Highland Dress For The "Forty-Five"
By Andy Robertson
Highland dress at the time of the '45 remained one of the most culturally identifiable forms of colloquial dress in Britain. The archetypal plaid, which had been the mainstay of Highland dress since the 16th century hadn't changed. The jackets of the 17th century owed more to the Irish influence than that of the other European contemporaries, but as the Irish influence waned, the Highland courts, an especially the Jacobite exiles in the court of Louis XV, mimicked the styles worn in Europe, though still keeping the style in line with highland traditions.
The highland jacket was cut on the same line as any other typical European coat of the period. The same cuff styles, and pocket styles, and for those who could afford it, lace trim were employed, but the coats themselves were cut shorter, generally to hip or crotch length. Also the materials used differed. Although any of the material used in the lowlands could be used by the Highland folk, tartan was a favourite, and was widely employed. The less well off the individual however, the plainer the cloth, and there are plenty of contemporary illustrations showing the poorer folk in plain brown jackets.
Waistcoats followed pretty much in the same vain as the jacket, and were pretty much the same as lowland waistcoats. Generally they were of a similar length to that of the coat, with the exception of that of the well off. Those who could afford to lace their waistcoats as well, wanted to make sure that the lace was on show. In these cases, the waistcoat would come down further than the jacket so that the lace around the trim would be on show.
Hose could take the form of stockings, or footless leggings, made of cloth, cut on the cross, with a seam at the back of the leg. This either sown unobtrusively, or with the seam allowance exposed, rather like a cock's comb in effect. They reached to the knee, or a little below, and a special point was made of them being gathered with wreaths of straw or hay, although thronging or ribbons were no doubt used. Another point specifically made about the hose was that the cloth they were made of was thicker than that used for the plaid, for which garment the finest cloth available was used. This nicely makes the point that different grades of tartan were woven for different purposes.
"Those who have stockings make 'em generally of the same piece with their pladds, not knit or weaved, but sow'd together, and they tie 'em below the knee with tufted garters"
Thomas Morer (1689)
The main, and most distinctive, item of Highland garb was the Belted Plaid, in Gaelic "Feilidh Mor" or "Great Wrap". Plaid was the old English for a type of cloth or blanket. In essence it was a single piece of cloth about 60" wide and between 6 and 10 yards in length. The cloth was a similar weave to Harris Tweed, but lighter and finer, the finest being the most expensive and probably the greatest length that could be worn. To wear it, the cloth was laid on the ground and pleated across it's width, leaving the plain ends, until the pleated section approximates with the wearer's waist measurement. At this stage a belt would be drawn under the plaid. The wearer would then lay down on the cloth parallel to the pleats, with the edge of the cloth up to the hands breadth above the back of his knees. The plain ends would then be wrapped over the body and the belt buckled on. Upon standing, one would have a kilt-like portion from the waist to just above the knee. Above the waist the remaining 35 to 40 inches of cloth could be dealt with in a variety of ways.
The simplest solution was to tuck it in around the belt so that hung around the hips in a series of pouched folds. In adverse weather it was usual to pull the excess over the shoulders like a shawl, or even over the head to give complete protection to the body above the knees. When worn with a jacket it was normal to have a button or lace on the left shoulder to fasten the rearmost of the loose ends to this to drape down the back. If the plaid was being worn as the sole top garment, the ends could be pinned together, either with a bone or wood pin, over the left shoulder and again the excess tucked in around the waist. Having said all this, it is fair to point out that customs and fashion apart, the Clansmen would 'sling' his plaid just to suit himself, and to show himself off to his best advantage.
While on the subject of plaids, a few words about tartan. The Gaelic word for cloth was 'breacan', meaning striped or speckled. There were no clan tartans as we know them, although due to the customs, practice, individual skill, and availability of dyestuffs, certain colours and combinations would have been common to certain areas. The most common colours were black, blue, brown, green, purple, red, white, and yellow, though not in that order. Dyes consisted of such things as lichen, iris root, oak gall, poplar leaves, blood, iron oxide, woad and expensive imports such as saffron and indigo. This is by no means a complete list, but it gives an indication that although colours would have been muted, they would not have been limited.
