Kilt Buyers Guide
Everything You Need to Know to Choose the Perfect Kilt For You!
The best kilt buyers guide out there to help those who are shopping for a kilt is right here! Where to start, what kilt to choose, what tartan you should pick, all about Cheater Pleats™, and more. If you have a question about the kilt buying process, we’re here to help you every step of the way. Don’t be overwhelmed, “just keep reading, just keep reading”.
Read the whole thing, or click a topic below to jump right to the information you need……
Lets start by figuring out what style kilt you want. Where do you want to wear your kilt? Renaissance festivals, Highland games, formal dinners, your wedding, or do you just want to wear a kilt where ever and wherever? Knowing when you plan to wear your kilt the most will help you decide what style and price range you want to shop in.
Kilts for Reenactments and Renaissance Fairs
Great kilts, Ancient kilts, and Phillabegs are great for reenactments and renaissance fairs. These kilts will give you a more historical look and feel.
The great kilt dates back to at least the 16th century, and it’s the most traditional and recognizable form of the kilt for Renaissance Festivals or other reenactment events. The first known reference to this mode of dress was made in 1594. At the time, looms were only able to weave fabric up to about 30 inches wide. To make a great kilt, 9 yards of tartan would be cut in half, leaving you with two pieces about 30 inches wide and 4 ½ yards long each. The two pieces would then be sewn together, side by side, making the finished great kilt about 60 inches wide and 4 ½ yards long. This is where the saying “the whole 9 yards” originates. Traditionally, you pleat the kilt each time you wear it, and the only thing that holds it together is your belt. Through the advancement of modern technology, we’ve figured out how to relieve you of the hassle through the invention of Cheater Pleats™! But we’ll talk more about those in a little bit.
These are the same style kilts worn in the movie “Braveheart”! Who doesn’t love that movie? Depending upon who you talk to, they may or may not be “exactly” historically accurate, but look amazing nonetheless. Our ancient kilts are the perfect highland attire for Renaissance festivals and other reenactment events because it is much cooler and more practical than a great kilt for hot weather wear. The ancient kilt is basically a Phillabeg, but with an extra 2-3 yards of tartan attached. The extra tartan is there to be worn as a sash or a fly plaid, once the kilt is pleated, giving the allusion of a great kilt without the extra bulk above the belt.
PHILLABEG or LITTLE KILT
The little kilt, or phillabeg (Gaelic “feilidh-beag), is actually an earlier predecessor of today’s modern kilt. Unlike a modern kilt, it is not a tailored garment. It is simply a length of tartan about 25inches wide and 4-6 yds long, loosely bunched or pleated, and held at the waist with a belt. It is worn to about the middle of the knee, just like any other kilt. One of the things that makes a phillabeg distinctive, is that it has a few inches of tartan flapping over the belt. This flap-over helps keep the belt in place — without it, the kilt might slip loose from the belt, leaving you standing in your skivvies (or worse!).
Kilts For Weddings, Formal Dinners, Cruises, and Family Heirlooms
The top of the line kilts made in Scotland from premium wool tartans. 9 yard Formal kilts and 5 yard formal kilts will have you looking your absolute best! These kilts are top quality and are great for the groom, or attending a wedding. Formal dinners call for your best dressed you, and that’s when you’ll want one of these in your closet! There’s also our tried and true Good Basic Kilt, made with 4-5 yards of tartan, that makes it in the running with the formal kilts. But which one should you choose, and why? What’s the differences between these kilts?
9 YARD FORMAL KILT
Hand–stitched pleats and a lot of attention to detail make this kilt one of the finest kilts in the world! Each is made from 8-10 yards of premium wool tartan (the amount of tartan depends on your waist). More fabric than the 5 yard kilt allows for deeper pleats that will sway and swoosh as you walk. Many pipers and dancers choose this kilt for that reason.
Have a formal dinner, a wedding to attend, or maybe you’re an avid kilt wearer and prefer a kilt over slacks? This is the kilt for you! The very best for all of your occasions , and constructed in Scotland from the finest wool to last you a life time. They also make a great family heirloom that can be passed down from generation to generation.
5 YARD FORMAL KILT AKA “Casual Kilt”
Nearly identical to the 9 yard formal kilt, this kilt is made with the the same premium wool tartan in Scotland. It’s constructed with 4-6 yards of tartan (exact amount depends on your waist size). These are tailored made with attention to detail. Because there’s less fabric, the pleats are a bit shallower and wider than those of a 9 yard kilt. They still look great, and they are a premium-quality product. Seen side-by side, it’s pretty hard to tell the difference. The most noticeable difference is, walking around in a 9 yard kilt, you’ll notice more “swish” because of the extra fabric. Also known as a casual kilt, it’s a great substitute to the more expensive 9 yard kilt. 5 yard kilts are worn by those who want to dress their best, or those who want to wear their kilt anytime, anywhere. It’s easy to dress up with a jacket and vest, and more casual with a nice sweater.
