Originally, the type of Scottish tartan one wore indicated ones rank or position.  If only one colour was used, it depicted a servant; two, a farmer; three, an officer; five, a chieftain; six for a poet and seven for a Chief.  Eventually, clans or families adopted their own tartan, using a range of animal and earth colours which were frequently secret, only known to the weavers of the islands.  They included yellows, blues, whites, greens, browns, reds, black and purple. Some say that a keen eye can identify the colour with a particular island, almost like a wine taster can identify the year and the vineyard. 

     Different types of tartans emerged - dress, hunting, mourning, regional, royal and women's sets - the latter being black and white.  The Royal Stewart and Blackwatch tartans can be worn by anyone.


    Today's Highland Dress is distinctive, smart, martial, formal and known world wide as Scotland's national costume.  However, like the tartan itself, the origins of the kilt are surrounded by a degree of of controversy.  The Highlander of old (pre-1746) would often have worn the feileadh mor, Gaelic for a large piece of woolen tartan material wrapped round the body, belted at the waist and pinned over the shoulder.  It no doubt also served as a blanket while campaigning - the word 'plaid' is the Gaelic plaide meaning blanket which was a sensible garment that could provide warmth or be worn loose with the sword arm free.  Origins may lie with the ancient Roman or Celtic tunic. 

     Exactly when the fealeadh beg (filibeg), the tailored version worn from waist to knee, came into existence is open to debate.  One suggestion is that an Englishman in charge of an iron smelter at Invergarry around 1730, Thomas Rawlinson, suggested that his workforce would fare better at their work if they dispensed with the upper part of their garment and wore what we would describe as a kilt.  The word 'kilt' itself, although not Gaelic, is probably older.  A Scandinavian or old English root from a verb meaning 'to hitch up and fold a garment' seems most likely.  Today's kilt can be worn, particularly by pipers, with a plaid - a long piece of tartan wrapped round the upper body which, along with the kilt, is a modern version of the full feileadh mor of past times. 

    After the battle of Culloden in 1746, traditional Highland dress was banned along with the tartan from 1746-82.  However, Highland regiments were being formed in the Government army and most of these adopted the kilt and a tartan as part of their uniform.  From this martial background comes the style of today's Highland Dress.  When George IV visited Edinburgh in 1822, full Highland Dress was worn by almost everybody including King George himself thanks to the efforts of Sir Walter Scott.  The kilt became quite definitely the distinctive national dress of Scotland. 

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