First off let me note that there is zero cycling or motorcycling content in this week’s blog entry.
Now, for the readers who are still with me and who may also be Monty Python fans, this blog entry really falls into the classic, “… and now for something completely different” category. That I chose the Monty Python players for my segue is not completely without context as they too were often times seen wearing traditional English, Scottish, Welsh & Irish attire which is what’s ahead.
There are still a few things on my bucket list that are not of great expense, exclusivity or that require extraordinary effort to achieve. One of these things relates to genealogy and in particular my mother’s father – my grandfather, James — who emigrated from Scotland during the 1920’s.
While I always appreciated that on my father’s side of the family tree I was a 7th generation Swiss/German whose new world patriarch & matriarch came to colonies in the early 1700’s, the heritage has always been too far removed, vague and distilled to create strong ancestral ties even in light of reading all of the materials my grandfather had collected on the family history. It’s a fascinating history of how my great, great, great, great, great grandfather and grandmother were shipped off to the Colonies in the early 1700’s as indentured servants and went on to establish roots for a family where in one of the subsequent generations there were six sons, four of whom were doctors and the other two lawyers. Sadly, my grandfather whom I never met was the last doctor in that branch of my family tree.
However, being a second-generation Scot I have always had an affinity for my Scottish heritage. So, in addition to wanting to someday find out if I could play the bagpipes (turns out it’s anything but intuitive or easy) I’ve been curious to know what it would be like to dress in a kilt as just a part of my wardrobe.
Halloween: The Kilt Catalyst
As Halloween approached and Debbie and I talked about parties and costumes, the idea of wearing a casual Jacobite highland outfit with a true 8-yard wool kilt, 2” belt, sporran, knee-high hose and appropriate footwear came to mind. My initial though on “testing the waters” was to go to the two larger Halloween costume stores and find a cheap Kilt costume.
However, before even doing that I knew I’d need to get Debbie’s feedback on how she thought I’d look in a ‘man-skirt.’ Do do this I cobbled together a pseudo outfit from things I could find at the house: after all, a kilt truly is a pretty simple garment. I modeled the outfit for Debbie and she was (a) really surprised how good it looked, and (b) pleased with how I looked in the pseudo kilt. So, with her approval secured, my next step was to go in search of a Scottish highland costume.
Well, let me tell you, the only thing of any interest I found during my Thursday afternoon search at the costume stores were our good friends Ryan & Jeanette who were also out looking for Halloween costumes. It was great to see them as it had been a couple of weeks since our paths had crossed. Anyway, they had more luck than I did as the only Scottish costumes they had at either store were really awful and turned out to cost as much as an authentic, wool kilt. So, after striking-out on Thursday afternoon I went home and did a little homework and discovered there was a store specializing in kilts and related attire within an hour’s drive in Suwanee, Georgia. Their core business is renting them out for wedding parties or other special events, but they also run a retail business.
As good as the information is on-line in regard to sizing, etc., I figured I’d do well to make the hour-long drive, visit and be properly fitted such that I’d be able to give the kilt a fair assessment in terms of comfort. I’d say comfort and practicality but, quite frankly, there’s probably not all that much practical about a kilt beyond the comfort and perhaps the satisfaction that comes from paying homage to my Scottish heritage: everything else would be best characterized as a novel fashion statement. Or, at least that was my going-in position.
On Friday around noon I made the drive over and spent about an hour and a half with Eric and Kathy who were a wealth of knowledge and experience. I went in with a goal of coming out with at least one, if not two kilts and the other accessories I’d need to wear it properly. I say two because I discovered that in addition that to a traditional 8 yard wool kilts, there are now modern utility kilts: a kilt made from heavy-duty denim: think Carhart work clothes. However, unlike the traditional kilts, the modern denim utility kilts are less eye-catching solid colors and have exterior flap pockets along both flanks that give you a place to put your phone, wallet, keys, etc. These eliminate the need for a sporran hanging below your belt buckle or a drummer’s pouch on the back of your belt. My guess was I’d probably end up wearing the utility kilt more often than a brightly colored tartan kilt and, after all, the goal here was to determine if wearing a kilt could become a routine alternative to jeans and western boots.
So, how did it feel to put on a kilt? Well, even though I made a point of wearing boxers so that trying them on would be a lot easier and hygienic I was really, really surprised how comfortable the kilt felt as I walked around inside the store: no wonder skirts and dresses have never gone out of style.
