Jilly: Kilts – Hot or Not?

Kilts - hot or notImportant question of the week: are men in kilts hot?

The hero of my contemporary-romance-in-progress, Ian, is a proud Scot who lives on a breathtakingly beautiful estate in the Scottish Highlands, so I should have given this question more thought before now, but honestly, I didn’t. Ian moved into my head about fourteen years ago, shortly after I spent a few days at Skibo Castle, so I’ve been living with him for a long time 🙂 . Check out this link and you’ll see why I was inspired. If you’d asked me the kilt question, I’d have said Ian would wear one at weddings and important family occasions – for sure when he marries my heroine, Rose, he will be in a kilt and so will his brother, Cameron, and his best friend, Rob – but for me it was a part of Ian’s identity, not something I chose to make him an insta-hottie.

Then I went to the Sourcebooks presentation at this year’s RWA National in San Antonio, and the Publisher, Dominique Raccah, said “Put a man in a kilt and you’re done.” I hadn’t realized it was quite that much of a given, but I checked it out, and she wasn’t kidding. Take a look at the Goodreads list of popular Highland romance novels – there are 799 books at the time of writing, including the man-in-kilt book of the moment, Outlander (see Kat’s post here for more Outlander fun).

Highlanders have been wearing the belted plaid, or great kilt, since at least the 16th century. It was originally a length of thick woollen cloth, up to seven yards long and two loom-widths wide. It was gathered into pleats by hand and secured by a wide belt. Above the belt the upper part could be worn over the shoulder as a cloak or over the head and shoulders as protection against the weather. It could also serve as a blanket. The great kilt is the look rocked so spectacularly by Sam Heughan in the current Starz TV production of Outlander.

Some time in the 17th or early 18th century, the small kilt or walking kilt was introduced. This was essentially the lower half of the great kilt, made of just one width of cloth worn hanging down below the belt. At some point the pleats became sewn-in rather than folded, and today the kilt would be worn as formal dress with a shirt and tie, jacket and waistcoat. Here’s a contemporary wedding picture, and a helpful guide for today’s kilt wearer from MacGregor and MacDuff.

The groom and his best man and ushers (Jenny Mealing via Wikimedia Commons)

The groom and his best man and ushers (Jenny Mealing via Wikimedia Commons)

Ian is a modern Scot. When he’s in the limelight he has a great line in beautifully tailored dark suits, and in his own time he wears battered jeans, washed-out cotton shirts and well-worn cashmere sweaters. For him, wearing a kilt would be a statement. It would mean the occasion was personal, not professional, and it would be important to him. There’s a scene towards the end of my story (the group scene I wrote about in this post a few weeks ago) where Ian attends a small, private family party with Rose. The party is in honor of Rose’s aunt and her aunt’s husband, who are moving to Italy to live near their son and daughter-in-law. It’s an important and emotional night for Rose, and I think that for Ian, wearing a kilt to that party would be a huge personal statement, even if Rose doesn’t realize it. He’d be acknowledging the importance of the occasion, but even more than that, he’d be showing how he feels about Rose – that her family is his family. This isn’t just putting him in a kilt for the sake of it and I really like the idea.

What do you think? Would the kilt would be a hot look for a modern Scottish hero or should it be confined to historicals? Opinions, please! Thank you 🙂 !

13 thoughts on “Jilly: Kilts – Hot or Not?

  1. (-: I do like a man in a kilt, but it’s not a “hottie” sort of issue for me. The first man I saw doing it wasn’t Scottish, but a gay teenager, and he rocked that thing.

    Since then, it’s only been Scottish men at weddings that are personally important to them.

    I never really thought about what the Scottish men were saying with their dress. I assumed they were balancing their brides, who were in kimono. (Being that the weddings were in Japan.)

    How formal is the party? I’m pretty sure if you can see Ian in a kilt, he belongs in a kilt.

    You may want to foreshadow the kilt, though. (-: It’s definitely a marked state for most of us!

