Contrary to popular belief, the great kilt was not worn by the brave-hearted William Wallace. In fact, it wasn’t until the 16th century that the plaid garment began to resemble the great kilt. It differs from the kind of kilt that we wear today in that it was really just a long piece of fabric. However, the way that the wearing of the garment evolved between the 16th and 18th centuries was the precursor to the modern kilt design.
The great kilts of the 18th century can also be described as belted plaid. This meant that the garment’s structure was really held together by a belt of some kind. The long piece of fabric meant that it needed to be folded in and around itself, as well as over the body, to be more beneficial than cumbersome. For a better fit, the fabric would have been hand-pleated, wrapped over the shoulder, and fastened with the belt each time it was worn. Though this may seem like a lot of work for modern-day kilt wearers, this also allowed the kilt to be transformed into blankets and other useful fabric objects quickly. By the 19th century, the great kilts began including bits of construction which aided in a more swiftly completed pleating process but still allowed them to be multi-use garments. However, it was also during the 19th century that the wearing of kilts became more celebratory and fashionable than practical, and our contemporary version of the kilt was introduced.
Finding the Great Kilt Today
As the kilt has certainly changed in the past few centuries, you won’t often see the great kilt make an appearance at a Burns Supper or march down the streets of New York City in the Tartan Day Parade. The great kilt is most often seen as a historical garment, rather than a modern-day fashion statement. You might find historical reenactors at various Highland Games sporting the look. Of course, it has a strong presence in the pop culture phenomenon, Outlander.
Despite it going out of style in favor of a kilt with more construction and ease of wear, the fly plaid, which is most often worn in formal settings, harkens back to the great kilt.
How to Pleat and Put on the Plaid
Those adventurous enough to try their hand at wearing their own great kilt might find it to be much easier to prepare than expected.
- Grab your belt and tartan fabric. If you don’t have this already, we can help you find the perfect tartan and size.
- First, you’ll want to lay your belt down on the ground with your tartan fabric over the top of it so that when it’s all wrapped up, you’ll be able to secure it right away with the belt.
- You’re going to divide your fabric into three sections: the left side will be unpleated, the middle will be pleated, and the far right side will also remain unpleated. The two unpleated sides should each be measured to equal half of your waist size and will end up acting as the inside and outside aprons of the kilt.
- Pleat the middle section toward the left, making pleats no larger than 2 inches.
- Next, lie down in the middle of your fabric with the belt at your waist, making sure you’ve got the correct length.
- Fold the right side over your body and then the left; secure with your belt.
- There will be a lot of fabric left over from the waist up — you can wrap this over your shoulder and pin it together with a brooch.