Highland Games

An example of the eclectic style often seen at modern-day Highland Games gatherings

The modern, tailored kilt which is ubiquitous at Highland Games gatherings around the world has associated with it an evolving style of wear. This style includes the accessories and other acoutrements which are typically worn with it. In this sense, it is very much like other items of the fashion world.

Along with this development, a range of opinion concerning proper, appropriate, or even correct styles has also developed. Attitudes range from those who hold very firm views on the etiquette of how, where, and with what, to wear the kilt, to those with more relaxed views, such as is represented by the following quotation from Matthew Newsome's Patented Advice for the First-Time Kilt Wearer:

"Remember that when it comes to modern fashions of Highland dress, what you will read will simply be the opinion of the author and nothing more.  Note, I said "modern fashions of Highland dress."  When it comes to historical matters, we can certainly say what people did and did not wear, as a matter of fact.  But this doesn't need to dictate what you can or cannot wear at present.  When it comes to this, there are no rules, only opinions, and you can choose to give as little or as much weight to them as you wish.
"Keep this in mind throughout.  Unless you are a member of a military regiment, a pipe band, or some other quasi-military group that has a specific dress code, your kilt is not a uniform.  It is an article of clothing, just like your trousers, and you should feel free to accessorize it however you think best."

This article will attempt to detail some of the more common kilt accessories as seen in actual wearing practice. In this sense, it is like a dictiionary which catalogues usage, not an etiquette book which declaims on proper style.


Robert MacNeil

At modern Highland gatherings, participants in Highland attire can be seen wearing a wide variety of headgear, or even going without any headgear at all. But there are two types in particular in widespread usage which are most distinctly Scottish, the Balmoral and the Glengarry.

The Balmoral (named after Balmoral Castle, near Edinburgh, Scotland) is a round, brimless cap, flat on top, with trailing ribbons, and with a ball on top called a toorie. It is often worn with a hackle and a clan crest badge.

The Glengarry is another type of cap, somewhat wedge-shaped, longer than wider, creased lengthwise on the top, and with trailing ribbons. It is named after Glengarry valley in Inverness-shire in Scotland. An example can be seen in the Wiktionary entry on the Glengarry.

Both types come in a variety of colors, but black is most usual. And in both cases, there can be "dicing" around the band of the cap. Both styles will also come with a place on the side of the cap for affixing a clan crest badge.

In the photo at right, Robert MacNeil, former pipe major of the multiple world champion Simon Fraser University Pipe Band is shown wearing his own style of headwear while helping one of the pipers in the lower grades tune her pipes. The photograph of Jack Lee (see photo gallery, below), current pipe major of the SFU Pipe Band, shows the "hatless" style as he warms up in preparation for competition. Of course, during the actual competition performance he and other members of the SFU Pipe Band would be wearing the band's regulation Glengarries.

Shirts, Jackets, etc[]

The Argyll jacket, often in tweed, is sometimes worn with the kilt, for those occasions that would usually require a sports jacket or lounge suit. This is often in tweed. When the kilt is worn as formal wear, a black "Prince Charlie" jacket is usually prescribed.

With some ensembles, a fly plaid is added in the form of a pleated cloth in the same tartan as the kilt, cast over the shoulder and fastened below the shoulder with a plaid brooch.

In addition, many kilt wearers have opted for a jacketless approach, especially at hot summer Highland Games gatherings.

One style of shirt which is quite common at Highland gatherings is the grandfather shirt, or the Jacobite shirt. These are modern reproductions (or at least reasonably close facsimiles) of the older, pre-Culloden style of shirt. These are full cut shirts with an open, lace-up collar (such as seen in the photo at the top of this page) and come in at least a small variety of colors.


A modern, tailored kilt, with its tapered pleats (tapered from seat to waist) is fastened about the body securely enough with the buckles and straps which are provided for that purpose. The kilt belt worn with such kilts is purely decorative. They are typically fairly wide - between 2 - 1/2 and 3 inches or so - and come in black or brown leather.

Historically, before the advent of the tailored kilt in the late-18th century, some type of belt was necessary in order to secure the kilt about the person and keep it from falling down. It also provided a handy place from which to hang sword, dirk, or pistols.



