Mens Highland attire. (follow this link for examples)
1314 to late 1500's
The Highlanders of this period dressed in the same fashion as the Irish. The basic men's garb was a tunic (leine*) and cloak or mantle (brat*). These two items alone are sufficient to depict the common clansman--a very easy and inexpensive costume.
The tunic has been described as a woolen tunic, long shirt, smock or saffron war-coat. These various descriptions are due to several reasons; different observers(mostly foreign), different purposes and different stations in life. The tunic was worn usually to mid-thigh and sometimes to knee-length. If trews were worn as well, then the tunic was shorter reaching to mid-buttocks. In the western isles in the 1500's, the tunic was longer, reaching to lower calf. The lowest level clansman would have a simple woolen tunic in plain colors. The next level up would have been a finer wool, perhaps in a simple checked or tartan-like pattern. Those who could afford it would wear linen in a looser style with large sleeves. Tunics were usually long-sleeved, but there is evidence of elbow-length with fringed hems.
The famous saffron shirt or war-coat (leine croich*) was simply an aqueton ("acton") or gambeson--the padding worn under armor/chainmail. This shirt or coat was typically made by pleating or quilting 24 ells ( one ell is equal to 37") of saffron-colored linen vertically in the "skirt" area, giving rise to many erroneous claims that the kilt or belted plaid was worn early on. More likely, the propensity of pleating garments made for a decent padding against edged weapons and was utilized through many centuries. Many Scots who could not afford armor wore just their saffron shirt into battle. Poorer clansmen wore a leather doublet or jerkin for some protection.
Some descriptions also include the fact the saffron shirt was sewn with green and red silk thread--a luxury item not for the poor. An interesting fact is that Henry VIII had a law passed in Ireland reducing the number of ells to 7 which could be used to make the saffron shirt due to the high cost of 24. Another note---and a habit best left to the ancients---it was common for the saffron shirt to be daubed with pitch or smeared with grease to keep it clean (?) and help preserve it!
The cloak or mantle was rectangular although sometimes described as semi-circular. These could be made of wool, plain or patterned, or of hide or fur. Again, the more well-to-do clansman would possess finer wool in brighter colors and design--either stripes, checks or an early form of tartan. Wool mantles were generally fringed or, more showy in appearance, tasseled. The cloak could be worn in several different fashions; hung over the shoulders and pinned in front, just loosely hung over the shoulders, or wrapped around and held in the hands or tucked under the arms.
Trews (triubhas*) were worn in varying lengths; mid-thigh much like shorts and long to ankle and tied with straw at the ankle. The longer trews were warmer in winter and were especially suited for riding horses. You will find trews worn throughout Historic Highlanders' entire time period. We find no reference as to what they were made of at this time, so the old standbys of wool and linen will do.
The upper-class men sometimes wore jackets emulating Irish styles (with fancy slashed or loose sleeves).
Most Scots were too poor, of course, to own shoes. They usually went barefoot and bare-legged (and proud of it!); hence the derogatory nickname "redshanks" given them by the English. The simplest and earliest form of shoe used by the Highlanders were brogs*.
These were simple shoes of untanned hide or deerskin, laced on. They were often pierced to allow water to drain out after traversing boggy land. In later variations these would be something like modern dance gillies. A style of long boot called cuaran* was also worn. Like brogs, these were often untanned hide or skin with the fur still on and laced up to just under the knee. Alternate footgear would be sandal-like shoes, using one or two wide straps of leather to hold a flat sole in place.
Those who could afford it would wear some form of stockings (osain*) of fine wool in checkered or tartan-like patterns. One choice was called mogan* which was a footless wool stocking covering the lower leg from ankle to just under the knee. Most pictures shows these being worn with bare feet. Mogans could be laced up the back for close fit or tied at the knee with some type of garter. These garters would simply be straw, ribbons or the snaoim gartain* which were of woven material about 1yd. in length. Later, the mogan was adapted and feet added to the stocking. Stockings of the day were not knitted like the modern hose we now see.
Except for helmets in battle, most reference is to the men wearing no headgear during this period except for hoods which were sometimes attached to the cloak or mantle.

