Highland Men’s Clothing in the Mid-18th Century

Before the Battle of Culloden in 1746, what Highland men wore could be divided into two categories: Highland dress and non-Highland dress. When not in Highland dress, their clothing was similar to that being worn in the rest of western Europe, apart from the occasional addition of tartan here and there. Richer men could afford a greater variety of clothing, as well as better fabrics and cuts.

Highland dress, on the other hand, was very distinct. First, the man would have put on a loose-fitting thigh-length white linen shirt, which was also considered underwear and was often used as a nightshirt. Next, he would have put on belted plaid (known as the great kilt), a kilt or trews. Belted plaid consists of between four and six yards of sixty inch fabric. The pleats in the plaid were hand folded, and it was secured either by tying or belting it, or by the use of pins. A kilt was generally half the length of the great kilt, and the trews (the word originates from the Gaelic for trousers) were short tartan trousers, made of wool and worn with thigh-high socks.

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A couple of our volunteers dressed as Jacobite soldiers


On his top half, the man would have worn a waistcoat and a woollen coat or jacket. The waistcoats were usually cut a little longer than the jackets, and both were shorter than average so that they could be easily worn with the kilts. The waistcoat and Highland jacket were usually of different tartans. A neckerchief was also worn, which offered a little protection against blades.

The Highland bonnet was made of wool and was usually blue, green or red. It was at least twelve inches in width and was worn flat across the head. On the bonnet a white cockade (fabric fashioned in the shape of a rose) was attached to show that the wearer was a Jacobite. A sprig of the man’s clan plant would have been worn at the front of the bonnet so that he could be identified, and the chiefs, sub-chiefs and other senior clan officials would also wear feathers on their bonnets.

Highland men wore brogues, worn with woollen bag socks. The brogues tied, and if he had enough money, a man could buy better-quality brogues that came with a buckle. Riding boots were worn with trews, but not kilts; men wearing kilts either went barefoot or wore gillies (open sandal-like shoes that tied up the calf). Along with the chosen weapons, a man would have also worn a belt and a sporran. The sporran was necessary for carrying money and other small important objects, as the kilt had no pockets.

The Royal Dress Act of 1746, which was introduced several months after the Battle of Culloden, greatly restricted the wearing of Highland dress. Certain groups of people, such as the gentry, men serving in the Highland regiments and women, were exempt from the ban; for others, however, harsh punishment was promised to those caught wearing Highland dress; for example, if a man was caught wearing Highland dress twice, he ran the risk of being sent to a plantation for seven years.

We hope your enjoyed this little foray into clothing. As always please like, share, tweet and comment.

All the best, The Culloden Team


Highland Women’s Clothing in the Mid-18th Century

Unlike that of their male contemporaries, in the mid-1700s women’s clothing in the Highlands did not differ much from what was being worn in the Lowlands, England or the rest of western Europe.

The distinctive arasaid (Gaelic: earrasaid or earasaid), a large piece of plain, striped or tartan fabric that covered the head and wrapped around the body, had been worn often at the beginning of the century; as the years passed, it gradually became less and less popular, until eventually it was mainly worn just by women of the Western Isles. The Royal Dress Act of 1746, which restricted the use of tartan, did not apply to women, and so tartan was sometimes included in a woman’s outfit, often as the print for a modesty cloth or scarf. The general items worn at the time are detailed below, but as is the case today, factors such as the woman’s wealth, age and occupation, as well as personal preference, varied things significantly.

Depiction of an arasaid


The first thing put on would have been a shift. A shift was a long white garment, which often doubled as a nightgown, and it was worn to separate the body from the clothes that were to be put on top; in an age when daily bathing was not common, this was considered necessary in order to preserve the other items of clothing. Next, the woman would have put on stays, a tight linen garment heavily reinforced with whalebone on the top, and structured with whalebone or cane at the bottom. Stays were worn to help obtain the fashionable hourglass shape, to provide a rigid structure over which the outer clothes could be arranged, and prevent curvature of the spine in cases of rickets and similar conditions.

Following this base, she would have worn a dress, which could be plain, striped or printed, or a petticoat, skirt and some sort of fitted sleeved garment on top, such as a day jacket, casaquin, bed gown or short gown (which reached mid-thigh). Rich women would also have had ball gowns and riding habits, and would have chosen costly imported fabrics and dyes for their clothes; those with more limited means used local plants for homemade dyes. Some examples are brambles, which were used for a burnt orange colour, braken for yellow, elderberries for blue and sundew for purple.