As a kilt has no pockets for carrying such things as car keys or wallet, it is worn with a type of pouch called a sporran, which is just the Gaelic word for pouch or purse. Sporrans are almost always made from either brown or black leather.

Sporrans come in a very wide range of styles, from simple leather sporrans to those with fur fronts or fur-trimmed and faced with silver or some other metal. Often, the kilt wearer will chose a type of sporran depending on the occassion, with the more elaborate ones being considered suitable for evening wear and the others for casual or all-purpose wear.

The older style bag sporrans (often called "Rob Roy" sporrans) are also frequently seen as they tend to be a bit roomier than some of the more modern varieties.

The sporran is typically suspended from a sporran belt which is a narrow belt (separate from the kilt belt) made of leather or chain. This sporran belt is sometimes run through a pair of small loops provided for that purpose on the back of the kilt. Occasionally the sporran is suspended from special leather belt loops which enable the sporran to be hung directly from the kilt belt. This is often done when a chain is used as the chain might otherwise chafe the kilt.


Two types of kilt pins

A small knife called a Sgian Dubh is often worn tucked into the top of the kilt hose which is commonly worn with the kilt. This item has its historical origins as a utility knife. Again, as with most items of traditional Scottish apparel and accessories, they come in a very wide variety, from fairly plain to quite elaborate silver and gem ornamented designs. A longer knife, called a dirk is sometimes worn hung from the kilt belt.

On the front apron of a kilt, near the selvedge and the open, fringed part of the apron, you will often see a kilt pin, often topped with a small decorative clan crest or other similar design. Two styles of kilt pins can be seen in the photo at right. (Note the kilt damage resulting from using the thick-shanked version, however.) This is a decorative item meant to be pinned through the outer apron only. It is not heavy enough to prevent the kilt apron from blowing open in a breeze (the third strap on the kilt is designed to control this). It could be pinned through both aprons, but this would result in distorting the proper hang and action of the kilt. Of course, Highland dancers do not wear the pin through both aprons (when they wear one at all) since the action of the kilt is an essential part of the dance!

Often, a clan crest badge will be pinned to the right side of the Balmoral or Glengarry.

Footwear and Hose[]

Members of pipe bands wear a type of shoe called a Ghillie brogue, and many other kilt wearers wear the same type of footgear. As always, there is a great variety in style, with many kilt wearers relying on black dress shoes or casual footwear. Highland dancers wear a much lighter type of footgear specially adapted to the active requirements of the dancer and called dancing ghillies (see photo gallery).

With the historical great kilt (or belted plaid), a type of medieval bag shoe was worn. This was a shoe made from a single piece of leather which was cut to a pattern and folded up and around the foot, being secured with a length of leather.

Kilt hose, made of wool or Acrylic or some combination thereof is availabnle in a variety of solid colors so as to match any tartan pattern. They can also be found in diced patterns, or argyle hose. This is common for Highland dancers (see photo is gallery below).

Almost always, a pair of garter flashes will be worn with kilt hose. These consist of colored ribbons attached to elastic bands and are designed to keep the kilt hose from falling down. The ribbons come in an assortment of colors so as to match or complement the tartan colors in the kilt. Some examples of garter flashes can be seen in the accompanying photos.


The uniforms worn by members of several military regiments mandate "no underwear" with the kilt except at specified occasions. As a result, to go without underwear is often referred to as "going regimental" or "military practice" and is considered the traditional practice.

In the Highland dances, the regulations of the Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing state regarding underwear: "dark or toning with the kilt should be worn but not white." Highland athletes are also required to wear shorts of some type during the athletic competitions and most opt for either regular shorts or lycra.

In the end, whether or not underwear is worn on any particular occasion is up to the individual wearer. Whatever decision is made, what a gentleman wears under his kilt is traditionally his own business, and as a rule, polite men will be at pains to keep it so.

Matthew Newsome, in his Patented Advice article (op. cit.) states simply: ". . . this decision is ultimately up to you.  I'll repeat - unless you are in a military unit, or a pipe band, or some other group that has a uniform requirement - your kilt is not a uniform, but an article of clothing, like your trousers or anything else, that you can wear and accessorize as you see fit."

Photo Gallery[]