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What Goes With the Kilt?
by Matthew Newsome ©2005
published in the Scottish Banner, April 2005

I’d like to start this month’s column with a true story, something that I witnessed at a popular Highland Games just this past year. A man was visiting our tent, who was a new kilt wearer (I know because I sold him his first kilt). With his kilt, he purchased just about everything you might want to wear to have tea with the Queen. But what he was wearing that day was a sleeveless biker t-shirt and a black leather vest covered with patches. You see, my friend was also a motorcycle enthusiast, and had ridden his bike (kilt on!) to the Games.
He was glancing over some tartan swatches and found one that he liked. “I think I’ll get my next kilt in that!” he proclaimed. To which a colleague of mine said, “Just don’t wear it with that shirt. That may be fine on your motorcycle, but you shouldn’t wear it with the kilt!”

My friend, the new kilt wearer, was concerned. I assured him later that he could wear whatever he wanted with his kilt. You see, I would never wear what my friend had on that day because it simply is not my style. I don’t think it would look good on me. But my friend is a biker. That’s his thing, and he wears that type of clothing often with his pants, so why not with his kilt? He wouldn’t wear it to a formal occasion, but this was Friday at a Highland Games — hardly a black tie affair. He was perfectly within his right to wear whatever he pleased.

Generally speaking, there are two types of people who wear the kilt. The first are those for whom the kilt is part of the uniform of a regiment, pipe band, or other organization with a dress code. They will of course have legitimate restrictions on what they can and cannot wear with their kilt in that context.

The second type of kilt wearer, whom I am addressing in this column, is he who simply wishes to wear a kilt as a piece of clothing, and not as part of a costume. Assuming you are one of these people (and if you are not, I hope you will become so), here is the guiding principle you should follow: Treat your kilt as if it were simply a pair of pants.

That’s it. Just wear your kilt as if it were another pair of pants. What would you wear with a pair of pants? How would you accessorize? You can wear the same with your kilt.

Obviously, one does not wear long hose, garters, or a sporran with their trousers. That is not what I am talking about here. I’m talking about questions like what shoes to wear, or what type of shirt or tie. If you have the fashion sense to match a shirt and tie to a particular shade of khaki slacks, then you can certainly match up something that looks good with your kilt.

As far as shoes go, there are really only two things to consider — comfort and occasion. If you are going to a formal affair, then by all means wear dress shoes. While the long-laced ghillie brogues certainly look nice, they are by no means a necessity. Any dress shoes you would wear with a suit will look just fine with your kilt. But if you are not going to a formal affair, wear whatever shoes are most comfortable. If you are going to be walking all day long around the fields at the Games, by all means wear something with good support. Of course if your belt and sporran are black, then black shoes would look better than brown, and vice versa. Just look in your mirror and use your fashion sense!

Going up the leg, we have the hose. Many people agonize over just what color to wear with their kilt. Of the colors most commonly available, cream or off-white go well with just about every tartan (though they also show dirt well). Other colors you will find include navy blue and bottle green, and the lighter lovat blue and lovat green. In general, the darker colors go well with modern color tartans, and the lighter lovat shades will match the ancient tartans (though they will also look fine with many modern tartans). Again — use your fashion sense. Keep in mind also that you will be wearing garter flashes with your hose and you will want to find complementary colors there, as well.

We’ll tackle the sporran and belt together. There are so many varieties of sporran on the market today you should have no trouble finding one that you like within your budget. Sporrans with the silver cantles and fur fronts look great with a Prince Charlie jacket at the ball, but are entirely over the top for casual wear. What I recommend is a good leather bag-style sporran, either black or brown, as these have a much larger capacity and are perfectly suited for daily wear (and if you get a black one, you can even wear it to formal events). The only rule about your belt is that it should match the sporran. Kilt belts should be at least two inches wide —anything less you will probably find uncomfortable.

As far as shirts, wear whatever you like, keeping in mind the occasion. Nothing says you have to wear a “Scottish shirt” with your kilt. Jacobite shirts, or shirts with your clan crest embroidered on them look great. But that doesn’t have to be all that you wear. Any shirt will do — even some patterned shirts — as long as you take care to match the color and pattern to your kilt. You’ll often see gentleman in Europe wearing a shirt with one pattern, a tie with another, a tweed sports coat with yet a third pattern, and they all look fine together. If you take care to match your patterns, there is nothing that says you cannot wear a patterned shirt with your kilt. Just use your fashion sense, and if you don’t have any, ask your wife or girlfriend (she’s the one that has to be seen with you, after all!).

The same goes for ties, if you choose to wear one. A solid color tie that matches your kilt will always look good, as will a tartan tie that matches your kilt. But you can also wear a tie of a different tartan, or another pattern completely, as long as it compliments your kilt.

We don’t have enough space here to deal with jackets, bonnets, and other accessories. That will be fodder for a later column. But let me close by saying that I am not advocating wearing anything at all, willy nilly, with your kilt. You do have to choose your clothing carefully — above all you want clothing that will compliment your kilt and not clash with it or detract from it. What I am saying is that many of the “rules” that people are taught about how to wear their kilt simply don’t apply for civilian wear, and you should feel free to wear whatever you believe looks good. Let your personality come through a bit.

It’s your kilt — show it off!