Men in Kilts: From the #HistoricalResearch Files
In the course of researching clothing for the hero in my work in progress, I’ve been thinking a lot about men in kilts.
Kilt or Trews?
My hero is an officer from a Scottish regiment in London in March 1815. He’s served twenty years and is now on half pay, with a lingering wound from the Peninsular campaign. He accepts an invitation to dinner where he suspects he may run into a lady he wants to impress. I’ve had him don a red coat and a kilt.
Kilts are more distinctive, more dramatic, more romantic for a Scottish romance hero, right? But is it correct for him to wear one?
So far my research has led me to an article on Jstor.org, “Highland Military Dress, A Short Historical Review” by Captain I. H. Mackay Scobie.
Here’s what he says:
The officers of Highland corps wore the kilt, when on service, up to and including the Corunna campaign, but in Wellington’s campaign in Spain and France the officers of the 42nd, 79th, and 92nd (the only kilted corps engaged) wore grey or blue pantaloons with half-boots, or shoes and gaiters…The rank-and-file, during the wars at the end of the 18th century and up to the Waterloo period, were dressed, when in marching order, in the kilt, full-dress bonnet, hose and gaiters.
In a footnote, Mackay Scobie explains that officers were encouraged to ride during long marches. It seems very sensible to put them in trousers.
Kilts and the Weather
So it was the enlisted men in kilts, but imagine fighting in what is basically a skirt?
I’ve found another source that touches on this topic, History of the Royal Highland Regiment.
It was supposed by some that the soldiers of the 42nd, 79th, and 92nd regiments, suffered from the Highland dress. Others again said, that the garb was very commodious in marching over a mountainous country, and that experience had shown that those parts of the body exposed to the weather by this garb, are not materially affected by the severest cold; that while instances are common of the fingers, toes and face, being frost-bitten, we never hear of the knee being affected…
This reference takes me back to the cold winter days when I used to walk home from school in my wool plaid uniform skirt!
And the next question
What sort of hat is he wearing?
Mackay Scobie’s article goes on to say this about Highland officers’ dress:
…the only “Highland” distinctions being the feathered bonnet, sash (worn over the shoulder in Highland regiments) and the broadsword. During Wellington’s campaigns all ranks adopted a peak to a bonnet, which were detachable, and only worn in field service dress.
I believe I will just have my man wearing a “bonnet”.
The Gordon Highlanders
My next step is ironing out the minor details of my hero’s military service. He’ll have joined the Highland regiment raised by the Duke of Gordon in 1794, the Gordon Highlanders. In looking at their deployments, I’ve already spotted some errors in my manuscript that need fixing.
And, btw, since my hero served with the Highlanders before Corunna, he surely owns a kilt, and I’ll have him wear it for that special dinner.
This “cleanup” phase of the writing process, fixing timelines and continuity and delving deeper into research, is the fun part for me. Wish me luck, and if you have any thoughts or suggestions, please share them in the comments.
p.s. If you were expecting “hot” contemporary men in kilts, I couldn’t find any royalty free images that met my standard, lol! Sorry!
Images: Wikimedia Commons