Kilt Etiquette for Dinner Dances

Updated February 21, 2017

The kilt is the national dress of Scotland, and can be worn for all kinds of formal and semi-formal occasions. However, there are rules and guidelines that kilt wearers must follow. Wearing a kilt to a dinner dance or other fancy occasion takes a little bit of preparation. Kilt-wearers should take the time to familiarise themselves with good kilt etiquette and what makes a kilt ensemble formal.


Kilts may be worn with clothing all levels of formality, from the extremely casual Utilikilt to white tie ensembles appropriate for very formal evening dress. Choosing the correct jacket is a vital part of getting the correct look. An Argyll jacket is appropriate for afternoon or semi-formal wear, while formal evening wear calls for a doublet or Prince Charlie jacket--the kilt equivalent of a tuxedo coat. Be sure to ask about the dress code for any dinner dance before attending.


A formal or semi-formal occasion demands an appropriately fitting kilt. Many men are accustomed to wearing their dress trousers low on the hips, while the kilt should be worn just below the bottom rib. The hem should fall to the top of the knee. Kilts worn above or below the knee fit incorrectly, and show the wearer's ignorance of traditional Scottish dress.


Wearing skirt-like garments may make formal kilts difficult. Fast dancing, crouching or bending and crossing the legs may be problematic without practice. Less-polite guests may inquire about what is worn beneath the kilt--the appropriate response is merely to smile and change the subject.


Kilt accessories are also important on a formal occasion. For semi-formal situations, wear a semi-dress sporran, the decorated pocket across the front of the kilt. Formal events call for a more elaborate dress sporran. Choose a black bow tie with a Prince Charlie jacket, not one in matching tartan. Some formal doublet styles require a lace jabot instead of a tie, and are most appropriate for white tie dances or dinners. An Argyll jacket may be worn with a bow tie for black tie dances, or a necktie for semi-formal affairs.

Black stockings are traditionally worn for funerals, but as of 2010, are also appropriate for formal wear. Solid-colour stockings, especially cream, are appropriate for all modes of dress, but white may look costume-like. Formal doublets call for buckle brogue shoes, but ordinary men's dress shoes are appropriate for most ensembles.


Many people, particularly in the United States where the kilt is not usually worn on formal occasions, believe that the kilt is a form of "free dress," which can be worn any way at all. While there is no set rulebook for wearing a formal kilt, there are some commonly accepted standards. Wearing a formal kilt according to traditional rules is one way to show that the wearer respects the formality of the occasion.

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About the Author

G.D. Palmer is a freelance writer and illustrator living in Milwaukee, Wis. She has been producing print and Web content for various organizations since 1998 and has been freelancing full-time since 2007. Palmer holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in writing and studio art from Beloit College in Beloit, Wis.