Late 1500's to 1746
Probably, the most recognized of the historic Scottish dress is the belted plaid (
breacan an fheilidh or breacan fheile*). While it is well recognized today as the predecessor of the short kilt, it had a relatively short period of popularity in comparison to earlier garments.
The evolution and use of the belted plaid was very logical as it was an extremely warm garment which allowed great freedom of movement in very mountainous terrain, wet and swampy bogs and rough moors. It could be wrapped around oneself as a bedroll or taken off completely and used as a lean-to or tent. It is probably one of the most unique as well as serviceable articles of clothing ever created.
Traditionally, the belted plaid was made from two lengths of 5 ells of wool (usually tartan) stitched together to make the garment 60 inches wide or thereabouts. The looms of the time typically produced fabric up to 30 inches wide, thus the requirement of stitching two pieces to obtain the desired width.
The belted plaid was worn by hand-pleating the 5 ells of length leaving a flat apron on each end and belting it around the waist creating a "skirt" from the waist down. The flat aprons were worn in the front, one wrapped over the top of the other. The excess fabric above the waist was usually pinned from behind to the opposite shoulder of the hand which was natural for one to use; i.e., left shoulder for right-handed man. This enabled use of sword, pistol, etc. In cold or inclement weather the pin could be removed and the plaid part of the garment could be used as a cloak over the shoulders and/or head. A diagram of how to do this is included in the picture section, although having it demonstrated is much easier to understand!
The belted plaid was worn alone, if very poor, but usually with a shirt, waistcoat and a jacket or doublet( cota gearr*) of some sort. These upper garments were the same fashion as was currently worn in France and England at the time. Shirts were normally long and doubled as a nightshirt. These could be made of linen or muslin for our purposes, but someone of means would wear silk with fancy ruffle trim, for example. Colors for shirts are normally white or natural. The styles changed somewhat during this period and, thus far, we do not have a great deal of information on them. The reason is that a waistcoat and jacket was properly worn over the shirt so that's what we have for pictorial evidence. We have included two pictures from the pattern covers we use to make 18th century shirts.
Waistcoat styles also changed during this time period so one needs to do one's research to chose just the right style for the years you wish to portray. Waistcoats would be appropriately made in wool or linen; either plain, in the popular colors of the day--dark blue, green, brown or black, or tartan for the latter part of our period (1700 onward). More elaborate waistcoats would have been velvet or brocade.
Jackets or doublets also changed in style so, that too, requires some research on your part. Scottish jackets and waistcoats were sometimes made shorter contrary to longer styles of the day to accommodate the bulk of the belted plaid so this should be kept in mind as well. A doublet with slashed sleeves and breast was popular up to about 1710.
Around 1700 when tartan waistcoats came into vogue, it became popular to use multi-tartan designs--one for your tartan jacket ( cota fiaraidh*), another for your belted plaid or trews and , yet another, for your hose.
All during this period, trews are appropriate to wear just as they were during the earlier era. However, the style changed somewhat as far as the length is concerned. We find no evidence that the short mid-thigh trews was still being worn. Now trews were being worn to just under the knee as breeches or all in one piece much like tights from the waist with feet in them. They generally laced up the back for a close fit. Tartan was usually seen in this longer style. Wool was the most common choice of fabric.
The Highlander of the time still would often go bare-legged and barefoot especially in the warmer weather. The brogs mentioned earlier would still be acceptable to wear. In the early 1600's, tanned leather shoes are mentioned. These were made without heels and a single thin sole. Initially, they were constructed to fit either foot to be alternated between feet every other day. Again, these had holes in the sides to allow drainage. Later on in the 1600's, shoes were designed to fit the individual right or left foot, doubled-soled with leather heels. These were expensive ( 36 shillings Scot!) so only those who could afford them were able to purchase a pair. Cheaper single-soled shoes were still being sold and a bairn's (small child or baby) were 6 shillings.
Hose in this era could still be the mogans , but more commonly would have feet in them. Again, these would be of woven material, usually wool and not knitted. Tartan was the popular choice held up by the snaoim gartain which actually referred to the special garter knot but used as an all-encompassing term for the garters themselves.
