What Is a Kilt?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A kilt is a knee length unbifurcated garment which is closely associated with Scotland and Scottish culture, although similar garments are worn in other parts of the United Kingdom and the world in general. A classic kilt is easy to identify with its tartan, also known as plaid, pattern and deep pleats. In Scotland, the garment is treated as formal wear for men, although men may wear them on more casual occasions as well. In the 1990s, various modern adaptations, such as the Utilikilt, began to arise, popularizing this garment for a wider audience.

Kilts have a long history in Scotland.
Kilts have a long history in Scotland.

The history of the garment is rather complex. It may help to start with the plaid, a garment which was traditionally wrapped around the waist and thrown over the shoulder by the Celts. Over time, Celtic communities developed their own styles and fashions for wearing these garments. Pleated versions were also worn by other Northern European cultures, presumably because they helped the wearers stay warm in inclement weather.

A kilt is traditional dress of the Scottish Highlands.
A kilt is traditional dress of the Scottish Highlands.

The word “kilt” means “to tuck clothing up around the body,” and this was exactly how early versions were worn. The modern form emerged around the 1700s, as a wraparound pleated garment which buckled on, rather than being belted and tucked. This garment was much easier to handle than earlier variations, and it quickly became popular.

In 1746, King George II actually banned the wearing of the kilt, along with other traditional aspects of Highland dress, in an attempt to control the rebellious Scottish tribes. As often happens when something is banned, the ban actually popularized the garment, and many people starting wearing the kilt in solidarity with the Scottish tribes, or as a sign of rebellion. By the time the ban was ended in 1782, the garment had become closely associated with Scottish culture and heritage.

Full Highland dress includes a kilt, a sporran or pouch, and an assortment of other items including special hose, a type of knife called a sgian dubh, a formal shirt, and a jacket. Many people create their own variations for comfort and style, although when the garment is worn as a uniform, certain restrictions may be applied. Some military brigades include the kilt in their formal uniforms, and they are also worn by bagpipers. Kilts can be seen at weddings, the workplace, sporting events, and parades, along with many other places.

This wiseGEEK author declines to comment on the topic of undergarments and kilts.

In Scotland, the kilt is treated as formal wear for men, although men may wear them on more casual occasions as well.
In Scotland, the kilt is treated as formal wear for men, although men may wear them on more casual occasions as well.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I would wear a kilt in public every day if I could.



Do you mean to say that Irish people have a bad temper? Or that Scots are Irish? I think that both of these are mistaken, the Scots pride themselves on being a very distinct group from the Irish.


Kilts were a sure way to indicate which tribe you were from and could spell doom for you if you encountered someone of a rival tribe. There were always shaky alliances and intermarriages which resulted in very much bloodshed in the Scottish hills. These men were basically Irishmen of the north.



Times have changed, and so have perceptions of what is masculine or feminine. This goes to show that it is all somewhat arbitrary. It used to be considered manly for men to have long hair as well.


I had a friend who was wearing a kilt for his senior picture, and people made fun of him for wearing a "dress." Ridiculous! This man was hearkening back to the time of his noble ancestors, who understood that wearing pants, which resemble tight panty-hose, was an utterly feminine practice which should not be used by men. Scots form the pinnacle of manhood! How could anyone dare to suggest that a kilt is even remotely similar to a dress?

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