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J. Charles "Scotty" Thompson

So You're Going to Wear the Kilt: Revised 3rd Edition Paperback – January 1, 1982 by J. Charles Thompson (Author)

J. Charles "Scotty" Thompson

This is the only guide book I know of (and believe me, I've looked) that goes into every facet of the correct way to wear a kilt (and what to wear with it, for what occasion, and how). EVERYTHING is covered, from length of the kilt, to black and white tie affairs, stylish non-formal options (and even how to get usual business- casual jackets tailored properly for kilt-wearing), how to do period-appropriate more costumed looks like great kilts with ascots, what sort of footwear to have, for what ensemble, and much else. Even has advice on proper forms of address when meeting or writing to clan chiefs. Get this, no matter what it takes, or you will probably look like a complete dork to any real Scotsman.

(And yes, the author is VERY "proper" and a stickler for tradition. But even if you're a combat-booted punk guy with a UtiliKilt you should still get this - learn the rules before you break them, so you can break them with style.

PS: This is a review of the 2nd (I think) edition with a different cover and possibly from a different publisher. I lost it, so am ordering this one now. There's also a "revised" ed., with a colourful cover, but it is posthumous and may have been significantly altered. AVOID the Iain Grey "edited" version from Lang Syne Press; it is really a compression of Thompson's work to about 1/10 of its original material.

Update: Yes, this 3rd ed. is the complete book, not the digest version. Highly recommended.

J. Charles “Scotty” Thompson, F.S.T.S. has been “acknowledged as the foremost expert on tartans in North America by the Scottish Tartans Society. He has written widely on tartans, and a series on that subject in the HIGHLANDER was followed by two on highland dress in 1973. The ensuing discussions and correspondence led to this book. He is the coauthor with D.C. Stewart, “the father of modern tartan research,” of Scotland's Forged Tartans, an exposú of the Vestiarium Scoticum, published in Edinburgh, 1980. At many Highland Games his “Tartan Information” booth is always a center of interest and activity.


This readable and handy booklet on Scottish attire provides a compact guide not only for those starting to wear Scottish dress, but also for those who may have been wearing the kilt for some time.

The author has provided an authoritative guide for all Americans—and indeed for many Scots in Scotland. This booklet contains much valuable information and useful comment, and I can recommend it to anyone possessing or considering the acquisition of the kilt.

Indeed, there is so much tradition and controversy associated with Highland dress that it is no wonder that many people are confused and anxious to seek advice on the subject. Everything you will be required to know will be found in the following pages.

The kilt is the finest national dress in the world and should be preserved as such. It should be worn correctly. If you follow the information provided in this guide, you will not go wrong.

Andrew MacThomas of Finegand
19th Hereditary Chief of Clan MacThomas Edinburgh
October 1978


I do not claim to be an expert on Scottish attire in my own right. However I have worn the kilt about as much as anyone else I know in the United States and I have read everything I can find on the subject. I have also made a serious study of tartans and can claim to know a reasonable amount about that subject. Consequently after I wrote a series of articles on the tartan for the Highlander magazine, I was asked to do a couple of articles on Scottish attire. These were well received past all expectation or deserving, and people started writing and even phoning me long distance with questions about Scottish attire.

The end result has been this booklet. It is a mixture of data cribbed from other sources, facts that are, or should be, common knowledge, and my own personal opinions. I have made no real attempt to be objective, but I have tried rigorously to label my own opinions as such wherever I have let them into the final text. I have said in the text, and I say again: do not take any of my opinions as authoritative, but feel free to disagree with any or all of them! If, however, you are just starting to wear the kilt, it is much better to be guided by common practice, the experience of those who have worn the kilt for a reasonable time, or even the opinion of purists. I am not a purist in matters of Scottish dress, but I have been careful to include the opinion of those who tend to that extreme. Again I have tried to label it as the purist viewpoint, if only to preserve a balanced view of the subject.

As the title indicates, this booklet is directed to the beginner in Scottish attire. At the same time, it strives to be a fairly complete discussion of the subject. If some parts of it seem to tell you more than you need to know at the very beginning, just concentrate on what you do want to know now. The rest may prove useful to you later.

