I'm a great fan of historical romance set in Scotland and my questions for the Wenches are: #1) When did Highland men change from wearing braies to kilts and did all Scottish men change over to kilts at the same time? and #2) How was the dirk worn inside their knee high sox kept in place so that it didn't fall out and/or slip down the stocking?
Thanks, Ingrid - glad you’re a fan of Scottish historicals! Here’s an overview of kilts and plaids (with emphasis on overview!):
#1) When did Highland men change from wearing braies to kilts and did all Scottish men change over to kilts at the same time? And #2) How was the dirk worn inside their knee high sox kept in place so that it didn't fall out and/or slip down the stocking?
Braies are loose shorts or trousers common throughout the medieval era. Worn long, they were like loose trousers, worn short and under shirts or tunics, they were basically medieval underwear. Braies were perhaps worn in the Celtic cultures too, but not as commonly.
In later centuries, Lowland and Highland men sometimes wore trews, which were like long braies, cut snug to the leg and loose in the crotch (you could dance some good hip-hop in a pair of braies or trews today). A rather fancy pair of Highland tartan trews with matching jacket and cape, worn by an 18th c. gentleman, can be seen in the National Museum of Scotland, and in this painting of Sir John Sinclair by Henry Raeburn.
But by far the most famous garment for the self-respecting Highland man was the wrapped or belted plaid, in the Gaelic breacan-an-fheilidh or feileadh-bhreacain (a wrapped tartan) or the feileadh-mor (great wrap). This was a considerable length of tartan fabric, wool woven of many colors and then folded, wrapped, belted at the waist with the long end piece tossed over the shoulder and pinned, all in a particular method. It was handy for bedding, for rain gear, camouflage, etc. Here's a gorgeous charcoal sketch by David Wilkie of a Highlander.
The wrapped plaid was typically worn without braies –- although Highlanders might have worn braies or trews beneath in very cold weather. They sometimes wrapped the long tails of their linen shirts (leine in Gaelic) and tucked the cloth inside the belt, diaper-like, so contrary to myth, they did actually wear underwear sometimes!
There’s some dispute among historians about when Highland Scots actually began wearing the wrapped plaid. Some maintain that it was not worn until the 16th century because there is no truly specific description of a belted plaid until then – but a dated written description may simply be the first extant reference to the plaid rather than a datable marker for the wearing of the plaid.
My own sense is that the Highland plaid garment evolved much earlier and endured through the centuries. The Romans, trying their best to get into the Highlands (they didn’t get very far, and finally built a wall to confine the Pictish Scots in the north) referred to the wrapped garments of many colors worn by Scots: “They all wrap themselves in a cloak that is fastened with a clasp,” says one Roman, while another writes “though they are fair of face and of comely bearing, they are much disfigured by their peculiar dress.” Odds are these early Scottish garments were precursors of the wrapped plaid of later Highlanders. Had the Romans seen Scots in tunics, they might have found the garments more familiar and less remarkable.
The kilt, or the lower skirted part of the wrapped plaid, was an 18th century development that came about when tailors created a more streamlined version of the traditional feilaidh-mor for clan chiefs and others who had no need for the multi-purpose yardage of the older style breacan, yet they wanted to wear the great plaid of their ancestors. After Culloden, tartans were proscribed and forbidden, but once the restrictions were lifted, the walking kilt ("kilt" originates from a Norse word, kjalta or pleated garment) came into greater use, and city tailors began to cut tartan cloth, pleating it neatly into belted knee-length skirts with detachable tartan sashes.
Thus began the ceremonial dress kilt for special occasions, as well as the evolution of the walking or everyday kilt for hunting on Scottish estates, as the kilt was practical and comfortable. It has become quintessentially Scottish -- and is still worn by Scots today for both formal occasions and on the streets of Edinburgh, for example. Historically, the kilt quickly overtook the wrapped plaid in the 19th century, although some native Highlanders in remote areas continued to wear the traditional wrapped style throughout the Clearances.
and #2) How was the dirk worn inside their knee high sox kept in place so that it didn't fall out and/or slip down the stocking?
The dirk in a stocking is usually the small dirk, sgian-dubh (or skean dhu) that's worn ceremonially or for tradition, and it's not much use or threat to anyone in the form worn the last couple hundred years - you might cut soft fruit with it but that's about it. The sgian-dubh is sheathed inside the sock. Historically these were small knives, sgian=hidden, dubh=black, often with a dark handle and concealed (hence "hidden" in the sock). Weapons were typically left at the door of a great hall, so little knives were not very useful except for cutting one's food. Women sometimes also carried small knives. A guest wielding a weapon inside a Highland hall was a very bad guest indeed, and even the worst of enemies respected the trust of the host's hall. Well, most of the time. A larger dirk was a serious weapon, razor-sharp and long enough to do real damage, and too big and dangerous to wear inside a stocking. That sort of dirk would be sheathed on the belt, under the drape of the wrapped plaid, and it was a badass blade indeed.
As for the bonny, sexy kilted Highland hero -- he is alive and well on historical romance covers. His costume has evolved too -- and while cover art may not be the most accurate, it definitely has its finer points! Here's one of my kilted heroes, and one of Nicola's too.
I hope this helps answer your questions, Ingrid. As a thank-you for sending a question to the Wenches for our Ask A Wench features, you win an autographed copy of one of my Highland romances!
Question for readers: What is it about a guy in a skirt? Do you prefer the bulky wrapped plaid of the sexy Highlanders of the 16th century – or the neat pleats of the modern kilt and ceremonial stockings worn with tux shirt and formal jacket, or with a denim jacket and Doc Martens?