The short kilt ( feile beag*) became known at the very end of Historic Highlanders' time period--so wear it, you may! There is some controversy over who invented it and when, but that's for the experts to debate! It was initially a single-width variation of the belted plaid (now referred to as the feile mor* to distinguish it from the newer version) which obviously created just the "skirt" part of the garment. Originally, it was hand-pleated and held in place by a belt just as the belted plaid had been. This evolved into the modern hand-stitched pleats of today's kilt.
The plaid (plaid*) was the leftover top half of fabric not used for the short kilt. Men continued to wear this with the kilt as a separate garment or cloak in various fashions which are shown in the picture section. It was worn with trews and jacket as well , laid across one's shoulder. When some men took up European fashion of plain wool breeches, waistcoat and jacket, they continued to carry their tartan plaid over their shoulder. Today, we find the plaid still in use, most commonly by pipe bands.
Bonnets (boneid*) of blue are first mentioned in 1650 as being identifiable with Scots in particular. Prior to this, some sort of bonnet was common throughout Europe in one form or another. Dark blue was the common color, but black, gray and russet brown are referred to as well. Originally, bonnets were knitted and made twice the size of the finished article, then shrunk to make it fit snugly. This felting process made the bonnet virtually waterproof. A small piece of the bonnet brim was cut out in the back and a piece of ribbon attached to each side of the gap. This allowed the wearer to adjust the fit. One can see where the ribbon trim on the modern Balmoral originated from. Circa 1720, there is evidence of small red wool knots being sewn around the headband, an obvious forerunner of the checkered or diced bonnets of today. Toories (small woolen ball) and dicing on bonnets were just becoming popular in military units during the very latter part of our time period so should not be included in your Historic Highlander outfit.
If you wish to embellish your bonnet, do so by adding a black cockade, or white which showed allegiance to the Jacobite cause. Clan badges are not appropriate in the modern form of the metal badge/pin. A small brass pennanular with a sprig of living plant such as pine, fern, thistle or heather is what the clansman of old sported in his bonnet. The "plant badge", in this most visible position, distinguished friend from foe in times of conflict--not clan tartan as mentioned previously.
Feathers, especially eagle feathers, are not at all appropriate for the common clansman to wear in his bonnet. This has been so since the beginnings of "clan law", and holds true even in modern times. Only the Chief, Chieftain, and Armiger of the clan, as officially recognized by the Court of Lord Lyon, are allowed this privilege.*

Womans Highland attire (follow this link for examples)

1314 to Late 1500's
During this period, the women dressed in a similar fashion to the men--in the tunic (leine*), worn to ankle length, and cloak (brat*). The tunic can be made of wool or linen and can have either elbow or wrist-length sleeves. The sleeves were usually fringed, as was the hem of the tunic rather than a stitched hem. The tunic can be belted with same fabric, leather or rope--either tied or simple buckle. In this period, the more natural colors are the most appropriate with small amounts of color such as saffron or other yellows--- although other colors mentioned before add interest and variation so we don't all look the same.
The cloak or mantle was an outer garment and would have been made of wool, simple check or tartan design, or of animal hide or fur. This provided warmth and protection from cold, rain and snow. The cloak would probably have been fastened by a brooch or pin called a pennanular, most likely made of brass. In earlier times a cruder wooden, bone or shell fastener might have been utilized.
Footwear also would have been the same as men's. Although women usually went barefoot, certainly brogs* and cuarans* of hide or fur would have been used in the colder months. To wear something on your feet is a personal choice and is probably the most difficult item for us to find unless you can make something for yourself. Certainly a simple, plain leather moccasin can suffice as long as it doesn't look like a modern bedroom slipper or an Indian moccasin. Obviously, tan, brown, black or other natural color is the best choice. If your footwear has a sole of synthetic material, and it is very inconspicuous, it is acceptable.
Information on what women wore on their heads has , thus far, eluded us. Our advice here is that you may wear nothing on your head for this time period---or---if you have a short and/or modern hairdo, covering it up with the kertch gives a more "authentic" look.

