Ever since Utilikilt hit the scene in Seattle back in the early 2000s, I’ve wanted a “utility kilt.” Yeah, the phenomenon was kind of a hipster thing, but I didn’t care. I thought the concept was fantastic, badass and, well, utilitarian. But the damn things were priced way beyond what I was willing to pay. The market has since worked its magic — with athletes, construction workers, hikers and scores of others pushing the fashion well beyond the merely hip — and there are now a goodly number of companies producing quality utility kilts at a manageable price.
I had an exceptional weekend of book sales over Labor Day, so I said hell with it and went ahead and sprung for a brown “sport utility” kilt from Damn Near Kilt ’Em. Wish I’d done it years ago. It’s just the ticket for hiking and for the Frontier Partisan Biathlon. Comfortable, full range of motion. And… it’s a kilt.
You can’t help but swagger just a little in a kilt. The swing of the kilt just adds a bit of insouciance to your stride, which is a fancy French-derived word for Zero Fucks Given. Just so.
The kilt is the national garment of one of the great Frontier Partisan cultures, the Scottish Highlanders. My own Scots blood is pretty attenuated — there are some MacBeans (or MacBees) in the maternal tree that were apparently planted in Northern Ireland and then crossed the Atlantic in the 18th century and trod the frontier trail through Appalachian Kentucky and Tennessee before migrating north to southern Indiana — but I can’t claim a clan tartan or any suchlike. My bloodline is actually mostly Germanic. Not that it matters. As you all know by now, my soul responds strongly to the culture, history and music of the Highland Gael — whatever the source of that mystic tie may be.
The kilt was so strongly identified with the Highland warrior ethos that it was banned right along with firearms by the British after they crushed the last Highland Jacobite uprising at Culloden in April 1746. The only way to legally wear the kilt was to join a Highland regiment in the British Army. Those regiments became some of the most storied in the army, serving in North America through the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. In the 19th century, the popularity of author Sir Walter Scott made Scottish heritage not only respectable, but downright Romantic. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert affected Highland dress when in residence at Balmoral Castle, and the kilt came back into common wear, at least as ceremonial attire.
The Celtic Croft serves up a nice history of the kilt.
Traditional Kilts: Great & Ancient Kilts
The great kilt is also known as the belted plaid or the feileadh mhor. Covering both the wearer’s top and bottom, the garment’s height is twice the width of the weaver’s loom. A double length tartan is cut in even lengths and sewn side to side. The top portion can be worn over the shoulders, with pockets made from tucks along the belt. The lower portion is pleated around the waist.
An Ancient Kilt is similar, but only single width height rather than double width, with extra length below which is worn up over the shoulder.
The Little Kilt
The little kilt, small kilt, or feileadh beag is simply the bottom portion of the great kilt, a single length tartan plaid, with permanent pleats. The more traditional great kilt it should be noted is folded into pleats with each wear.
The little kilt has been in use since the 1730s. Thomas Rawlinson, an Englishman who managed an ironworks in Argyll, is credited with its invention. The story goes that he didn’t like the top kilt when it became wet. Since he couldn’t take the top half off without the bottom, he had them separated.
Modern Kilts descend from the little kilt and come in formal, casual, or sport / hiking or utility and cargo styles.
Predictably, I like my kilt so much that I want another. That Damn Near Kilt ’Em “tactical kilt” looks like a promising upgrade for the backwoods. And I have that 10 percent off coupon…