History of The Kilt - The Small Kilt or Walking Kilt

The Small Kilt or Walking Kilt

Sometime in the late 17th or early 18th century the fèileadh beag, filibeg, or philabeg (the small kilt) using a single width of cloth hanging down below the belt came into use and became quite popular throughout the Highlands and northern Lowlands by 1746, though the great kilt also continued in use. The small kilt or philabeg is a clear development from the great kilt, i.e. it is essentially the bottom half of the great kilt.

A letter published in the Edinburgh Magazine in March 1785 by one Ivan Baillie argued that the garment people would today recognize as a kilt was invented around the 1720s by Thomas Rawlinson, a Quaker from Lancashire. Rawlinson was claimed to have designed it for the Highlanders who worked in his new charcoal production facility in the woods of northern Scotland. After the Jacobite campaign of 1715 the government was "opening" the Highlands to outside exploitation and Rawlinson was one of the businessmen who took advantage of the situation. It was thought that the traditional Highland kilt, the "belted plaid" which consisted of a large cloak, was inconvenient for tree cutters. He supposedly brought the Highland garment to a tailor, intent on making it more practical. The tailor responded by cutting it in two. Rawlinson took this back and then introduced the new kilt. Rawlinson liked the new creation so much that he began to wear it as well and was soon imitated by his Scottish colleagues, the Clan MacDonnell of Glengarry.

This story has become well known, due in part to the historian Hugh Trevor-Roper's work, but more recent evidence has shown this theory to be out of date as several illustrations have been found of Highlanders wearing only the bottom part of the belted plaid that date long before Rawlinson ever set foot in Scotland. There is some suggestion of its use in the 1690s, and it was definitely being worn by the early 18th century. It most likely came about as a natural evolution of the belted plaid and Rawlinson probably observed it and quickly deduced its usefulness in his situation and insisted on introducing it among his workers. So while it may well be the case that Rawlinson promoted the philabeg, he is no longer credited with inventing it.

The first instance we have of the pleats being sewn in to the philabeg, creating a true tailored kilt, comes in 1792. This kilt, currently in the possession of the Scottish Tartans Authority, is the first garment that can truly be called a 'modern' kilt as we know it today. Up until this point, the kilt was folded, rather than pleated. This development served to speed the donning of the kilt and was brought into use by the Scottish regiments serving in the British Army. The tailored military kilt and its formalised accessories then passed to the civilian market during the early 19th century and has remained popular ever since.

Read more about this topic:  History Of The Kilt

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