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Example of 18th Century pockets


Finally she might have worn an apron, depending on her rank and occupation, and pockets (cloth bags) which were connected with a string, tied around the waist under the petticoat or apron, and accessed through slits. Bits and pieces, such as money, thimbles and keys, would be kept in these pockets, hidden from view. A modesty cloth would have been tied about the neck, and, unless young and unmarried, a woman covered her head with a scarf or a cotton cap.

Shoes varied a lot from class to class. Women who did not need to work would have softer, flimsier shoes, purchased for how fashionable they were rather than their sturdiness; a working woman would have had plainer shoes, made of leather or wood, sometimes with a buckle of ties. Many woman had only one pair of shoes, and so apart from in winter, they were worn only at church in an effort to maintain them.

We hope you enjoyed this little insight in women’s fashion. As always please like, share, tweet, comment and if you visit Culloden you may see one of our volunteers dressed in outfits like those described.

All the best, The Culloden Team

Was Tartan Really Banned?

Following the defeat of the Jacobites at Culloden and the eventual end of the ’45 Jacobite Rising came the Dress Act of 1746 which essentially banned the wearing of ‘Highland Clothes’ by anyone, as of 1st August 1747. From this stems the belief, by some, that this meant the banning of tartan, but, is this fact or fiction?

To be able to answer this question we need to look back to the full history of this Act which starts a good while earlier than 1746. To understand the Dress Act you have to consider it not as a singular entity but part of a much larger history.

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Culloden Tartan


First, it is wise to look at the Disarming Act of 1716. After King George I took the throne in 1714, as the first Hanoverian king, there followed the 1715 Jacobite rising. This Rising saw over 12,000 Jacobites take up arms against the King but were eventually defeated. The aftermath saw harsh penalties against the Jacobites in an attempt to prevent them regrouping and challenging the throne again. The Disarming Act was an attempt by the Government to limit the strength of the Jacobite men. Unfortunately, for the Government, the Act was very ineffective. While those loyal to the King may indeed have handed over their weapons, for those not loyal the Act pushed them further away and many hid their weapons and handed over old rusted blades that were of no use anyway.

In 1719 the Jacobites tried again with a short lived Rising and this led to the Disarming Act of 1725 which was ‘An act for the more effectual disarming the highlands in that part of Great Britain called Scotland; and for the better securing the peace and quiet of that part of the kingdom‘ This time General Wade led the movement and was more successful in seizing weapons with some suggesting he managed to gather roughly 2,500 weapons, but still many families hid their swords and guns away from the Governments eyes.

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A couple of our volunteers in typically 18th Century outfits


So, in 1745 there were still Jacobites ready to come and support Prince Charles Edward Stuart. Following their eventual defeat the Government took clear steps to ensure that there would be no hope of any further risings. In 1746 they brought out the Act of Proscription. This was similar to the Disarming Act but the penalties for not conforming were more severe and it is under the Act of Proscription that we find the clause that became known as The Dress Act.

The Dress Act stated that ‘That from and after the first day of August, one thousand seven hundred and forty seven, no man or boy, within that part of Great Briton called Scotland, other than shall be employed as officers and soldiers in his Majesty’s forces, shall on any pretence whatsoever, wear or put on the clothes commonly called Highland Clothes (that is to say) the plaid, philibeg, or little kilt, trowse, shoulder belts, or any part whatsoever of what peculiarly belongs to the highland garb; and that no tartan, or partly-coloured plaid or stuff shall be used for great coats, or for upper coats’  Anyone found breaking these rules could be imprisoned for six months, and, if they were caught again, they could be sent to a plantation overseas for seven years.

So, here we can see that the Dress Act does not completely ban tartan as many people believe, it only banned it for certain parts of clothing. Also, it is worth remembering the ban did not apply to men serving in Highland Regiments or to the Gentry, sons of Gentry or women and according to the Act it only affected Scotland. The Act did however affect men who had fought for the Government army as well as the Jacobite army. So, even if you fought for the Government they could still arrest you for breaking the Dress Act making it much more than just an action against Jacobites.

It wasn’t until 1782 that the act was repealed on 1st July. However, it would take many further years before the Highland dress returned to the mainstream and even then it was worn by many more for occasions and not as everyday wear.

We hoped you enjoyed this little insight into the Dress Act and as always please like, share, comment, tweet and keep joining us for more titbits.

All the best, K & D