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.
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