The kilt has once again become a popular clothing item thanks to the STARZ show and Outlander book series. What a lot of people do not realize is the fact that there is an interesting history behind this Scottish clothing staple.
This fashion statement began in the 16th century and the term “kilt” can be traced to the Scandinavian language where it means “to grid or tuck up” around the body. The reason for this is the fact that the only thing that held up the kilt was a belt. To make this “one-size-fits-all” piece of clothing, seven and half to eight yards of woolen fabric is used. Due to the amount of material used, this type of kilt was known as a “Great Kilt”. Later on, kilts were designed to use less fabric and were referred to as “Walking Kilts”. While both types of kilts are available today, a more modern design with pockets has emerged on the fashion scene and is referred to as a “Utility Kilt”.
For the Outlander series on STARZ, the Great Kilt is worn by the actors. Yes, in general each kilt is made with the same amount of fabric, but that does not mean that the kilts are worn the same. Each actor chooses how their kilt is belted to their body according to their personality, need and role.
While the excess fabric did make fitting the kilt easier, it also allowed this Scottish clothing staple become multi-purpose in a time when you would not have a large wardrobe. When not needed, the extra fabric could simply hang down in the back or thrown over the shoulder and secured with a pin. It could also be used to hide oneself while hunting or being hunted. This is especially true when draped over the head, since everyday kilts where dyed from natural materials which created muted tones.
When out and about in the Highlands, the extra kilt material could be draped over the shoulders as a cloak, keeping one dry and warm along the trail. Also, if you could not make it back to more traditional lodgings during your trip, the excess material could be used as a blanket to cover oneself or placed on the ground to create a dry seating area alongside the campfire. If there is enough material due to the size of the wearer, it can also be folded in half to create a makeshift sleeping bag.
Finally, and the most important element of the Great Kilt, is the fact that it always contained enough fabric to swaddle a bairn and/or a loved one.
Written by: Mindy McIntosh-Shetter
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