The kilt is seen as an item of traditional Scottish Highland dress, although the origin of that tradition is more recent than is commonly believed. It was only with the Romantic Revival of the 19th century that the kilt became irreversibly associated with Highlanders, largely because of non-Highlanders reinterpreting their traditions. Today most Scotsmen see kilts as formal dress. They are often worn at weddings or other formal occasions, while there are still a few people who wear them daily. Kilts are also used for parades by groups like the Boy Scouts, and in many places kilts are seen in force at Highland games and Pipe band championships as well as being used for Scottish country dances and ceilidhs. The army still continues to have kilts as dress uniform, though they are no longer used in combat.
The Garment's name comes from the Scots word kilt meaning to tuck up the clothes around the body.
Sometime early in the 18th century the fèileadh beag or philabeg using a single width of cloth hanging down below the belt came into use and became quite popular throughout the Highlands and northern Lowlands by 1746, though the great kilt also continued in use.
A letter published in the Scots Journal in March 1785 argued that the garment people would today recognize as a kilt was invented around the 1720s by Thomas Rawlinson, a Quaker from Lancashire. Rawlinson is claimed to have designed it for the Highlanders who worked in his new charcoal production facility in the woods of northern Scotland. After the Jacobite campaign of 1715 the government was "opening" the Highlands to outside exploitation and Rawlinson was one of the businessmen who took advantage of the situation. He thought that the traditional Highland kilt, the "belted plaid" which consisted of a large cloak, was inconvenient for tree cutters. He brought the Highland garment to a tailor, intent on making it more practical. The tailor responded by cutting it in two. Rawlinson took this back and then introduced the new kilt. Rawlinson liked the new creation so much that he began to wear it as well and was soon imitated by his Scottish colleagues, the MacDonell's of Glengarry.
"Rawlinsons End" Indeed, an Englishman named Thomas Rawlinson opened an iron smelting factory in the Highlands around the year 1730. His workers all dressed in the belted plaid, not a cloak, a plaid. Rawlinson required his workers to wear only the bottom part of the plaid. This for some is sufficient to claim that an Englishman invented the modern Scottish kilt.
The problem with this story is that we know of numerous illustrations of Highlanders wearing only the bottom part of the belted plaid that date long before Rawlinson ever set foot in Scotland. The belted plaid consisted of two widths of material stitched together. If one neglects to stitch the two together and only the bottom 4 yards are worn, pleated and belted around the waist, the resulting garment is called the feilidh-beag (little wrap). The word is often spelled phillabeg in English. There is some suggestion of its use in the early 17th century, and it was definitely being worn by the 18th century. It most likely came about as a natural evolution of the belted plaid and Rawlinson probably observed it and quickly deduced its usefulness in his situation and insisted on introducing it among his workers. The first instance we have of the pleats being sewn in to the phillabeg, creating a true tailored kilt, comes in 1792 (pre Rawlinson). This kilt is in the possession of the Scottish Tartans Society. This is the first garment that can truly be called a kilt as we know it today.
The small kilt developed into the modern kilt when the pleats were sewn in to speed the donning of the kilt.
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