Highland Dress


The evolution of Highland dress owes much to the military. After the Proscription, civilian dress began to reflect that of the military. Many of the characteristic features of today's dress have a military origin, such as the shoulder straps on today's jackets and the buttons on the sleeve.

The cuts of various forms of evening jacket can also be traced back to the late 1700s, including the "Prince Charlie" (shown left) and Argyle.

Toward the end of the eighteenth century, the great kilt gave way to today's "little kilt". Early kilts were usually made of less material, for economic reasons, and were worn much higher up the leg. Today, it is considered proper for the kilt to fall to the top of the wearer's knee (although many wear it improperly longer).

Sporrans started out as utilitarian leather pouches hung about the waist and drawn together with strings. The more decorative 'sporan molach', or hair sporran, appeared toward the end of the eighteenth century. Today sporran's are primarily decorative, with more casual leather available for day-wear and more formal hair sporrans for evening-wear.

Waistcoats have become less common, giving way to waist belts worn with a large brass or silver buckle. Belts are considered optional wear.

Hose were originally made of cloth, and usually patterned with a red and white 'war pattern'. They were later replace by knitted woollen hose. Today's white hose are of modern origin, originating in the 1960s as a substitute to the diced or tartan hose for evening wear.

Dirks were originally worn as personal weapons. Today they are worn in great variety, both day and night, but 'proper' wear is 'for evening full-dress occasions'. The 'sgian dubh', worn in the hosetop, became general wear only in the nineteenth century.

The round knitted bonnet, originally worn flat, towards the end of the eighteenth century was cocked up vertically and then decorated by ostrich plumes. This eventually became the military feather bonnet, and by creasing the unadorned bonnet from front-to-rear, became the Glengarry bonnet (shown left). Bonnets as a part of Highland dress are also worn less frequently today. "Although the story by which the tartan kilt has become the national dress of Scotland is tortuous and myth-laden, and the way in which it is worn can vary from the sublime to the ridiculous, Highland dress is a powerful symbol of the wearer's pride in a Scottish ancestry and in Scotland itself. There are few, if any, other forms of national dress which can claim to make such a clear and unequivocal statement, and to be so instantly and widely recognisable (42)."

Source: Scottish Clan & Family Encyclopedia


Many members of Clan Keith choose to show their Scottish and clan pride by wearing the tartan and/or Highland dress. This dress is not required and can be quite expensive, but should you choose to become actively involved in Scottish and clan events you will probably choose to follow this practice. Our society is dedicated to observing and respecting our heritage, and thus we encourage individuals to properly wear the tartan and/or Highland dress. One of the best instructional guides is So You're Going to Wear the Kilt? by J. Charles Thompson (published by Heraldic Art, Arlington, VA).


Casual / Day Wear
common for most highland games

Includes kilt, kilt pin, day sporran, hose & flashes.

Options: glengarry or balmorral bonnets, belt.

Shirts vary and may include t-shirts, golf shirts, Jacobean kilt shirts, dress shirt with tie. Some also opt to wear tweed jackets, which is the more common practice in Scotland.

Semi-Formal Day/Evening Wear
versatile dress appropriate for many day and evening events.

In addition to the above, this option includes tweed coat (usually Argyle cut), dress shirt and tie, ghillie brogues.

Formal Evening-Wear
appropriate for formal events such as weddings and dinners with the clan chief.

Black tie: includes kilt, kilt pen, dress sporran, dress hose & flashes, ghillie brogues, Prince Charlie coat, tuxedo shirt and bowtie (shown left).

Formal, but not black tie: Argyle coat and tie (shown right).


The guidelines for women's attire are much less defined than those of men. Two popular options are wearing a tartan sash and clansman's badge with normal attire (whatever the occasion), and kilted skirts in the clan tartan. Keith t-shirts and golf shirts are also available for more casual occasions.

Special guidelines to keep in mind according to So You're Going to Wear the Kilt? by J. Charles Thompson:

  1. Women wearing the sash should pin it to their right shoulder. There are only three exceptions where pinning the sash on the left shoulder is appropriate; 1) ladies who are chiefs, 2) ladies who are married to a chief; 3) ladies who are married to colonels of Highland regiments.

  2. "No lady is going to wear the kilt". Female dancers and pipe band members, however, do wear kilts. Thompson's point is that the kilt is not anatomically designed for women, and women should therefore wear skirts, kilted or other.

Casual / Day Wear
common for most highland games Popular choices include kilted skirts, sashes, Clan or Scottish Society T-shirts and Golf shirts.

Formal Evening-Wear
appropriate for formal events such as weddings and dinners with the clan chief

Women may choose to dress as they would for any formal event - such as a black dress. Some combine their formal dress with tartan sash. Others may opt for tartan evening skirt with lace-trimmed jabot blouse.

Clan Chiefs Chiefs have the right to wear the accompaniment of circlet, motto or feathers behind the badge or, as is more usual, surrounded with a plain circlet inscribed with his motto or slogan. He does not wear the strap-and-buckle which is for clansmen. Chiefs also have the option of THREE eagle feathers in silver behind the circlet. If the Chief is also the a Peer of the Realm, he may correctly add his appropriate coronet of rank on top of the circlet, but this is a matter of personal choice.

Clan Chieftains

Heads of large branches of a Clan and officially recognized as such by the Lord Lyon of Arms. Chieftains may wear either their own personal crest within a plain circlet inscribed with the motto, as for a chief, but with TWO small eagle's feathers instead of the Chief's THREE. If the Chieftain is also a Peer, he may add the appropriate coronet of rank on top of the circlet.


Persons who have registered their own coat of arms and crest, or have inherited these according to the Laws of Arms in Scotland from ancestors who had recorded them in the Lyon Register. An Armiger may wear his own crest as a badge either simpliciter, on its wreath, crest coronet or chapeau or as is more usual, within a plain circlet inscribed with his motto. An Armiger is entitled to ONE silver eagle's feather behind the circlet and if he is also a Peer, he may add his appropriate coronet of rank on the top of the circlet. An Armiger may also choose to wear the crest badge of his chief if the Armiger is a clansman.

Clansmen & Clanswomen

The chiefs relatives, including his own immediate family and even his eldest son, and ALL members of the extended family are called the "clan". In sum, all who pledge allegiance to that Chief and wish to demonstrate their association with that Clan.

It is correct for these to wear their Chief's crest encircled with a Strap and Buckle bearing the Chief's motto or slogan. The strap and buckle is the sign of the clansman, and he or she demonstrates his or her membership in the Chief's clan by wearing the Chief's Crest within it.


Geoffrey (tailor)

Henderson Imports


Search The Web
Search This Site Only


Visit our Store to purchase yards of fabric or see the suggested kiltmakers under Highland Dress.

The "Keith & Austin" tartan is not as common as those of larger clans, but it can be ordered from most Scottish weavers and kiltmakers.

Today's Clan Keith members wear both tartans, but the ancient is much more common (in part because the modern is difficult to distinguish from the famous Black Watch).