Why Do People in Scotland Wear Kilts?

When you think of Scotland, you likely also think of kilts, the plaid pleated skirts worn by bagpipe players and the men in the movie "Braveheart." Despite the varied shapes the garment has taken over the past 500 years, it remains a strong symbol of Scotland. But few people know why Scots wear kilts or how the tradition began.

Early History

The Scots' practice of wearing kilts goes back to the 1500s, but didn't become a trend until 300 years later, according to Matthew Newsome's book, "The Early History of the Kilt." So, the movie "Braveheart," which is meant to take place in the late 1200s, is likely wrong to show Scottish men wearing kilts.

Modern Adaptation

According to "The Authentic History of the Kilt," an article by Lady Nancy MacCorkill on, Scottish men in the late 1500s wore over their shoulders long shawls that hung to their knees. Over time, they began wearing larger and larger shawls, until they had so much fabric that they had to belt it to their bodies. As fashions changed, men stopped wearing the top half of this garment, leaving the Scots with the pleated kilt we see today.

Nationalist Symbol

When King George II of England outlawed kilts in 1747, he created a symbol of Scottish nationalism, according to Newsome. Scots began to wear kilts in protest, and so the garments came to represent a romantic ideal of Scotland's past. The ban was lifted in 1782, but the kilt's role as an emblem of nationalism remained, Newsome writes.

Use Today

Today, some people wear kilts to signal their Scottish heritage, even outside Scotland. According to rules posted on Marg's Highland Dance Wear website, the garment is required for competitors in Highland dancing and bag-piping. Some people with Scottish ancestry will wear kilts to weddings or other formal occasions.

Fashion Trend

The kilt has become fashionable for women, such as female lacrosse and field hockey players. Kilts are also sometimes worn by punk-rock singers, like those in the band Flogging Molly, according to the band's website.

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About the Author

Based in California, Elizabeth Lang has been in journalism since 2005. Her articles have appeared in “Runner’s World” magazine, The Denver Post and The San Francisco Chronicle. Lang received the Gobind Behair Lal Award for the Most Outstanding Science or Health-Related Story in 2009. She holds a master's in journalism from UC Berkeley.