Available evidence shows the old tartans to have had small setts, or squares of pattern. These were often irregular, rectangular instead of square, not symmetrical, and could even be striped, or of a striped character rather than what we now regard as tartan. There is some indication that the lower down the social scale the larger the sett of the tartan. Usually only two or three colours were used, and women's tartans tended to be lighter in colour than men's, and larger in sett. Contemporary observers (writing in the 17th. Century) regarding the tartan as aiding concealment on heather covered hillsides, and even wrote that "Duller colours were being used than in previous centuries due to the troubled times".
As a last word on the subject of plaids, they were not always as well made as the above description. One found preserved in a bog in Scotland was found to be made of over thirty pieces of cloth, not all of which were tartan. This may have been an extreme case, but no doubt any plaid that got ripped or burned would have been patched with whatever was available, and a poorer man's plaid would have been pieced together on the same basis.
"A belt was laid on the ground and on top of it the plaid was folded lengthwise into pleats, these being at right angles to the now hidden belt. The wearer lay down on top of the plaid parallel to the pleats, folded the material on either side of him over the front of his body, and fastened the belt around the round his waist. On standing up, he had a pleated skirt below his waist, and a mass of material above it. The upper sections of the garment could be arranged in a number of ways either as a protection to the upper body, or draped to allow the arms complete freedom of movement... At night a tug at the belt converted one's day clothing into bedclothes."
J. Telfer Dunbar (1962)
"the plad is made of fine wool, the thread as fine as can be made of that kind...The length of it is commonly seven double ells; the one end hangs by the middle over the left arm, the other going around the body, hangs by the end over the left arm also. The right hand above it is to be at liberty to do anything upon occasion. When they travel on foot, the plaid is tied on the breast with a bodkin of bone or wood. The plaid is tied around the middle with a leather belt: it is pleated from the belt to the knee very nicely." M. Martin (1697)
"The Garb is certainly very loose, and fits men inured to it, to go through great fatigues, to make very quick marches, to bear out against Inclemency of the Weather, to wade through Rivers, and shelter in Huts, Woods and Rocks upon Occasion; which Men dressed in the Low Country Garb could not possibly endure."
Duncan Forbes (1746)
"The Plaid...is calculated for the encouragement of an idle life, in lying about on the heath, in the day-time, instead of following some lawful employment; that it serves to cover them in the night when they lie in wait among the mountains, to commit robberies and depredations; and is composed of such colours as altogether, in mass, so nearly resemble the heath on which they lie, that it is to be hardly distinguished from it...that it renders them ready, at a moment's warning to join in any rebellion, as they carry continually their tents about them.
E. Burt (1730)
Lowland Scots, Jacobite And Government
The lowlanders wore what might be described as a "conventional European dress", but there were marked differences still between lowland Scots and English. The Scots tended to wear shorter coats. True the gentry opted for full flowing coats similar to those worn all across western Europe, but the common man tended to wear crotch length coats. Drab colours, especially brown were the most prevalent. Also, the most identifiable piece of clothing as well was the bonnet. Bonnets were a lowland, and not a highland item initially. In the seventeenth century they were of a woad colour, but with vast imports of the 18th century, bonnets were died indigo. As with the regular army, the government supporters wore black cockades on their bonnets, and the Jacobites wore white. Jacobite lowlanders wore issued "antique" French equipment, and captured government equipment. They were issued French and Spanish arms, as well as captured British muskets. The government lowlanders were not issued uniforms, although some of the regimental colonels who had originally come from the regular army could have worn their own uniforms. They were issued long pattern bess's and cartridge boxes.
Article Copyright Andy Robertson (the Atholl Brigade) used with the author's kind permission
Artwork Copyright Ralph Mitchard (Stoneywood's Bttn.) used with the artist's kind permission
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