    • Wow, Michaeline, a kilt-and-kimono wedding sounds spectacular! The party is a private one – it’s not super-formal but it is important. Rose would make a special effort to wear something nice, and she’s pretty much a jeans-and-t-shirt kind of girl, so I could see Ian deciding to break out his kilt. I’d better work on the foreshadowing!

  2. Love kilts. I could probably even buy into a guy-on-the-street in a kilt though, as Micki says, it’s a marked state you’d need to explain. And I love the idea of it having a specific, emotional meaning.

    • Thanks, Jeanne. I really like the idea because of its emotional significance. I’ll have to make sure I set it up properly. Hmm …

  3. My brother wore a kilt to his prom, and we are generations removed from Scotland. (We’re nearly equal parts German, English and Scottish, but lederhosen were right out.)

    I also had a number of admittedly geeky friends who wore utilikilts (man skirts with pockets) in college, so kilts are something I’ve seen more than, say, tuxedos. So long as you can work this lovely character motivation/backstory in before he’s in a kilt at the party (and maybe hang a lampshade on it by having someone ask why not pants), you should be all good.

    • I did see lederhosen years ago in a small Austrian village (there was yodeling, too), and I’d have to say your brother made a good call choosing the kilt, Flo 🙂 . I never heard of a utilikilt before – just searched for them. Learn something new every day!

      I’ll have to make sure I do a really good job on the set-up. The party’s in London and he’d never expect to wear a kilt there, so maybe he’ll have to ask somebody at home to bring or send it – and they’ll definitely understand the significance. That’s one possibility. Hmm. Got my thinking cap on now … Thanks!

      • IIRC, Ian has a brother? If so, I think he should be the one who realizes/brings up how important Rose and her family must be for his brother to break out his kilt for a London soirée.

        • Spot on, Nancy. Ian’s brother (Cameron) would be a great candidate for this role. Cam is a very astute guy masquerading as a slacker. There’s no way he’d miss the significance of this.

  4. My husband went through a kilt phase a few years back. He’s Polish. 🙂 But we attend a LOT of Irish Fests because he loves Celtic music, and we attend the Renaissance Faire frequently because, you know, Ren Faire! So he started wearing kilts as his Ren Faire costume, and I really couldn’t say anything since I was dressed in a plumed hat, puffy white shirt with brown vest, and matching bottoms, a la the three musketeers. He NEVER does anything half way, so he invested months of research and thousands and thousands of dollars getting all his outfits just right. He has traditional great kilts, hand stitched dress kilts, sport kilts, a large collection of sporrans, and all the proper accouterments from pins and hats to hose and flashes and period-appropriate shoes for certain kilts. If you have any questions at all, Jilly, drop me a note. I’m sure he’ll be more than happy to share his knowledge!

    • All I can say is wow … truly this blog is a thing of joy and wonder 🙂 . Jennifer, I don’t think any of my Scottish friends has a wardrobe to rival your husband’s. I have some thoughts about how I could use this … Thank you!!

  5. Kilts don’t do it for me at all, so it’s more of a character/character arc thing for me really. Would Ian really do this at this point in time or are you shoe-horning it in? Only you can answer that. 🙂

    • I’m feeling nice and close to my characters right now (long may it last!) and I think this is something Ian would do, not a shoe-horn, but we shall see. I’ll give it a try and if it feels fake, I’ll take it out 😉

  6. This has nothing to do with men in kilts, but your description of the great kilt sounds an awful lot like an Indian woman’s sari, which I’ve had occasion to wear. Saris are supported by a long cotton underskirt that ties at the waist. The sari itself is about five meters of fabric, and it’s wrapped around the body and then hand-pleated in the front/side (so you can walk) and then the edge is tucked under the waist of the underskirt. And then the remaining meters are worn across the body and thrown over the shoulder or over the head. Of course, there’s a matching or contrasting blouse that is also worn, but the wrapping of the long piece of cloth sounds very similar. I wonder if that’s an accident (great minds think alike and all that), or if there was some cross-cultural thing going on at some time?

    Men in kilts. I think you got it!

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