Late 1500's to 1746
Just when the old style woman's tunic/cloak ceased to be worn is unknown, but it most likely coincided with the advent of the belted plaid somewhere in the mid-to-late 1500's. Naturally, the ladies wanted their own version of the breacan fheile* and the arisaid* was the result. This was made from 2 1/2 to 3 yds. of double-width (54 to60") wool worn lengthwise to ankles and belted around the waist with the upper portion drawn around the shoulders. This was fastened by a pin at the breast. The excess fabric created a cape over the shoulders which could be pulled up over the head like a hood for protection from inclement weather. The pictures at the end of this section will give a better idea what it looked like and a demonstration of how to put it on is easier to understand than the written explanation!
It was very common for the arisaid to be striped, or of tartan with a white background which has, erroneously, been considered a more "feminine color", even though we see the modern "dress" tartans of today with white backgrounds. A better explanation of this is that dyeing wool was a long and expensive process. Therefore, the necessity for the men to wear darker colors for camouflage in hunting and fighting took precedence, thus the women were left with the natural color wool.
The arisaid was strictly an outer garment like a coat, not a combination of a principal as well as an outer garment like the belted plaid was. It started to go out of fashion around 1700, and by the mid-1700's was almost non-existent. Women continued to wear the arisaid , now referred to as a plaid* in another style---around the shoulders like a long shawl which could still be pulled up over their heads if need be.
The women's actual costume consisted of an undergarment called a chemise, a skirt or petticoat and some sort of bodice--be it a jacket, vest or shortgown. Common women's dress of the day was the same as the English or other European women wore. Except for the arisaid or plaid, there was nothing distinctively "Scottish" about their fashion, and thus, not much was ever written about the remainder of their attire, as it was considered unremarkable by the observers of the day.
The chemise was strictly an undergarment which doubled as a nightgown. It had a drawstring neckline and sleeves and fancy ones would have ruffles. Over this was worn the skirt or petticoat. The style was gathered at the waist, in those days, by a drawstring. We certainly can use more modern methods such as a waistband with elastic in the casing (it doesn't show!) or buttons. Some sort of bodice was always worn to cover the upper half of the chemise. This could be a sleeveless vest which either laced up front or back, or the front could be pinned to keep closed. This was less common than a jacket or shortgown, however, which had sleeves and pinned in the front in lieu of buttons.
Footwear, again, is optional. Women, for the most part, especially in rural areas, did not wear shoes except for the one pair they might own and saved for going to kirk(church). Again, not much is found in description so we refer you to the pictorials. However, in the late 1600's, there is one reference to ladies shoes with double soles and leather heels at 20 shillings Scot---again, for the well-to-do!
Hose or stockings are mentioned in some costuming books as worn by some women. The description is vague and one is welcomed to try to decipher it! As this is one of those items of clothing that doesn't show under the skirt, it is not essential to pay too much attention to this. Certainly, if you wear hose, try to wear something dark or beige and non-descript which won't call attention to your ankles when you walk (like neon colors or athletic socks) Black, brown or beige tights or high socks are a good choice.
The tradition of the female covering her head in some fashion or another upon reaching a certain age or marriage is not exclusive to Scotland. This has been true throughout many cultures including Europe for centuries and continues, even today, in many third world countries.
This custom was taken very seriously in Scotland--especially in the Highlands--as it was tied to religious beliefs. In those days, one did not want to be accused of non-religious beliefs.....being convicted of witchcraft had very final results!
The kertch (currac*) was worn by all women once they reached a certain age and, by custom, the morning after marriage. For many a woman, this was her finest and most treasured article of clothing. Women of means had several kertches.
The kertch is a piece of white linen measuring one yd square. It was traditionally rolled from one corner in half towards the center, thus creating a triangle symbolizing the Trinity. The rolled band was centered on the forehead at the hairline and the ends tied or pinned at the back of the neck. Folding the square in half to form the triangle works as well.
Mob caps and day caps were worn as well during our time period. Detailed information on these is scarce, thus far, so as more research material becomes available, more info will be added.

