Highland Dress and Kilt Etiquette

Kilt etiquette  (line of people wearing kilts)

Scottish or Highland dress is an alternative to formal British dress. It can be worn in Scotland or south of the border for certain occasions, eg a Scottish bridegroom may wear the kilt at his wedding, even if not held in Scotland. Highland dress is worn at the Royal Caledonian Ball held in London each spring. It may also be worn when ‘national dress’ is stipulated.

Highland dress for men

  • The kilt, fairly long, fastened with a pin, with a dress sporran. 
  • A plain white shirt, with either a black bow tie or a lace jabot. 
  • A Highland jacket (also called a doublet) with ornamental silver buttons. There are several styles but they are normally made from black or dark coloured barathea, broadcloth or dark velvet. They may be worn with a waistcoat. 
  • Knee-length socks or stockings (‘hose’), patterned, or green or red (never plain cream), secured with a silk garter (sometimes called a flash). A dagger or sgian dubh (pronounced ‘ski-an doo’) may be placed on the right-hand side. 
  • Black patent leather dancing pumps or buckled brogues are traditional. A black evening shoe is also acceptable. 

Highland Dress for Women

  • Some men prefer tartan trousers, ‘trews’, which may be worn with a velvet smoking jacket and black tie in place of dinner jacket trousers. Trews are always cut without a side seam.
  • A long dress, with a skirt full enough for dancing reels, is worn at Highland balls (eg the Skye Balls).
  • White dresses are often worn with sashes, particularly at formal balls, but some wear colours or patterns.
  • A tartan sash is worn diagonally. Clanswomen wear it over the right shoulder, across the breast and secured by a pin or small brooch on the right shoulder.
  • The wife of a clan chief or the wife of a colonel of a Scottish regiment would wear a slightly wider sash over the left shoulder, secured with a brooch on the left shoulder.
  • Non-clanswomen attending the balls should wear similar long dresses but without a sash.

It is best not to wear a specific tartan unless connected to a specific clan. Many Scottish clans have one or more tartans – typically dress tartan and hunting tartan – which may be worn by members of that clan and their wives. Daughters may continue to wear it after marriage. For Highland balls men not entitled to wear the kilt may wear black or occasionally white tie.

 

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