Highland Dress

An essential part of playing the pipes is appropriate highland dress. Few other instruments carry the added burden of a prescribed wardrobe. Since the typical highland attire may not be familiar to all visitors of this site, I will go ahead and briefly describe some of the basic elements. To the left you will see an image of me in what I typically wear for a solo performance. This particular image was from a memorial service at the Crestview Police Department in Crestview FL. I will cover the basic elements moving from head to toe. For information on other styles of highland dress, please click here.

Glengarry Hat: The Glengarry hat is one of the two primary traditional highland head coverings (the other is the Balmoral). Both come from the military legacy of the regimental bagpipers of old. The green feathers are called a hackle and are a traditional decoration.

Shirt and Tie: Self explanatory. Long sleeves look better, but on a hot day, short sleeves are much more comfortable.

Vest: I've chosen a simple 5 button vest. There are more ornate variations as well.

Kilt: Easily the most recognizable piece of clothing a piper wears, the kilt is almost as indispensable as the pipes themselves. Traditionally the kilt is made of 8 yards of worsted wool woven into the familial tartan of the wearer. The amount of fabric, the material, and the tartans have changed much in recent years, though the basic construction remains the same. The kilt (which is not a skirt) has an apron, or flat panel, in front and is pleated in the back. It is worn high on the waist and hangs to roughly the knee. As for what is under a kilt...my socks and shoes of course. For more information of my selection of kilts, please click here .

Sporran: Traditional kilts have no pockets, so you need to have a pouch of some kind lest you loose your keys. The sporran serves this purpose. It is essentially a pouch that is suspended around the waist by a strap or hung from a belt. Traditionally sporrans were made of seal skin. Today they are available in a wide variety of materials. They may be plain or ornate, large or small, functional or decorative. The one I am wearing here is a semi-dress hunting style.

Kilt Pin: The kilt pin is located on near the lower corner of the kilt's apron. It does not pin the apron to the rest of the kilt, rather it serves to add weight to the apron and help prevent it from flapping open should a stiff breeze arise.

Hose : The hose are a mid-calf sock. They come in a variety of colors and styles. Originally they were knit of wool, but often today they are woven of modern fabric.

Flashes : Colorful ribbons that adorn the tops of the hose. Originally they were the ends of the cloth used to hold the woven hose in place. Today they are no longer needed for that purpose but remain as a fashion accessory.

Sgian Dubh (top of right hose) [skeen-doo]: The 'black knife' was once the Scotsman's last means of self defense and was carried under the arm pit. Eventually the sgian dubh moved south and is now most often carried in the top of the hose on the wearer's dominant side. More formal sgian dubh handles are made from dark wood and ornately decorated. Casual sgian duhb handles are often made from stag antler.

Ghillie Brogues: The traditional shoes have no tongue and long laces that tie around the ankle. In the boggy terrain of the moors the lack of a tongue helped the wearers feet and hose dry faster and the high laces helped keep the brogues attached to the wearer's foot when trudging through mud.

It is a lot to take in, and this isn't even the most formal version of highland attire available. For a more comprehensive review I highly recommend "Kilts & Tartans Made Easy" by Dr. Nicholas Fiddes of the Scottish Tartan Authority.

Kilts & Tartan

Recommended: Free Kilts & Tartan e-book

"Kilts & Tartans - Made Easy"

An Expert Insider's Frank Views and Simple Tips by Dr Nicholas J Fiddes (Governor, Scottish Tartans Authority)

  • Why you should wear a kilt, and what kind of kilt to get

  • How to source true quality, and avoid the swindlers

  • Find your own tartans, and get the best materials

  • Know the outfit for any occasion, and understand accessories