HOW TO BUY...
A Kilt in Scotland
Step one: Build the courage to show off those knobby knees.
Traditions and Tartans
A traditional Scottish kilt is made with eight yards of material--always 100 percent wool. It should sit high on the waist (a couple inches higher than a pants belt), with the bottom edge at the center of the knee. It'll cost $400 to $700. Eight-yard kilts weigh a heavy six pounds and swing rhythmically when marching or dancing. Four-yard, or casual, kilts use half the material and cost less, but they can look and feel flimsy. Even so, casual and traditional kilts are generally acceptable at both formal and informal events. The kilt's color and design are known as the tartan. It can represent a family name, sports team, university, or regional group known as a clan. You can search through more than 3,000 patterns at tartans.scotland.net. It's customary for people of Scottish ancestry to wear a related tartan; some families have several to choose from. Another option is to wear one of the many universal tartans, such as Brown Watch or the Great Scot. For that matter, it's OK for anyone to wear just about any tartan. No one will be offended if you're not a member of the clan. Whatever kilt you choose, be sure that the pattern of the tartan matches up perfectly across the pleats (always worn in the back).
Kilts don't have pockets, so the sporran--a small bag that hangs at the waist in front of the groin--is used for keys, money, and often a flask. Leather sporrans are most common; prices start at $75. Any sporran goes with any tartan. Next up in importance are hose, which come up to three fingers below the kneecap; ribbons around the top of the hose known as garter flashes; and decorative daggers called sgian dubh (skee-in dooh). Traditional shirts, jackets, and shoes--expected only at formal events--can be rented, so think before buying. At black-tie galas, the choices are a tuxedo shirt, worn with a bow tie, jacket, and vest, or a fluffy shirt with a cravat (à la Austin Powers) that's also worn with a jacket. Ghillie brogues, the tongueless shoes that go with the outfit, have laces that wrap around the ankle and tie in front. At casual events, put on wool socks, hiking boots, and a rugby shirt, T-shirt, or sweater. To dress up a little, try a Jacobite shirt with baggy sleeves and tight cuffs.
For around $450, you can buy top-notch kilts from seamstresses who run stores, such as Rhoda Fraser (in Dingwall, near Inverness), or make kilts in their homes, like Pat Duffy (south of Edinburgh, in Peebles). Stores in Edinburgh sell packages: $875 and up buys a kilt, jacket, vest, sgian dubh, sporran, hose, and flashes.