THE GOOD BASIC KILT
Cheers to a kilt that is good quality and affordable! This kilt might not be made in Scotland but it has everything a good quality kilt needs. Made with 4-5 yards of tartan, 3 straps and buckles, stitched pleats, belt loops and even an upper liner. Less tartan means shallower pleats that are a bit wider then the 5 Yard Formal kilt. The Good Basic Kilt is the same kilt that is used for our rentals. Our top choice for rentals because we know it can withstand the multi-use and still look formal quality. This kilt might not last a lifetime, but we expect you to get multiple years out of it. They’ll hold up to multiple nights out at the pub, and still look great for a formal dinner event. This kilt also makes a great starter kilt for those who are just getting into the kilt wearing game.
Kilts For Highland Games and Everyday Wear
Any of the Kilts listed above are great kilts for any highland, Scottish or Irish festival you like to attend. Just keep in mind that these events usually take place in the hot months, and a Great kilt can be heavy and a lot of fabric to wear. Highland Games are meant to give you the opportunity to wear your kilt and show off your heritage. Highland games and festivals are fair game to wear ANY kilt you like. Dress it up, keep it a bit casual, or grab your canvas kilt and rock the utility look! Below well discuss a few of these options.
These kilts are a bit new to the kilt world, just popping up in the last 15 years. They came, they stayed, they conquered, because they are awesome! It’s the best of both jeans and the kilt world. The comfortable, breathable kilt with the convince of pockets! Perfect for your next Highland games. These kilts are great for someone who is just starting to wear a kilt or not sure about purchasing the rest of the attire. With all the pockets and D-rings, you don’t have to wear a sporran with your attire. Kilt pins are not required with the extra weight of the kilt. Canvas kilts give a fresh new look to wearing a kilt, so you are free to skip some of the other attire and wear what you would normally wear with a pair of jeans. Any of our canvas kilts are perfect for Highland games, a hiking trip, or a trip to the grocery store. Wear them anywhere and everywhere!
The AcryliKilt™ is made from low-cost, good-looking, light-weight, 100% acrylic tartan fabric. It is made almost exactly the same as our Good Basic Kilt, but with a few cost-saving details. The straps aren’t quite as good, and the pleats are a bit shallower then the Good Basic Kilt. However, this kilt is constructed really well for the price. The price allows this kilt to be worn out to the pub or to any highland games without the worry of ruining your more expensive kilts. This kilt is great for teens who are still growing, or someone who just wants a fun kilt to have when the times calls for a kilt.
Ok ok, so you might be a little bit overwhelmed after all of that, but that’s alright. Well keep going and things will start to make a bit more sense. Next, we’ll talk about your tartan. How do you choose a tartan? What names and spellings are correct? And what if your tartan is not available? What if your tartan is available, but there are like 5 too many to choose from? You might be worried about the different weights of the tartans, but don’t worry – we’ll explain all of that too. Hang tight, we’ve got more information!
So you’ve got a kilt in mind, but what tartan do you go with? Many people choose to a tartan related to their name. Your last name, a spouses, or your mother’s maiden name are the most commonly followed lines of lineage. But what if you don’t have a drop of Scottish or Irish blood in you, and you’re just a huge Celtic enthusiast? Well, we have nothing against our customers choosing a specific tartan just because they like the colors. We will warn you though, that if you choose a Clan tartan, there are some people out there that might look down on you wearing it. We recommend searching a little into who the tartan was for if you’re wearing it for the colors. For example, unless you were in the US Marine Corps, you might consider avoiding their tartan.
Your Tartan With Your Name
First, lets start with your name – either your last name, spouses last name, or mother’s maiden name. Starting with your name of choice, you can refer to our TARTAN MASTER LIST to see if your name is listed. If the name your going with is not listed in our master list, you can refer to the Tartan For Me book. This book lists many Scottish, Irish, Welsh, and some English names and will tell you what clan, county, or Sept your family is from. It then recommends what tartan you should wear.
You can also give us a quick call for us to reference our copy of this book. Please keep in mind that as much as we LOVE everything Celtic, we are not historians or professionals in your ancestry. Please have a name or two ready for us to check on when calling. We are unable to assist in the searching of what name you should start with. However, we will gladly take your provided name or names and look it up in our book!
Please Don’t Mind The Spelling…
The spellings of family names changed from generation from generation. As families moved, their names adopted letters and dropped letter. What once was Mc might now be a Mac, and “Y’s” might now just be an “I”. Tartan For Me refers to all Mc’s to Mac’s, so please don’t mind the spelling. Finding spelling that is similar but just a bit different is a good thing!