I am indebted to a great many people for help and advice in the preparation of this book, so many that I could hardly list them all. However I must mention Capt. T. Stuart Davidson, F.S.A.Scot., founder and Vice President of the Scottish Tartans Society, who read the whole first draft of the manuscript and made numerous, most valuable corrections and suggestions.


We have another edition instead of just another printing, since there are a minor correction or two, a few substitutions and additions, and a minor change or two in the illustrations.

We have gone more fully into the subject of wearing campaign ribbons, giving the rules of the Scottish-American Military Society.

We have expanded the section on “Accessories” and changed the name to “Weapons,” since that is what it is all about now.

And we have added a note, quoting the remarks of Sir Crispin Agnew, Rothesay Herald, in The Highlander on the use of the clan crest badge on notepaper.

It remains to thank the loyal supporters of the earlier editions and the readers who look into this one.

If you would like to discuss anything in the book, drop me a line in care of the publisher, or call me at (703) 241-7077. If I’m not home, though, you’ll get a recording, but if you can’t get me at all, it will likely mean I have taken my final departure for Tir nan Og.



The first consideration is a state of mind—your state of mind the first time you wear a kilt. I don’t mean to a meeting of your St. Andrew’s Society or some other occasion where everyone is in the kilt; I mean the first time you wear it downtown by yourself in daylight. You will be as nervous as a cat in a meeting of the American Kennel Club. There is no reason to be, for with experience you will find that everyone likes to see a man in a kilt. But every time you hear someone laugh, or whistle, or honk his horn, or say, “Hey!”, you will be sure it is meant for you. Of course, it isn’t. Next time you are on the street—in trousers, I mean—make a point of noticing how many laughs, whistles, horns, and shouts you hear every day and ignore completely! Then when you blossom forth in your kilt, ignore them just as completely! They will not have anything to do with you except in your heated imagination.

People will look at you in a kilt; in fact almost everyone you see will say hello. If you want to get used to this (to a somewhat lesser degree) start by wearing a Balmoral bonnet with badge instead of your usual hat! You will be amazed at the number of strangers who will smile and greet you as you pass. This has to do with a fact of our culture known as “eye contact.” It is rude to make eye contact with a stranger. If you happen to be looking at a stranger when he looks up at you, you must look aside immediately—“break eye contact.” There are only two alternatives: to stare at him rudely, or not to treat him as a stranger, that is to smile and greet him. When you are wearing a bonnet, even more so a kilt and bonnet, strangers may look at you pretty fixedly. When you catch their eye, they are not prepared to look away immediately, they say hello to keep from appearing rude. So in a kilt, all the world is your friend.

Remember that in the kilt you are not wearing a costume. Where other forms of national dress are called costumes, ours is always Scottish “attire.” The late Duke of Windsor did not enhance his image with the Scots when he wore Highland evening dress to a costume ball. Just as Scottish attire is not a costume, Scottish costumes are not generally appropriate at Scottish games or other gatherings. Some of the older styles such as the breacan feile and peitean (both discussed later) are being revived, and one sees shirts in the colonial style worn with the kilt. Purists object to all three of these, though I do not necessarily agree, but what I am talking about is an outfit reminiscent of a Maclan print, complete with targe and an assortment of weapons.

To me these look ludicrous, and the implication that I, too, am in costume because I am wearing the kilt shows a complete lack of understanding of Scottish attire. The kilt is perfectly normal dress for a man of Scottish ancestry or connections, and anyone who feels differently is simply displaying his ignorance. At a Saint Andrew’s lunch, one member said he could not wear his kilt to the office, because of the way the fellows would make fun of him. Another man rejoined, “Nobody ever made fun of me wearing a kilt. A lot of people have tried, but no one ever succeeded.” That is the spirit to develop.

This is the reason for the old saying, “If you can imagine any circumstances under which you would be embarrassed to wear the kilt, then you should not wear the kilt under any circumstances.” This is not to advise against wearing the kilt. It just means you should develop the attitude where you would never feel embarrassed to wear it.

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