Photo credit: BBC

The kilt is a very important fashion item for the Scottish people. While it is not something I could ever find myself wearing, I do have respect for the Scottish folk for not resorting to the somewhat ‘demeaning’ way of advertising kilts that America (and pretty much any other part of the world) users to advertise designer clothes at expensive prices. The kilt is a very vital part of Scottish culture, and it will continue to be for many years to come. While the people who craft kilts do not necessarily use flashy ways to advertise their product like we have become so accustomed to, they still manage to lift their products off the shelves because it’s just became a part of Scottish pride.

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