Kilts and Tartan – right and wrong…

Apparently tartan (or plaid as our American chums will insist on calling it) is going to be big fashion news this Winter. To be fair, tartan usually makes a resurgence this time of year – as the nights draw in and we start thinking about boots and thick jumpers instead of flip-flops and tshirts, a lovely warm wool tartan is an obvious choice. To clear up the whole tartan/plaid confusion once and for all, a kilt is the garment, a plaid is the optional long length worn over the shoulders and tartan is the name of the checked pattern itself. Okay?

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Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 20.45.41It’s pretty easy for ladies – a short, unfussy skirt with black tights and boots is always a winner (be inspired by Dr Who’s gorgeous companion, Clara Oswald, left). If you’re not a fan of the schoolgirl / schoolmarm look, or not so confident about your legs, you could always try some 1950s vintage glamour with these amazing outfits from Vivien of Holloway.

But just in case your man is planning to break out in tartan or a kilt (and as you may have realised, I think there should be much, much more of this kind of thing), I thought I’d give y’all a handy guide to some ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’. I’ve even researched some suitable pictures (oh, the things I do for my readers…)

The key thing for men is simplicity and a degree of ruggedness. No frills, no bows, and for mercy’s sake, watch out for the size of that sporran.  These guys all get it very RIGHT

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From top left: 1. The divine Sam Heughan (Outlander), always a joy to behold. 2. Liam Neeson in Rob Roy. 3. Richie Gray, ‘scrummy’ Scottish Rugby player – he’s damn near 7ft tall, so how did they even find enough material to make that kilt?  4. Unknown, but loving the Aran sweater and chunky socks combo. 5. Ewan Macgregor on the red carpet (he doesn’t always get it right, and those sock suspenders are worrying, but the casual look works on him). 6. Graham McTavish (Outlander’s Dougal Mackenzie), showing that older guys can look fab with a bit of attitude. 7. His Royal Highness Sean Connery (has a worrying tendency to break out in frilly jabots, looks much better in this black crew neck). 8. Bernie Williams – okay, so he’s American and plays baseball, but he’s still totally rocking that green velvet jacket. 9. Rod Stewart (should really be wrong, but somehow he carries it off in a strange 1970’s kinda way…)

Wrongness, on the other hand, comes in many forms. Once you stray too far from the basic template, you are absolutely heading for trouble…

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From top left: 1. Burberry model – too bright, too tight, hideous socks. 2. Christopher Lambert in Highlander – I love him to bits, but accessorising with a dead bear and unwashed hair is SO not a good look. 3. Gerard Butler – controversial, I know, as he’s a bit of a hottie, but this leather kilt with pink cashmere sweater is somehow trying too hard. 4. Camouflage Grandad – JUST SAY NO! 5. Wedding Model – I’m not impressed by the business-suited top half, even for a wedding, and there’s absolutely NO excuse for that dead horse sporran. 6. Moschino Catwalk model –  looks like a teenage yeti in pyjamas. With a bumbag. 7.  Golfwear Model – Tartan suit, tie AND scarf? Much too matchy-matchy. 8. Rod Stewart again – Donald where’s yer troosers (and your shirt?) 9. Arghh. Just plain WRONG on EVERY possible level.

Screen Shot 2015-09-26 at 07.55.07Kilt Length:  This is always tricky, especially for the taller chap – in the pic to the right, Kevin McKidd (on left, with plaid) gets it spot on. By contrast, his Gray’s Anatomy co-star Patrick Dempsey (right) gets it very, very wrong – he looks more ‘cheerleader’ than ‘highlander’. C’mon Dempsey – if Richie Gray can find a kilt to fit, there’s no excuse for you. This leads us on to…

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 12.04.20Kilt Etiquette:  Again, this can be problematic. We all know that chaps are supposed to go commando under their kilt, but this can lead to certain – ahem – hazards.

Gentlemen, if you are wearing a kilt, Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 11.12.16please learn how to sit with your knees pressed firmly together… How this fellow (left) didn’t get court-martialled, I will never know.  And if you do decide to take the safe route out and wear pants, please don’t do a Richard Branson and display your novelty knickers…

Screen Shot 2015-10-11 at 15.51.48Dudes, if you think tartan’s somehow not masculine enough, consider this – following the Battle of Culloden, wearing tartan was considered an act of insurgency in Scotland, punishable by six months in prison. South of the border, this made tartan fashionable for anyone in love with the lost cause of the Jacobites. A Scottish tourist, visiting England in 1748, noted young people clad in checks in defiance of their government – they were the very first tartan-wearing rebel “punks”. Now imagine telling Johnny Rotten (left) that you think tartan is a wee bit girlie…

Screen Shot 2015-10-11 at 14.42.40To be on the safe side, why not take your cues from some fictional heroes? Most men dismiss the kilt as impractical for everyday wear and it’s true that in the Outlander books, Jamie Fraser’s as often in breeches as he is in a kilt – but Outlander star Sam Heughan (right) became a convert to the practicalities of his character’s feileadh mhor, or traditional kilt: “It’s a long bit of cloth… about seven, eight foot long, and they are basically used as a tool. The Highlanders would use them to wear to keep themselves warm. You could use it as a sleeping bag. You could use it as camouflage to blend into the background.  They also had lots of pockets and you could wear them in different ways. … It took a long time to get used to it, but it’s a real joy to work with it, and you can find various uses. I mean, we even discovered you can use it as a shield you can wrap around your arm.” 

In Lizzie Lamb’s delightful Scotch on the Rocks, whisky-loving American hero Brodie wears his family tartan with a t-shirt and leather biker jacket (just like Sam Heughan) – much to the satisfaction of Scottish heroine Issy… And even James Bond, the quintessential English spy, is really half-Scottish (and therefore potentially kilted) in Ian Fleming’s original books.  Sadly the only film to feature Bond in a kilt is George Lazenby’s sole outing, On her Majesty’s Secret Service – though (coincidentally?) it’s also the only film in which Bond actually gets to marry the girl…

Screen Shot 2015-10-11 at 14.00.04And then, of course, there’s Rupert Bear. Yellow checks aren’t a look everyone could pull off (or frankly, would want to), but I have a sneaking suspicion that the Rupert Bear annuals I was given every Christmas as a child may have started my whole strange fondness for tartan…