Of all the questions you thought you’d ask in your life, I’m willing to bet that the definition and use of a ‘sporran’ was unlikely to be top of the list. You live your life, blissfully unaware of a vast swathe of Scottish history. That is, of course, until you need to wear one. The natural response to those growing up outside the tradition is likely to be…” huh?”
Have no fear; your saviors are here! Here is everything you could ever need to know about the secrets of the sporran, and some tips from insiders on how to rock the look!
What Is A Sporran?
“Sporran” is the Gaelic word for “purse,” and the rest is self-explanatory. In the simplest terms, a sporran is a solution to an age-old problem faced by Scotsman: where do you put your keys in a kilt? Famously pocket-free, these classic symbols of Scotland somewhat lack in practicality: all hail the birth of the sporran!
A sporran is simply a pocket or pouch, which is an essential addition to any kilt. In the early days, they were constructed from calfskin or deerskin and would have been a simple drawstring bag, designed to hold rations and weapon ammunition.
As the humble sporran has evolved, they have become increasingly decorative and elaborate. Sporrans are now the perfect safekeeping place for credit cards, a cell phone, and even a hip flask for when that family wedding gets to be a little too much.
Are All Sporrans Created Equal?
Though a seemingly simple concept, it is essential to remember that there are different types of sporran intended for a range of different purposes. Before you make your grand entrance, make sure you have the right sporran sorted, or risk the wrath of onlookers.
As the name suggests, this is a piece suitable for everyday wear and offers a more casual look. Day sporrans are typically constructed from black or brown leather and usually paired with a tweed day jacket. You can also get one made with fur. The Highland games or watching a historic rugby win are all great opportunities to flaunt a day sporran.
The Semi-Dress Sporran,
More formal than a day sporran, but more casual than a dress sporran, this is the one you want when the dress code says ‘smart-casual’ (has anyone ever figured out what that really means?). They are usually worn alongside Argyll outfits and are made with either fur, leather, or a combination- the perfect hybrid of the other two styles.
If you see your date in one of these, it may be time to panic. Or celebrate, depending on the state of your relationship. The dress sporran takes things up a notch, and tend to be the preserve of formal events such as a wedding.
The material choice emphasizes their higher status; animal fur such as a sealskin is widespread, and extra decoration such as tassels are usually included. One of the key features to distinguish this type of sporran is to look at the fastening; a dress example will consist of a metal cantle fastening, usually made from pewter or silver.
Where Did They Come From?
The first mention of sporrans comes from the 12th century, when Highland warriors were described as “bare-legged, with shaggy cloaks and a scrip.” A ‘scrip’ or small bag, is likely to have been the forerunner of what we now know as the modern-day sporran. Interestingly, the trend appears to have been confined to the Highlands, with lowlanders describing the style as “barbarous.” Charming.
At the time, the kilt was the garment of choice amongst Highlanders. This is for a good reason as it allowed wearers to move freely while offering warmth and protection against the elements. As the kilt was one single piece of material, it also doubled up perfectly as a cloak or blanket. The only thing it didn’t do? Allow you to carry essentials!
From Humble Beginnings
The first sporrans were constructed from calfskin, deerskin or leather, and featured a simple design, gathered at the neck with a drawstring. The seventeenth and eighteenth century saw metal clasps added to identify clan chiefs, and goat and fox hair both became popular materials.
Modern-day sporrans have differed surprisingly little from their medieval counterparts. However, the contents are likely to have changed from a traditional pistol to a current weapon of choice: the cell phone! Some have added plastics or stainless steel to their design, but on the whole, the majority have retained an authentic Scottish style.
So How Do I Wear It?
Worn correctly, the sporran should sit right at the front of the kilt. It should be central to your waistcoat – usually over the groin area. It needs to hang just beneath the waistcoat, but never quite touching. Experts recommend that the sporran needs to be around three fingers from the buckle of your belt, and 4-5 inches from the top of the kilt.
To check that your sporran is setting the right tone, you can draw a vertical line down your outfit. We recommend this be imaginary, unless you are looking to start a new trend. The line should pass through the buttons of the waistcoat, the tie or bow-tie, the sporran, and the belt buckle of the kilt.
When participating in a ceilidh or other dance, you may move the sporran to the left or right of the kilt.
The finish used for the chain straps must always match that of the cantle. Matt or polished pewter are usually the most popular picks. And those looking to show off their wealth may go for gold!
Leather straps fix to each end of the chain strap. Then these pass through the straps of the kilt to fasten together at the back.
Insider tip: make sure the chain straps are on top of the belt buckle, never below. Making this mistake could see you lose your sporran mid-event!
If you are looking for a sporran to complete your kilt, or you don’t even have a kilt to wear with a sporran, let The Celtic Croft help. We specialize in everything you need to celebrate your Celtic heritage.