How to wear a plaid

The plaid has to be the characteristic dress of the Highlander in the 18th Century but making it look good requires a bit of skill. Trust me I have tried it and there’s definitely an art to it that I do not have.

Before we begin though it’s important to say what a plaid actually is. The term plaid comes from the Gaelic ‘plaide’ which means blanket (pronounced ‘platchuh’) and in its simplest terms it is a piece of tartan roughly 5 metres (18 feet) long and about 5 foot wide. This was then pleated and styled into the plaid. The cloth was so large that looms of the day were not wide enough to make it in one go so two pieces of material were actually sewn together along the long edge to make the plaid.

To begin the centre of the plaid was pleated. Roughly two thirds of the plaid was folded into pleats reducing the length to about five feet. This was then gathered around the man with the bottom edge falling at the knees. The top half would then be rearranged, typically drawn up to the left shoulder  and fastened with a brooch leaving the right arm free.  Extra material would be tucked in at the waist to create pockets.

Our volunteer John showing the plaid

The plaid could also be used in poor weather to cover the shoulders and arms from the cold and there are some who believe in cold weather men would actually dip their plaid in water as wetting it would allow the wool to swell offering better protection against the wind and cold. In sub-zero temperatures this could also create a layer of thin ice on the surface of the plaid which would further insulate the owner.

Wrapped over the shoulders for warmth

In times of battle many men would take off the weighty plaid and charge naked from the waist down towards their enemies. (Thankfully i don’t have a picture of this to terrify you with)

In most places you’ll find it noted that plaids were made up first by lying out and pleating the fabric and then the Highlander would lay down on top of the pleats and wrap the fabric around himself securing at the waist. However, with up to 21 feet of material this was likely to be unmanageable for all but the wealthy as there would be no room inside for such masses of fabric and laying it out in the wind and rain seems rather impractical. Quite possibly many people may have had the plaid already pleated and ready to secure so would simply have to take it off its hook and secure it to them via a belt of rope therby eliminating the need for a large room to prepare.

A look at the pleats on the back

The traditional plaid was banned in 1747 following the Battle of Culloden when it was ruled that anyone wearing the plaid, trews or tartans should be imprisoned for six months for their first offense and transported for seven years if they were caught again.

One final shot of John

Hopefully you’ve found this interesting and i hope you are all about to go and grab a blanket and give it a shot.

As always like, follow, reblog, share, tweet, comment and be sure to strut around your house with pride whilst wearing your new plaid. All the best K & D


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