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What things cost: Highland Attire

Say what you will about this guy, he sports “full dress” rather impressively.
Image: scotlandnow.dailyrecord.co.uk

Highland Attire

~$400 – $800

Ok, so this is NOT required for day-to-day playing. But eventually you’re probably going to want to play in public. Maybe someone heard that you play the pipes and would love to have you play a few tunes at their event. Maybe you’d like to compete at a highland gathering with other pipers to see where you stand, and meet some fellow pipers. Maybe a local event or establishment would like to hire you to play a few tunes … say, a pub or parade on St. Patrick’s Day.

If you get going with piping and progress beyond a certain point, one of the above scenarios is bound to apply to you eventually. When these sort of things come up, it’s pretty much expected that you look (as well as sound) the part.


You can’t duck the cost of a kilt … =) … but you can be quite frugal with it when you’re starting out.

Image: clipartmax.com


The Kilt

A kilt is usually the costliest item you’ll have to get—but with proper care it should last you nearly a lifetime—unless, of course, you’re still growing or your weight were to greatly fluctuate.

Even in these cases you’d be amazed what can be done with a good kilt when it’s in the hands of a skilled tailor/seamstress—just be sure they know how to work with highland garments. The straps on the side can be lengthened or moved, and I do believe some kilts can be made initially with the material folded and pressed on the bottom so that it can later be lengthened (though I’m not 100% certain on this … I need to do some research).

Good example of a standard wool kilt. Above, you can see this fellow wearing both a vest and jacket, which means he’s not wearing a kilt belt. The item centered over his middle is a sporran. Note also the hose and flashes on his calves.
Image: kiltsociety.com

A standard, heavy wool kilt will generally run you around $500$700, give or take. Like anything else, there are options abound. Lighter kilts (less yardage of wool) are actually preferred by many, and these will be considerably less expensive. A lighter kilt will run more around the $300 range.

There are also some non-wool options that can also do quite well for someone who’s just looking for a budget-friendly way to look the part. Search around and read reviews carefully, but some decent-looking non-wool kilts can be found around the $100 mark. I’ve heard good things about poly viscose kilts from USA Kilts. In my opinion, don’t bother with acrylic kilts … they just don’t feel/look right to me.


The rest

So that’s the kilt. Along with it, to look right one will also need, at the minimum:

  • Dress shirt & tie … standard, nothing special, ~$100
  • Day Sporran … starting at ~$75
  • Kilt Belt~$75
  • Hose (thick, knee-high socks) and flashes … ~$60 total
  • Ghillie Brogues (or passable dress shoes) … $90 – $150

And optionally there’s also:

  • Vest~$100 (if you use this, you can skip the belt)
  • Kilt Jacket ~$300
  • Glengarry hat (or Balmoral) … ~$50

Chances are you already have a simple tie and dress shirt hanging about in your closet. Those will do fine, so long as the shirt isn’t borrowed from Ted Nugent, and tie isn’t of the Looney Tunes variety. A nice, boring white/blue shirt will do nicely, as well a simple tie that’s either solid or simple stripes. Let the tartan shine as the “busy item” in your outfit, without competition from your shirt and tie.

This is a typical day sporran. Simple leather ones like this will usually run about $75 or so. The name says it all, this is for day-to-day use. At very formal events, it might look a bit too casual—dress sporrans should be worn for those.
Image: kiltsociety.com
And this is what a dress sporran will look like, reserved for special occasions. They’ll usually start around $200, depending on the retailer/maker. Again, special functions only. Wearing this out and about at everyday occasions would be like wearing a tux jacket with your surfing shorts and sandals on a day at the beach.
Image: kiltsociety.com

A sporran is a modest-sized pouch that hangs across your front “nether regions.” Quite plainly, a kilt without a sporran looks like a skirt. So … ahem … GET A SPORRAN. Simple as possible is fine, there are many fine-looking options can be had for round-about $50 – $75.

