If you are looking to purchase a kilt or look at our men’s kilt rental section (including Scottish kilt rental and Irish kilt rental options), you can familiarize yourself with the history of the kilt by reading the information below.
History of the Kilt
The history of the kilt stretches back to at least the end of the 16th century. Although the kilt is an item of traditional Scottish highland dress, the nationalism of that tradition is relatively recent. It was only with the Romantic Revival of the early 19th century that the highland kilt was adopted by Lowlanders and the Scottish Diaspora as a symbol of national identity. People from other countries with Celtic connections, some Irish, Cornish, Welsh and Manx, have also adopted tartan kilts in recent times, although to a lesser degree. Similar clothing had long been abandoned by related cultures such as Gauls, and Scandinavians.
The kilt first appeared as the great kilt, a full length garment whose upper half could be worn as a cloak draped over the shoulder, or brought up over head as a cloak. The small kilt or walking kilt (similar to the 'modern' kilt) did not develop until the late 17th or early 18th century, and is essentially the bottom half of the great kilt.
The word kilt comes from the Scots word kilt meaning to tuck up the clothes around the body.
The Outlawing of the Scottish Kilt 1746
A characteristic of the Highland clan system was that clansmen felt loyalty only to God, their monarch, and their Chief. The Jacobite Risings demonstrated the dangers to central government of such warrior Highland clans, and as part of a series of measures the government of King George II imposed the "Dress Act" in 1746, outlawing all items of Highland dress including kilts (although an exception was made for the Highland Regiments) with the intent of suppressing highland culture. The penalties were severe; six months' imprisonment for the first offense and seven years' transportation for the second. The ban remained in effect for 35 years.
Thus, with the exception of the Army, the kilt went out of use in the Scottish Highlands, but during those years it became fashionable for Scottish romantics to wear kilts as a form of protest against the ban. This was an age that romanticized "primitive" peoples, which is how Highlanders were viewed. Most Lowlanders had viewed Highlanders with fear before 1745, but many identified with them after their power was broken. The kilt, along with other features of Gaelic culture, had become identified with Jacobitism, and now that this had ceased to be a real danger it was viewed with romantic nostalgia.
Once the ban was lifted in 1782, Highland landowners set up Highland Societies with aims including "Improvements" (which others would call the Highland clearances) and promoting "the general use of the ancient Highland dress". The Celtic Society of Edinburgh, chaired by Walter Scott, encouraged lowlanders to join this antiquarian enthusiasm.
The Kilt Picks Up Momentum
The kilt became identified with the whole of Scotland with the pageantry of the visit of King George IV to Scotland in 1822, even though 9 out of 10 Scots now lived in the Lowlands. Scott and the Highland societies organized a "gathering of the Gael" and established entirely new Scottish traditions, including Lowlanders wearing a stylized version of the traditional garment of the Highlanders. At this time many other traditions such as clan identification by tartan were developed (prior to this, tartans were identified with regions, not specific clans).
After that point the kilt gathered momentum as an emblem of Scottish culture as identified by romantics, and others, who spent much effort praising the "ancient" and natural qualities of the kilt. King George IV had appeared in a spectacular kilt, and his successor Queen Victoria dressed her boys in the kilt, widening its appeal. The kilt became part of the Scottish national identity.
Kilts in the Military
From 1624 the Independent Companies of Highlanders had worn kilts as government troops, and with their formation into the Highland regiment in 1739 their great kilt uniform was standardized with a new dark tartan.
Many Jacobite rebels adopted kilts as an informal uniform, with even their English supporters wearing tartan items during the Jacobite Rising of 1745. In the aftermath of that rebellion the Government decided to form more Highland regiments for the army in order to direct the energies of Gaels, that "hardy and intrepid race of men". In doing so they formed effective new army regiments to send to fight in India, North America, and other locations while lowering the possibility of rebellion at home. Army uniforms were exempt from the ban on wearing kilts in the "Dress Act", and as a means of identification the regiments were given different tartans. These regiments opted for the modern kilts for dress uniforms, and while the great kilt remained as undress uniform this was phased out by the early 19th century.
Many Scottish units wore kilts in combat during WWI. In particular, the ferocious tactics of the Royal Highland Regiment led to their acquiring the nickname "Ladies from Hell" from the German troops that faced them in the trenches. The kilt was last worn in action near the start of WWII, in 1940.
Kilt Rental USA provides men’s kilt rental and children’s kilt rental for those who want to share their heritage and wear their heritage proudly. We have a large selection of kilts to choose from, including Scottish kilt rental, Irish kilt rental, Welsh kilt rental and more. Whether you wish to browse the men’s kilt rental section, children’s kilt options, or purchase your own kilt, tartan, or accessories, Kilt Rental USA ensures customer satisfaction. Our quality men’s kilt rental products are the perfect addition to any wedding or special occasion. With products for Scottish kilt rental, Irish kilt rental, Welsh kilt rental and more, we guarantee quality kilts for whatever occasion you’re looking to celebrate. A total of 99 percent of the kilts from Kilt Rental USA, both for men’s kilt rental (including Scottish kilt rental, Irish kilt rental, and Welsh kilt rental) as well as kilts for purchase are authentic and come from Scotland.