It is a question so often pondered, yet so rarely voiced, and is sure to have crossed your mind whenever you have seen someone sporting a stylish kilt.
Obviously, we are referring to wondering which clan their pattern represents. Why, what were you wondering?
This (extremely logical) question aside, there is another issue which tends to crop up in conversation, hidden in a hushed voice behind a raised palm…
Just what is worn under a kilt?
Ladies and gentlemen, all your questions are about to be answered. It’s time to get up close and personal with the underside of a kilt.
The Craic With Kilts
To delve beneath the kilt, it is essential that we totally understand their origins and popularity.
It hardly comes as a surprise that the sourcing of undergarments was not a massive priority in times gone by; most of the focus tended to be on staying alive. During the medieval period, Highlanders took to wearing a garment we now recognize as the forerunner to the modern-day kilt.
Known as the ‘shirt of saffron’ (or ‘leine croich’ if you are after 100% authenticity), this was a garment designed to be tucked inside the belted plaid, which was used to help distinguish and identify members of different clans. If the situation required it – such as a big battle or unseasonably warm weather, the men would remove the plaid, leaving only the long shirt remaining. Thus, the term “going commando” was born.
In time, this practice spread to the civilian sector, as the wearing of kilts became increasingly popular amongst non-military Scots, and the absence of undergarments was determined as the commonly accepted norm.
The History Books
A single piece of material characterized the humble kilt, and this originated in the Highlands. This choice was the perfect multifunctional item; the thick wool kept the wearer warm in freezing Scottish temperatures and also helped to keep water out during the harsh weather.
Kilts also doubled as blankets, cloaks, saddle cloths, and for a vast range of other functions – they were the perfect all in one clothing solution!
Initially, the kilt was the preserve of warriors and fighters and became the official uniform of the Scottish regiment. It was first mentioned in 1093 during a Magnus Berfaet saga, which saw King Magnus head to Western Scotland and adopts the local look. We are told that “they went about barelegged having short tunics and also upper garments, and so many men called him ‘Barelegged’ or ‘Barefoot.’
What Happened Next?
The kilt next cropped up in the sixteenth century, where poets describe a ‘great wrap’ or ‘tartan wrap,’ or sometimes a ‘belted plaid.’ Confused? Don’t be: these all seem to be referring to the same type of garment: the kilt.
1594 saw the first solid description of the kilt – “…their exterior dress was mottled cloaks to the calf of the leg with ties and fastenings. Their girdles were over the loins outside the cloaks.”
Bingo! The last sentence, in particular, lets the eagle-eyed observer understand. The belt was being worn on the outside – the hallmark of the modern kilt.
Different tartans helped to identify and mark out different clans, and this could be a lifesaver – sometimes literally – during battle.
Over time, the popularity trickled down to civilian life, and the kilt became a way to show affiliation and bonds, loyalty, and familial alliances.
Since then, this item has been a regular staple of many a Scottish wardrobe, which leads to our next issue: how on earth do you get dressed?
Just like the mystery of what lies beneath, the issue of actually getting into a kilt still remains somewhat curious. The answer seems to vary from one wearer to another, and clan to clan. Our personal favorite? The Lay!
When getting into an ancient kilt, or another kilt that is not pleated, you will have to take the time to pleat your kilt before wearing, as directed below. You can purchase “cheater pleats” to make this process easier. Many of our kilts are pleated already and do not need to be pleated by hand every time you wear them.
How To Get Into Your Kilt
- Layout the material on the ground, and gather the center into pleats. The goal is to have sections of folds about half the size of your waist at the center. Good news: you will not be marked on neatness.
- Lay down on the fabric. We are deadly serious. Keep your body parallel to the pleats you have made, and ensure the lower edge comes to just around the knee. Whether you favor a below the knee look or are wanting to flash the flesh is a personal choice.
- Wrap the ends around your waist and overlap from left to right. There is nothing set in stone, but this is the way kilts have always been tied.
- Secure the pleat in place with a leather belt.
- Attach any accessories, like a sporran or weaponry.
So: What DO You Wear Under A Kilt?
Now that we have a more comprehensive understanding of the origins of kilts, their function, form, and features, it is time to return to that all-important million-dollar question: just what are you supposed to wear underneath?
The answer seems to be a matter of personal choice, but on the whole, it seems that traditionally, wearers would dare to bare. This decision makes sense in the context of battle; the goal was to be able to move freely and flexibly, and anything weighing you down could literally be a matter of life or death.
Though kilts are no longer synonymous with battle and warfare, it seems that their approach to allowing everything to remain free and easy has persisted, with many wearers deciding that undergarments and a kilt didn’t feel quite right.
The kilt is a tribute to Highlanders and times long lost to the mists of the past, and part of this is the celebration and exhilaration of freedom, which can be found from an au naturel approach. With this in mind, it seems that most kilt wearers would prefer to dare to bare!
So next time you find yourself surrounded by kilt-clad friends, you can rest assured knowing the answer to one of the most commonly voiced questions. Whether this brings comfort or not is quite another story…
Check out the Celtic Croft for all of your Celtic needs. We have a large variety of kilts, as well as all of the accessories you need.