This is what a kilt belt looks like with the buckle off. This just simple sits on top of the kilt, and hooks. It doesn’t serve any purpose aside from decoration.
Image: kiltsociety.com
Here’s a buckle on its own. What’s nice about this is one can elect to have a few different ones, and change them up according to their tastes on a particular day.
Image: kiltsociety.com

The belt for a kilt kind of reminds me of those things that WWF guys would fight over … a thick-looking belt with a large buckle in the front. If you really want to go for a limited budget solution, there are ones that resize with velcro on the inside .. but personally I find these very uncomfortable. A simple leather one with a sizing strap will run about $50, and a buckle can be had for about $25 – $30 (usually isn’t included, but you can accessorize with new ones at your desire).

The belt is purely decorative—it doesn’t actually hold anything up. So truth-be-told, I think I’ve worn my belt a handful of times over the years (except for at renaissance festival gigs).

A simple Argyll vest, worn with a semi-dress sporran. Notice again, no belt is worn due to the presence of the vest.
Image: kiltsociety.com

Instead of bothering with a belt, in my opinion, you’re better off going for getting a kilt vest (aka, waistcoat). Looks classy, and eliminates the need for the belt since the bottom of the vest covers over where the belt would show. Most quality vests can be had for about $100 or so. And if you’re ever thinking about competing, vest is 100% the way to go—many sanctioning groups require a vest or jacket unless it’s really hot.

A good example of typical kilt hose. The cable-pattern of this one is called Harris. Colors can be varied to match the tartan you’re wearing.
Image: kiltsociety.com
And this pattern is called Lewis, which is a personal favorite—a little extra detail that adds a slight touch of flair to the outfit.
Image: kiltsociety.com

Hose isn’t all that cheap, as far as “socks” go. But you only really need one pair (unless you’re playing out a lot). Plan on $40 – $50 for a nice-looking pair, and you’ll be good to go for quite some time. Flashes are elastic-esque straps that help to keep the hose from falling down, and there’s some decorative bits of cloth sticking out of them, which adds a bit of visual … well, “flash.” Flashes will run you about $20 or so, and I’ve used the same set for a good 10 years now (since I lost my previous pair).

These are ghillie brogues. They may look a bit ornate to the uninitiated, but you’ll get used to it. In general, I cringe a little when I see plain dress shoes (forget black sneakers!) on with a kilt. It just doesn’t look right. Get a good pair, take care of them, and they’ll last.
Image: kiltsociety.com

Ghillie Brogues are a particular type/style of shoe that’s meant to pair well with a kilt and hose. They have long laces that tie up around your ankle, and really help to complete the look. Still, if you’ve got a good (ideally black) pair of dress shoes in your closet, that’ll do. It’s not my cup of tea, as I really feel that ghillies have a distinctive look to them, and nothing else quite does the trick. But that’s just me being picky—if you’ve got some nice dress shoes, then you’re good to go. If you decide to go for a pair of ghillies, a nice pair shouldn’t cost more than ~$150.

The most frequent choice for headwear—the glengarry. As you can see, there’s a place for a hat badge of your choosing.
Image: claymoreimports.com
Sometimes you’ll also see this—a Balmoral. This has an older feel to it. The one shown here also has red and white dicing, which can be seen on glengarries as well.
Image: kilts-n-stuff.com

I’d listed a hat as optional, but this really depends. If you’re hired for any kind of event (particularly outdoors) or you’re competing, you REALLY need to have some sort of hat, and it should be one that’s appropriate. Generally this means either a “glengarry” or a “Balmoral.” Most people opt for the former, but you can take your pick based on your own sense of style. Either one can be found for around ~$50 or less.

And here’s an Argyll jacket. Often this can be combined with the vest. It appears that a kilt belt is still not being worn—I take exception to that. It’s the vest that negates the need for a belt, since the buckle is covered over. If wearing the jacket alone, the buckle would still be exposed, especially whilst playing your pipes—so the belt and buckle should be there.
Image: kiltsociety.com

Lastly, there’s a kilt jacket … far and away the most optional of them all. Honestly, I’ve been playing the pipes for more than half of my life now, and I’ve worn a kilt jacket only a handful of times. It’s amazing how versatile just the vest can be in covering one’s bases.

That said, a nice jacket is a really nice touch for classy events—say, a fancy dinner event. I was playing for a good 15 years before I ever even thought about a jacket, and even then I put it off for a little while longer. A good jacket would run you around $300 or so, though if you’re playing at an event where a jacket might be expected, you should probably also have/wear a dress sporran, which can cost just as much on its own.