The folks at Atlanta Kilts were great and were able to send me out the door with everything I needed. While they prefer for folks to plan ahead and build in one to three weeks of time to allow for proper sizing and tailoring for length, etc, they found several on-hand kilts for me that were “close enough.” For example, while my black utility kilt was probably the proper length, it was a little tight through the waist which – at least on the utility kilts – is not adjustable. But I was positive I could add about a ½ inch to the waistline without any trouble. Moreover, like my proper-fitting jeans, the snug waist will serve as a constant reminder that I need to watch what I eat! Kathy noted that my McDonald tartan wool kit was a bit shorter than it should have been and suggested leaving it for her to tailor. Her criteria for fit is, you want the hem to fall around the knee: if it’s too far below the knee it looks like a women’s skirt and if it’s too far above the knee it looks like a Catholic school girl’s uniform skirt. However, I rationalized that the shorter length would let me wear it lower on my waist and without a belt for a more casual look: we’ll see how that plays out before I ultimately have it lengthened. I also purchased a Black Watch tartan kilt that Kathy was going to shorten and then ship to me along with several other bits and pieces that they didn’t have on hand, e.g., a Wallace kilt pin, and bronze belt buckle for the utility kilt. Cost wise, the wool tartan kilts came out of their “rental fleet” so they were discounted and the utility kilt was on sale. Of course, the Ghillie shirts, long hose, a nicer than basic sporran and a few other little odds and ends like sock garters with matching tartan tabs bumped up the total a bit. However, given the size of my purchase, Eric gave me a customer-loyalty discount on top of everything else which was a nice surprise. Just can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed my visit and how pleased I was with what I found.
I debuted my black utility kilt for Debbie at home, matching it with a Harley T-shirt, black combat boots and black hose gathered at the top of the boot: she liked it a lot! She also got a preview of the McDonald tartan with the black Ghilly shirt, socks and sporran but black oxford shoes for a dressier look: once again, she liked that a lot too. The black utility kilt was the one I wore over to Loco Willy’s
We arrived a bit later than usual around 7:30 and found all of the usual suspects – David & Deb, Stuart & Teresa, Billy & Dava and of course Brian behind the bar. However, our friends Bobby, Ryan & Jeanette were also on hand. While Bobby & Ryan were a bit confused by my “skirt” Jeanette was quick to offer her approval. As far as general reactions, given it was Halloween weekend I probably got a bit of a pass as most folks thought it was a Halloween costume. Me, it took me no time at all to relearn the process of getting in and out of the truck, climbing up into a bar stool, going to the bathroom, etc. Yes, it’s very different but at least to me in a good way. Thankfully, I do have my Scottish roots to fall back on when asked “why” as that seemed to always generate a thumbs up or a comment with similar meaning. Setting all of that aside, we really had a great evening at Loco’s. We got time with all of our friends and went into extra innings with Bobby, Ryan and Jeanette: something that was well overdue. Sadly, Carrie Ann couldn’t be with Bobby as she was sitting with the grandkids.
On Saturday we had to run a few errands before getting ready to attend a Halloween Party and dance where we’d finally have a chance to kick-up our heels. I wore my black utility kilt for the early part of the day and, once again, it just felt great and turned out to be very practical with the large cargo pockets. I changed into the McDonald tartan kilt, black Ghillie shirt, socks, etc., for the Halloween party and Debbie went as a contemporary femme fatale. Again, since it was Halloween I’m pretty sure everyone just assumed the kilt was my costume for the night so almost zero questions as to “why are you wearing a kilt” and quite a few compliments on the outfit as well. Again, not as many as Debbie received for her outfit, but a respectable count none-the-less. Overall, just a great day of relaxing, watching a little football, getting a little sun and then dancing the night away.
I wore the McDonald for the trip home on Sunday and later in the day put the black one back on for our dinner trip over to Loco Willy’s. It’s fair to say that I’ve already gotten pretty comfortable wearing it and will look forward to having them as an “option” for both casual and semi-casual events… well outside of work. My case for the kilt is pretty straight forward: it’s not all that different looking from the cargo shorts that a lot of men now wear, other than not having defined leg holes. However, it’s certainly a lot more comfortable and can stimulate interest conversations. It will never replace my default casual attire of jeans + Tshirt + western boots as I’m not about to ride a motorcycle in a kilt or shorts for that matter. And, depending on where we’re going for different events or activities the added attention that comes with wearing the kilt may not be something I’d want. But, at least I now have the option!
So, What Does a Someone Wear Under a Kilt?
Why, socks and shoes of course: as plain to see as the day is bright! Anyway, the experiment will continue and if I find that I wear the things often enough I will most certainly acquire a kilt in the Wallace family tartan along with a proper tweed kilt jacket and waistcoat.