The Sexual Allure of the Kilt
The rise in Scottish nationalism allied to a cultural
resurgence north of the border has brought Scotsman the confidence to don their
national dress. To be Scottish now is to be hip cool and trendy. Everyone from
true blue Scotsmen such as Ewan McGregor to honorary Celt Mel Gibson sport the
One of the few redeeming features of, the dire Americanised
big screen version of The Avengers, the classic British 60's television
series, was the glorious sight of Sean Connery, the first and best 007, clad in
plaid. In my humble opinion a magnificent sight, that was worth the price of
In the last episode of This Life, the cult BBC drama
about law students sharing a house, an answer was provided for those who wonder
what a Scotsman wears under his kilt. It is when the kilted Lenny as played by
Scottish actor Tony Curran, is being graphically buggered by Ramon Tikaram, in
the role of Ferdy, in the men's toilets at the climatic wedding reception.
And, we now have evidence to prove the Queen of Pop herself,
Madonnna, is a fan of the kilt. In the run up to her marriage to Guy Ritchie,
which took place, of course, in Scotland, she was reported to have confided in
Elayne Grimes, the Northern Constabulary's media relations officer. Apparently,
Madge admitted that Ritchie was "incredibly sexy in his kilt" and that he always
goes commando, the phrase that applies to a man leaving nothing to the
imagination to what lies beneath. Truly, a devil in a skirt, but how did that
particular description of a Scotsman came about?
The two most commonly attributed phrases "devils in skirts"
or "ladies from hell" appeared to have been applied to the 51st
Highland Division during the First World War and both expressions appear to be
interchangeable. It was German intelligence, which like the British kept a
record of those enemy divisions that were opposite them in the line. Some
divisions fought harder than others, with the 51st joining the top of
the German list, after the clearing of the Y Ravine in the autumn of 1916. The
two expressions became popular around this time amongst the German soldiers, who
were as fond of nicknames as the British Tommy. With time, it has become applied
to all Scottish regiments that wear the kilt, whether in battle or on the parade
The kilt is one of the few items of male attire men can
actually wear without being labelled a transvestite or latent homosexual, or
both. Real men wear the kilt from gruff Scottish actors, such as Peter Mullan,
to black US movie stars like Samuel L Jackson. Fashion houses such as Burberry
have also spotted a trend that has, in reality, never gone away. Very few men
would dare doubt a man's heterosexual status for wearing the kilt, unless they
happened to be an ill-informed US tele-evangelist.
Jean-Paul Gaultier, the camp London-based French fashion
designer, has been dogged in his persistence to popularise a modern version of
the kilt; without much success it has to be said. Could it be that his designs
were too obviously homoerotic? Yet it is from strange that Gaultier should be
enamoured of the kilt, as there is a long, and friendly, association between
France and Scotland, as opposed to those south of the Anglo-Scottish border.
No Englishman would ever be brave/stupid enough to go up to a
big, hairy Scotsman and insinuate that his friend from north of the border was
less than one hundred percent pure heterosexual? Unless, of course, he was
inordinately fond of hospital food, that is.
As Edward Lucie-Smith explains in his introduction to Jack
Fritscher's American Men: 'It tells us nothing of the sexuality of the
subject, but much about the image-maker's own reactions to the world which
surrounds him - the things he is attuned to, and it likely to notice and
record.' To cut a long theory short, beauty is in the eye of the viewfinder. As
George Mazzei, former managing editor of the American version of GQ Magazine
from 1968-75, has explained, the erotic charge of the kilt is the nudity
underneath its pleats; or rather the assumption of nakedness.
One photograph, in American Men, entitled 'Actual
Prison Guard, American Kilt, 1990' captures perfectly the erotic charge of the
kilt, an athlete is engaged in throwing the hammer at a Highland Games. The
shorts he wears beneath his kilt add a sensual frisson, rather than detracting
from such a magnificent sight, as the referee, also kilted, watches on.
Though, dear reader, one need not have to search far for
further images of men in kilts, as the cyber highway is crowded with a plethora
of photographic evidence of those fellows who rebel against the trouser tyranny
of the modern Western society. One e-group, based on Yahoo, called rather
unimaginatively it has to be said, men-in-kilts, boasts a huge number of virile
young bucks clad in plaid. And, there are more than I could possibly mention in
such a short article as this, but take it from me, there are plenty more. The
kilt still remains an icon of style, despite the vagaries of fashion, although
over the years it has been touch and go.
Of course, not every man is a suitable candidate for wearing
the kilt. David Duchovny of X-Files fame made a bad fashion mistake when
he wore one. Others with offensive knees, or sticks for legs, should also be
heavily dissuaded from donning it.
The origin of the modern short kilt, or philibeg,
however, is still a subject of heated debate in some quarters. Thomas Rawlinson
was an Englishman who adopted Highland dress, whilst working as the ironmaster
at the Glengarry works in the eighteenth century, is considered to be the prime
originator of the kilt as now know it.
There is no available evidence to suggest that the kilt, in
its present form, existed before the early 1700's. This has failed to stifle the
controversy, which, if truth were told, has all this to do with the fact that
the first man to wear it was far from being a favoured son of Caledonia but a
However, if you, dear reader, do decide to take to the kilt,
do not forget the sporran. Which is very useful for keeping your small change
and keys, as well as anchoring it down in a stiff breeze. Also, it is much more
aesthetically pleasing than those dire bum-bags that have infiltrated the high
street from the ski slopes in recent years. As well as that, forget the fact
that sporran is Scots Gaelic for purse!
(c) Howard Watson 2001
Poetry & Stories