the bonnie kilt: putting the hairy legs back into hip
A Hogmanay special from the flower of Scotland: Anna Burnside on what the laddies will be wearing, and Nicholas Barber on his long New Year
Sunday 29 December 1996
The last time the kilt was truly popular was in 1822, when George IV visited Scotland. His dress kilt was made from satin, cashmere and velvet. The gold badge for his Glengarry was set with diamonds, pearls, rubies and emeralds. His white goatskin sporran was lined with silk and topped with gems. He caused an understandable sensation and sent the Scottish establishment into a tartan frenzy. To emulate George IV would be a bit much for the contemporary drunken outdoor ceilidh or New Year rave-up. But if Mel Gibson can carry it off, anyone can.
George Paterson has a shaved head, a white boxer called Dottie and a big thing for tartan. He has been called the wild boy of Scottish hairdressing, a label he just loves to bits. "I always hire a kilt so that every time I wear one I can try a different tartan. For the show at Wembley I wore it with a white collarless shirt and boots. I know it's attention-seeking but I like that. And it feels good, a bit hanging loose. I always wear a kilt for a formal do because I hate wearing a shirt."
Paterson never looks less than immaculate, but the kilt is just as happy with a ratty jersey as with a Katharine Hamnett shirt. The guys in Gutty Slippers, Tony Odoibhailein's anarchic pipe band, wear skanky old kilts, T-shirts and Doc Martens when they play at festivals, conferences, parties and weddings (including Paul Gascoigne's).
"One old guy in an RAF blazer did give us a blast of venom once, he said we were a disgrace to our country. But I think people can see that we are not mocking the kilt but that we are proud to wear it and we enjoy wearing it. I think what we do is close to the way it used to be worn, it wasn't always pristine and pressed. We are reclaiming it from the Victorianised, Anglicised version."
Matt Glover has two kilts and has walked across Scotland, from Braemar to the Knoydart peninsula, in one of them. "I wore my kilt on Christmas Day, I wear it if I'm asked out, on any occasion that's not too dressy. And I take it abroad if I'm going on business. If I'm wearing the dress kilt I wear a Montrose jacket with a lace jabot because I think it's more authentic. Highlanders didn't have good shirts, that was why they wore the jabot. Mind you, mine does have Velcro on it.
"It's comfortable for walking: you have nothing on your legs except boots and short socks. I've even slept outside in my kilt, with a bivvy bag, in May and June. I don't feel we make enough of our culture and history, so I like wearing the kilt because it is a link to the past."
Some events demand the full regalia. For concerts and competitions, Kenneth Thomson conducts the Glasgow Gaelic Choir in an Ancient Campbell of Argyll kilt and silver-buttoned Prince Charlie jacket. "When I joined the choir in 1968 not all the men wore one but now, when you go the Mod, virtually every man in every Gaelic choir is wearing a kilt. My son Fergus asked for one for his 21st, because he goes to a lot of balls at university. It is very fashionable and it is young people that are making it fashionable. I am delighted that something that was getting a bit shortbread-boxish is now really popular."
With the right legs and the confidence to carry it off, there is only one problem. Coping with the attention. "Everyone wants to talk to you," says Matt Glover. "I've met lots of nice people and had so many good conversations in my kilt."
"It's murder if you're anywhere with a lot of women," says Tony Odolbhallein. "And they are always the wrong women. I've had to learn to be quick with my drumsticks." AB
A Sassenach's Guide to the Kilt
t You don't have to be Scottish, but you do need chunky legs and a sturdy brass neck
t Loathe your family tartan? The Edinburgh Festival, Scottish Rugby Union, even Rangers and Celtic all have their own tartans, or there are catch-alls like Flower of Scotland
t Length is crucial. The kilt should just skim the break of the knee
t The pin is not a hangover from punk. It is there to weight down the "apron" at the front of the kilt
t Underwear is a vexed question - everyone wants a wee keek. Only loin kings with toned buttocks should go without. Colour-coordinated silk boxers for everyone else
t Kilt hire shops may run out around Hogmanay, Burns Night and busy weekends in high summer
t Tartan ties with kilts are extremely naff. But tartan socks are highly desirable
t Ghillie shoes are meant to have extremely long laces. They go up the legs, like Seventies espadrilles
t Nose-rings, leather sporrans, fetish boots ... It's all been done before and the world is still spinning. You won't offend us. Wear what you like and enjoy your kilt
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