Men in Kilts (Edited from 2010)
The colors are vivid red, yellow and green in the Buchanan tartan, more colorful even than the intense red predominant in the Royal Stewart or the bright red and green combination belonging to Clan Bruce. Dazzling blue mixes with white and true green in the Gordon Highland tartan, the dark navy and darker green in the Black Watch plaid contrasts with the almost turquoise and aqua of the Campbell Clan pattern. The Caledonia tartan features brilliant purple and pure white while the MacGregor Rob Roy is almost garishly Halloween orange and black.
Matching flashes encircle muscular or frail calves covered to the knee in heavy wool hose in cream or green or navy. Tucked into the hose, a sgian-dubh is often found, its blade hidden, only the hilt visible on the right leg. Sporrans of rabbit or fox dangle from simple silver chains or more ornate decorated links of silver and gold hung low on the hips. These man-purses might feature full heads or have just one rabbit’s foot in the center. Above the plaids, the tops are as varied as the men. Jacobite full-sleeved blouses in cream or brown, lacings half way down the chest, or crisp business shirts, buttoned tight to the chin, with neckties in the clan’s plaid are common. The traditional Argyle jacket in blue or heather green wool, silver or pewter buttons, marching down the front is evident, especially among the older men. Military sweaters in olive drab or khaki are favored by the younger men, with soldiers wearing service blouses, the sleeves rolled back to reveal muscular forearms, adorned with tattoos of Celtic knots and fighting insignias. Some wear the plaid draped across chest and one shoulder, held in place by a Scottish crest badge. Head coverings are also varied, with everything from Tam o’shanters to Glengarry bonnets seen atop balding heads or perched jauntily over graying ponytails. From top to bottom, traditional wars with contemporary. The older men sport Ghillie brogues or regular leather business shoes, other men wear combat boots or hunting boots. Sandals or sneakers are not a good look.
Then there are the Scots wanna-be’s. Dark and fore-boding, they look like refugees from some late-night Dungeons and Dragons computer marathon. Swirling black capes conceal the two-handed Highland claymore, strapped across frail white backs that, in the days of the Battle of Culloden, would not have been fit to carry even feed for the horses, much less the mighty weapon of Scots Highlanders. They flit and flicker along the periphery of the gathering, massing around the vendors selling dirks and swords, fingering the sharp grey blades with long nail-bitten fingers, stroking chins bereft of whiskers.
Above it all, the whine of the bag pipes echoes on the cool early morning air. It is the Highland Games and Celtic Festival at The Meadow, just outside of Richmond, Virginia. Southerners love their traditions; they seem to love those of the Old Country even more than those of their Confederate fore-bearers. Vendors selling haggis and colcannon war with those offering she-crab soup and barbeque, Confederate flags and Celtic knots adorn bumper stickers on a variety of pick-up trucks and Cadillacs. Southern drawls and the brogue of the Highlands drift from the open doors of the cavernous Farm Bureau. I am in my glory.
What is it about the sight of hundreds of men wearing kilts? Lines of men in Gordon or MacDougall or Stewart plaid, bagpipes or drums strapped to chests or waists, marching in order down the field, crisply stopping or turning at the Drum Major’s whistle. Then, in two’s and three’s, they walk abreast over the field, almost always with a dark Irish beer in hand, even before the morning’s mist has burned off. I watch them with real appreciation. The sway of the pleats below nicely shaped behinds wrests a longing sigh from me. Too many Scottish romance novels, perhaps, but there is something about a man in a kilt. The oddly masculine swagger of a man in plaid, knees just peeking out, the sporran swinging low on the hips, beneath the thick leather belt, and my heart quickens. And it is not just because I know what hides beneath those kilts if the men are dressed in “regimental” style. It takes a special man to wear a “skirt” in this day and age.
My admiration for them aside, I am enough of a realist to understand that some of these men no matter their pedigree, should not be wearing kilts. For example, under no circumstances, should kilts be worn with regular black dress socks, the flashes circling thick ankles. Likewise, men should refrain from the mini-skirt version of the kilt, no matter how pretty their legs are. While most pants can be worn beneath the bulge of protruding beer belly, kilts hung that low in front, tend to ride up in back, a sight better left to the imagination. As I observe these men in kilts, I wonder if there is a book of kilt etiquette. There are numerous guides to appropriate Scottish attire: when and where the dress kilt as opposed to the hunting kilt should be worn and when the Prince Charlie jacket is too dressy or the Argyle jacket too casual. But, I have not found a book that tells men how to wear a skirt. Men need a guide that explains that it is NOT okay to bend over from the waist to pick up something on the ground; this is a situation that requires crouching. When sitting down, the proper way to ensure that one’s kilt is tucked beneath what might be a bare butt, is to reach behind while sitting and smooth the fabric over the bottom; one should not plop down, lifting one leg and then the other to tug the fabric under, unless one is in the seat behind the wheel of one’s pick-up truck. Finally, men must learn the proper position of their knees when sitting in a kilt. They do not need to be pressed primly together as the nuns instructed all of us, but they certainly should not be spread apart as if in a seated plie´. Especially if one is wearing beneath the kilt the traditional Scottish undergarment: nothing.
As I sat and watched the men in kilts from my vantage point beside the stage, it came to me that there are even more subtle rules for men who wear kilts. There is a romance surrounding a man in a kilt. Part of it is the tragic struggle of the Scots to be free of British rule, the men who followed Bonnie Prince Charlie on his fruitless quest, and men like Rob Roy and William Wallace who were fighters and lovers. And part of it is the romanticizing of the rough Highland lord with the tender and poetic heart. I watched a man in a kilt dancing with his lady, holding her tightly to him; I watched an older couple, he in full regalia, she in a long skirt and picture hat, tied up with a plaid ribbon and rosette, holding hands in the folds of his kilt. I stared at the tall, dark and handsome man who came striding through the crowd, his kilt swinging jauntily above legs clad in traditional hose and work boots, his white teeth flashing in a ready grin, his eyes sparkling with the knowledge that most female eyes were on him and the promise of appreciation for all the feminine attention. I looked at the man I once knew wearing his kilt (the bright Buchannan plaid) and I admired how his tush looks in a kilt and his legs sexily encased in dark green hose and flashes. Then there was his prowess with the mandolin. And his whistles softly blowing while his voice blends in the low harmony of a Celtic love song:
Come over the hills, my bonnie Irish lass
Come over the hills to your darling
You choose the rose, love, and I’ll make the vow
And I’ll be your true love forever.
Yes, men in kilts need a guide book. They need to learn how to live up to the promise that their love of history and clan, tradition and song, make to women.
Men in kilts, gotta love them.