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Kilts 101: Liberation From Pants

Kilts 101: Liberation From Pants

The kilt can be a discombobulating concept when you first confront it. It’s one of those things that you may have been wanting to try, but don’t really know where to start. How is a skirt so manly? Can I wear a kilt if I’m not Scottish? Can women wear them too?

I decided to tap kilt expert J.T. Centonze, owner of Off Kilter Kilts in Pasadena, CA, to answer these questions and more.


The definition of kilt is in fact a “belted, pleated skirt.” The word likely originates from the Norse kjalta. Scottish/Irish/Welsh kilts date back to the 16th century as a garment worn by Highland clansmen. Men wore skirts in combat in ancient Rome, Greece, and the Middle East. Military wear has changed since then, and the kilt evolved into ceremonial and casual wear.

Tartans vs. Everyday Kilts

One of my first questions about kilts was “Can I wear one if I’m not Scottish?” The answer is “Yes!” It’s totally fine for both men and women, of any nationality, to wear kilts. But it’s also good to distinguish the difference between a tartan and a kilt because tartan patterns do have some significance.

“Tartan” refers to the plaid pattern typically associated with Scotland and Scottish kilts. The Irish also have tartans, albeit not as commonly as the Scots. Each clan has its own color and pattern. So if you happen to be of Scottish/Irish/Welsh decent, you could potentially find your clan’s pattern through your family name. A traditional kilt is a length of wool, usually 5-7 yards. In its simplest form, it is just the fabric, with no tailoring. The pleats are folded into it every time the kilt is worn and kept in place by a belt.

Modern kilts tend to have the pleats sewn in, which makes them significantly easier to wear. But more so, modern kilts are designed for day to day wear. Some people only wear them for special occasions, but no occasion is required. Most come in solid colors (though I have seen a few camouflage ones) and have pockets. Ask any woman, and she will tell you that a skirt with pockets is a rare and glorious thing.

Skirts for men?

Here’s the funny thing about kilts: they’re about as manly as you can get. These garments were worn by some of the world’s toughest warriors. Do you really want to mess with a guy wearing kilt? Because in the olden days, those were the dudes who also wielded broadswords. I mean, have you seen Highlander?! Wearing an everyday kilt does take some confidence, but that’s also exactly the impression that kilts give. A man wearing a kilt is confident in his own skin, and pretty darn comfy too.

What to know about purchasing a kilt

If you’re a novice kilt buyer, then you really should take the time to get fitted in person to ensure the correct waist measurement, length, materials, style, and utility. Renaissance faires, Highland Games, pirate faires, Irish/Celtic festivals, and comic conventions are all great places to start. Some vendors also sell at music festivals, state/county fairs, and even harvest festivals. Off Kilter Kilts sports multiple modern kilt brands in southern California. Houston Traditional Kilt Makers in the UK is an excellent source for information on traditional tartans. Utilikilts and StumpTown are also good sites to try because their products are adjustable.

If you plan to purchase for yourself or another, there are a few things the vendor will need to know to go about finding the perfect kilt: What do you think you’ll be using it for? Do you want something nice for a wedding or date? Do you plan to be working in it? Once the category is established, the vendor can help you narrow down style, color, and size. Keep in mind that a quality kilt can run you a few hundred dollars, but they’ll last you forever.

What do modern men prefer to wear under their kilts?

The answer is a varied as men. Yes, some do prefer to go “regimental,” but that’s usually not recommended. A gust of wind or a tumble could lead to showing off more than you intended. Most men just wear their underwear as normal. Some athletes will wear something akin to bicycle shorts underneath. It really depends on your personal style, and the weather of course.

Ladies, I know it may be fun to ask what a man is wearing beneath his kilt, but please limit yourself to asking. It’s rude (would you want someone asking you what you’re wearing under your skirt?), and in most places illegal, to check for yourself.

What are the Highland Games?

Highland Games are sporting events where athletes known as “throwers” meet to compete in games of strength. The most well known of these are the hammer throw and the caber toss, but there are typically about a dozen events that men and women compete in. The event is Scottish themed, and is typically hosted around a gathering of the clans and other Scottish competitions for dance and music.

What is kilt culture and where does one find other kilt enthusiasts?

Kilt enthusiasts, or “Kilters,” come from all walks of life. Mostly, the community consists of people who are secure with themselves, or wish to be, and of course love kilts. If you would like to learn more about these communities, check out Brotherhood of the Kilt, X Marks the Scot, and Skirt Cafe.

Is your interest piqued? Might you be convinced to try a kilt? Let us know what you think in the comments!

Featured image credit: Pursuitist

Photo credits: David McCourtInked Kenny Photography, Cheetah Platt



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