Accessories
Belts----Belts can be made of leather, rope (such as hemp) or woven material. The material you use depends on what the belt is being used for, so, if you need help, just ask someone on the committee. Early in the period, Norman-style belts were popular among the men(the modern strap and buckle around clan badges is similar). Later on, ladies' belts were like Norman belts, hanging down nearly to the ankles. Women of means would have a silver end decorated with coral or other stones. Plainer belts would be decorated with brass tip.
Buckles----These can be made of wood, iron, pewter, brass or horn. Again, it depends what you are going to use it for. For example, wood could be used for clothing but would not be strong enough for a sword belt. Metal would be a better choice in that case. Buckles on shoes are not appropriate until 1600-1650-ish.....and when used would be pewter, brass or silver for a person of means. Dull or antiqued metals rather than shiny are preferable as well.
Buttons----Buttons should be made of wood, bone, horn/antler, shell, stone, brass, pewter( again dull/antiqued) or silver if depicting someone of means. The plainer the better but a simple design or a Celtic design is appropriate.
Jewelry----Jewelry was fairly simple although the Celts certainly had very intricate and beautiful designs and these are most acceptable. The one piece of jewelry which absolutely should not be worn for Historic Highlander purposes is the kilt pin. This was invented in the Victorian era---way beyond our time period. Another no-no are the translucent, faceted purple and yellow/gold cairngorm stones which look like amethyst and topaz. Fancy stones of that nature would have been primarily the privilege of the wealthy. Natural stones are more appropriate for us to be using in pins, sgian dubh's, etc. Pennanulars can be of plain brass or pewter and have decoration of natural stones, for example. Silver jewelry would have been worn only by wealthier people.
Pouches and Sporrans----Simple leather or fabric pouches would have been worn in the earlier time periods by the men and for all periods for the women. Sporrans, for Historic Highlander purposes should be of softer, pliable leather or fur and as plain as possible. The beautiful silver trim used today should be avoided. Tooling a simple design on the leather is fine---Celtic knot or thistle, for example. The long horsehair sporrans that came along in Victorian times are beautiful but not for our time period.
Sgian dubh*--We mention this here because it has become a popular item included with the costume. It has never been considered a weapon, as such, but a utility knife which, mostly likely, everyone carried. The custom of wearing it tucked into the hose became popular in the late 1700's. Prior to that it was probably carried in the pouch, sporran or somewhere concealed on one's person. It was custom to leave one's weapons outside the door as one entered another's home and hospitality for a meal. As the sgian dubh was used during the meal, it came about that the concealed knife was tucked into the hose as a courtesy to be seen by your host upon entering his home. So, wearing it in the hose or elsewhere is your choice. If you do carry the sgian dubh, be sure the hilt is made of antler or wood with no faceted stones

Fabrics----Colors/Dyes----Tartan
Just as what we wear is important, as far as the historical aspects, so are the types of material that our costumes are made of. While its virtually impossible to be totally exact, there are certain fabrics and colors to provide a reasonable facsimile of the era we wish to portray. The following offers some guidance in the appropriate fabrics, colors/dyes and the use of tartan.
Fabrics---Obviously, natural fabrics are the most appropriate such as cotton/muslin, linen and wool. Blended material can be used as long as the appearance is of the natural fiber. The weave of the fabric should be loosely woven or, even better, look as though it were homespun. This is especially true if your costume is depicting the earlier part of our period when cruder methods of construction were used.
Wool can be a choice for tunics, cloaks, trews, bonnets, jackets, the belted plaid, the kilt, arisaid, skirt and bodice. Linen is appropriate for tunics, skirts, bodices, shirts and the ladies' kertch. Cotton/muslin is usually used for shirts, chemises and ladies' caps. Hides and furs of deer, goat and rabbit, for example, were used to create footwear, cloaks, vests and accessories such as belts, sporrans, scabbards, etc.
Colors/Dyes---Colors demand our attention as well. Although the Highlanders were fond of color, it wasn't always practical for them to dye their fabrics, especially wool. It took many weeks of soaking to allow the dye to hold. They could not spare their few precious iron cooking pots to allow for this long process. Therefore, the beiges, grays and browns of the undyed material were the most common of the day. When the Highlanders did use dye, yellow and brown were the most popular shades, as saffron flowers, lichen and tree bark which provided these colors were fairly plentiful. Black, red, purple and blue were favored as well. While shades of green were attainable, bright green was a difficult color for the Highlanders to produce, so, that color should be avoided for our purposes. Obviously the bright, vibrant modern colors of today are not proper(i.e. neon pink!!!)
