Kilts and Flashes

"What are flashes?" you might be asking. Well kilts and flashes go together like salt and pepper. A man wearing a kilt and the full Highland dress will also be wearing flashes. The flashes are worn as garters around the top of the kilt socks, and they can be in a variety of different plain colours to harmonize with the colour of the kilt.

Highland dress and the tartan symbolizes Scotland. The kilt and flashes, the jacket and ghillie broques - all the accessories that have come for it to be seen as Scotland’s National Dress.

But this wasn’t always the case. It was very much an outfit worn by Highlanders and Lowlanders would never dream of wearing - but now it is the proud dress of the whole of Scotland.

One place you will see men wearing the kilts and flashes are at a Highland Games. If you are visiting Scotland in the summer months, do try to visit one if you can. There is nothing more stirring to me than the sound of the pipes and drums in the Music Events, and watching the grace of the dancers in the Dancing Events is another treat. But seeing the strength and stamina of those participating in the Athletic Competitions, such as Tossing the Caber (or 'Poles tossed by Scots') is an awesome sight. By then you will probably be asking the age old question, "What do Scotsmen wear under their kilts"? You may, of course, see children dressed in tartan clothes.

Kilts and Flashes

Kilts and flashes

The Early Days

The kilt that we are familiar with today didn’t come into ‘fashion’ until the 18th century Prior to that the more functional belted plaid, and it was worn by the Highlanders.

It was basically an untailored garment, around 4 - 6 yards in length, and about 2 yards in width, which was gathered and then belted at the waist to provide cover for both the upper and lower body. From the waist down, the ‘feileadh mor’ (or big kilt) resembled a modern kilt while the remaining material above the waist was draped over the shoulder and pinned there.

To put it on, its owner "put his leather belt on the ground and then placed the material lengthways over it. This he then plaited it in the middle, over the belt until he had gathered along its length leaving as much at each end as would cover the front of the body, overlapping each other. Lying down on the belt, he would then fold these ends - overlapping each other. The plaid being thus prepared, was firmly bound with a leathern belt, in such a manner that the lower side fell down to the middle of the knees,.

The upper part was arranged in a variety of ways around the shoulders, according to the demands of weather, temperature or freedom of movement required. then fastened on the left shoulder with a large brooch, or pin, so as to display to the most advantage the tastefulness of the arrangement, the two ends being sometimes suffered to hang down, but that on the right side, which was of necessity the longest, was more usually tucked under the belt."

At night, the belt could be unbuckled to transform the ‘feileadh mor’ into a warm covering for the night. The Gaelic plaid actually means 'blanket'. If you’ve seen the Mel Gibson Film Braveheart you can get an inkling of what it looked like

Somewhere along the line, the top half was left off, leaving the belt and the skirt below. The resulting creation became known as the ‘feileadh beg’ , or 'little kilt'. It now became a tailored garment with sewn-in pleats, making it neater and far more easy to put on and wear. The upper half of the big kilt evolved into the separate plaid (or sash), which is now worn at more formal events.

Men in kilts and flashes

Men in Kilts


The Kilt Today

Modern kilts have up to eight metres of material which is thickly pleated at the back and sides, with the pleats stitched together only at the waistband. Today it is more popular than ever before. It worn at formal celebrations such as weddings, and at Highland Games or similar gatherings. And although the kilt is typically regarded as being Highland dress, more kilts are now worn in the Lowland cities than in the Highlands.

The jacket worn with the kilt, is usually be made of tweed, A kilt has no pockets – but men wear the sporran, (like a purse), may be made of leather for day wear; the head and skin of the badger, seal, ermine or other light and dark coloured skins for evening.

The socks worn with the kilt, have the coloured flashes shown at the side. As I said at the beginning - kilts and flashes go together!

Instead of a tie, the lace jabot is worn over a plain white shirt. These days, however some wear the tie but the lace jabot is favored. Lace cuffs are usually sewn or snapped into the jacket.

Shoes for evening wear should be light weight and with silver gilt buckles. The Ghillie Brogues or a light weight leather shoe with the appearance of ghillies can be worn and are well suited to dancing the Country Dances. Shoes for daywear any colour leather that compliments the kilt.

If you've found this page, Kilts and Flashes interesting, see also the following:-

Underneath Men's Kilts - A quick look at the age-old question, and the fascination people have about what Scotsmen wear under their kilt.
Tartan Clothes from Scotland - A summary of some of the tartan clothes that come from Scotland.
Highland Games - Look at some of the categories of Highland Games event.
Athletic Events - Highland Games Categories always include a variety of athletic or sporting competition.
Dancing Events - Learn more about the Dancing competitions, always a joy to see, and again featured in every Highland Games.
Music Events - Learn a wee bit more about the different Music Events which are a common feature in all Highland Games.
Tossing The Caber - Look at this wonderful athletic event. If you don't know what it is, you might refer to it as 'poles tossed by Scots'.
Highland Games in Fife - for this year's venues for the games in the Kingdom.

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