During Historic Highlanders' time period there were no mineral/chemical dyes such as in use today. All dyes came from some form of plant life so the resulting colors were subject to such variables as the maturity of the plant, mineral content of the water used, varying temperature/climate changes and the other substances used in the dying process. Plant dyes are also subject to fade with time, washing and exposure to light. Those initial dark blues and greens, etc., didn't stay that way for long------so, if you find a suitable fabric which looks as if it has faded from a darker color, it might be ideal for your outfit!
Tartan---The origins of tartan are steeped in mystery---no one knows when or where it originated , but we do know that it has been in use for many centuries before our time period. Even the source of the word "tartan" has been the subject of many conjectures. Tartan is a word unknown in Gaelic and among the Highlanders it was referred to as "breacan", meaning checkered. One of the earliest known written references is contained in a letter from the Bishop of St. Andrews to King Malcolm Ceann-mor in the late 11th century.
There are many controversies over tartan, but for the purposes of our costuming , we'll stick to the most controversial one---that of the clan or family tartans.
Many arguments abound about just when tartan designs were assigned to specific clans or families. Certainly the facts that :
1. Plant dyes were unpredictable to produce a standard set of colors
2. Plant life varied from one geographical area to another
3. The Highlands were extremely remote with no road system other than crude cart paths making travel and communication from one area to another very difficult
4. No one had the means to produce enough quantity for commercial use
would all lend credence to the belief that clan or family tartans would have been virtually impossible. Indeed, John Telfer Dunbar, a recognized expert in Scottish costume and tartans, in over 50 years of research, has not found one example, nor mention, of clan/family tartans before the very late 1700's.
The clan tartan, therefore, is not recommended for historic costume use, as it is not of our time period. There is, however, one very recognizable and popular exception which certainly can be used , and that is the "Black Watch". This sett dates from the mid-1700's and was originally called the "governmental tartan." It has been in constant use since the raising of the Black Watch regiment in 1739. Any un-named variation of the Black Watch or other un-named tartans of the appropriate colors are more suitable for our purposes.

Dictionary of Gaelic Terms
Arisaid------(air-i-sayed)..................................................Woman's outer garment
Boneid------(bon-ayt).......................................................Bonnet
Brat------(braht)...............................................................Cloak, mantle
Breacan an fheilidh------(brek-kahn ahn fay-lee) .............Belted Plaid
Breacan fheile------(brek-kahn fay-luh).............................Belted Plaid
Brog-----(brogue).............................................................Shoe
Cathdath or Ca'da'------(cah-dah).....................................Tartan hose
Cota fiaraidh------(coat-ah fee-ree)..................................Tartan jacket with cloth cut on the bias
Cota gearr------(coat-ah geh-arr).....................................Man's plain doublet or jacket
Cuaran------(koo-urr-ahn).................................................Boot
Currac------(kuh-ruhk)......................................................Kertch
Dealg------(delgh).............................................................Pin, fastener
Feile-beg------(fay-luh beg)..............................................The little kilt, the modern kilt
Feile-mhor------(fay-luh more)............................................The great kilt or the belted plaid
Leine------(lay-nuh)..........................................................Tunic, smock
Leine-croich------(lay-nuh kroych ---ch as in loch)...........Saffron shirt or war-coat
Mogan------(mogg-in).......................................................Footless wool hose
Osain------(osh-un)...........................................................Hose, stockings
Plaid------(played).............................................................Blanket is literal translation but worn as shawl or cloak
Sgian dubh------(skeen-doo)..............................................Knife black or black knife
Snaoim gartain------(snym gar-tin).....................................Garters or more literally, the garter knot tied at the end of yard-long woven garters
Sporan------(spore-ran).....................................................Sporran or purse
Triubhas-----(trues)..........................................................Trousers or trews


Home

Copyright 2000 Historic Highlanders