MASTER TARTAN LIST
This list is – well, our tartan bible, really. We work with 8 woolen Mills all around the world (though predominately in Scotland) to provide you with the largest list of tartans we know about. This is a complete list of all the tartans that are being woven and the different weights they are being woven in. We try to keep the master lists updated as often as possible, but sometimes we can’t keep up with our mills. So if you don’t see your name, send us an email and we will check with our suppliers for updates.
Now that you have found your name and affiliated tartan you can now refer back to the MASTER TARTAN LIST. You see your name listed and maybe it’s just one name, no other options… whew, easy! Except we’re now asking you what weight you want, but you’re still not sure. If you find your name listed again and again and maybe even again, each one a little different, it’s okay. Many common names have many different choices like Modern, Ancient, Weathered, Muted – the list goes on. There’s even some tartans that switch up a primary color of the modern sett! Below is a cheat sheet to break these options down.
- Ancient: At the time tartan was created there was limited resources to color fabric. They used food dyes, animals, and minerals, which created softer colors. This is a more faded version of “modern” tartans.
- Modern: Take those vegetable dies, the duller, lighter colors, and apply our color technology after 1855. Now you get deep, rich and vibrant colors.
- Muted: Take the colors from the Modern tartan and add a dark overlay, like dirt, and your once bright yellow is now a mustard yellow. Great for reenactments and ren-fairs
- Weathered: We like to best explain this as if you were to take Modern tartan colors and hang it on a flag for about a year. The Sun bleaches it and the rain washed the color a bit and the wind breaks it down. This is great for reenactments and ren-fairs.
- Reproduction: A name copyrighted by Border weavers D C Dalgliesh, it’s as if you found and pulled the tartan from a bog. Produce a similar look as a “weathered” tartan. Did you know that’s how the Ulster tartan was found? So cool!
- Hunting: These usually have greens, blues, and browns. Not every clan has a hunting tartan because their Modern tartan uses these primary colors. You do not need to be a hunter to wear this, by the way!
- Dress: In most cases, dress tartans just add white as a primary color in the modern tartan. These aren’t necessarily only for formal occasions, though many dancers wear them.
What Weight of Tartan Should You Choose?
Now this is where the weight of the tartan comes into play. Once you’ve found your name in our MASTER TARTAN LIST, you will see each tartan is available in different weights (sometimes only one). Different weights means different prices, and some work better for different style kilts than others. Which one do you want and why? We are going to break it all down for you – what the different weights mean, and why some weights are better with certain kilts, and why others don’t work for some kilts.
LIGHT WEIGHT: 10/11oz tartan is usually woven in double width 58-68inches wide. This means you can have a great kilt made from it. Light weight isn’t usually the weight we would suggest for kilts, but this doesn’t mean that it’s not a good choice – just not usually our first recommendation. Light weight tartan is only woven in Scotland, so it will be 100% premium wool. It is a good choice for those who live in hot climates. When choosing a formal kilt or a great kilt (which have more fabric) the light weight tartan will help with the overall weight of the kilt, so its not too heavy or too hot. Although we try to recommend the medium weight as it hangs just a bit better, the light weight allows for a crisp iron pleat and a loose bunched look, whichever you choose. It is only available for the great kilt, ancient kilt, phillabeg, 5 yard kilt, and the 9 yard kilt.
MEDIUM WEIGHT: 12/13oz tartan and is woven in single or double width, depending on the weaver. This means if you decide on a medium weight tartan, you might not be able to have a great kilt made from your tartan unless it’s seamed together. Some prefer not to have the great kilt seamed together, however that is how they were traditionally made and worn. Medium weight fabric is usually our first choice because it’s breathable and durable. It’s a great choice for every kilt that it’s available in; a perfect compromise between the light weight and the heavy weight. Just be aware of the single and the double width differences. The heavier the weight the more authentic the tartan will look. A medium weight will give you an authentic look without a kilt that’s too heavy for you. Medium weight is woven in 100% premium wool tartan in Scotland, and is available in the great kilt, ancient kilt, phillabeg, 5 yard kilt, and the 9 yard kilt.
HEAVY WEIGHT: 15/16oz tartan and is woven in single and double width. The heavy weight tartans are the preferred choice of pipe band members and those to plan to put their kilt to many uses over the years. It’s very durable, but not quite as breathable. This makes it a great choice for who live in colder climates, but not so much for those who live in hot climates. Heavy weight tartan is a very authentic and many enjoy this because it’s as close as you can get to what was worn when kilts first came into fashion. Although it’s an authentic choice, it’s not one we would recommend for a first-time kilt wearer or for a great kilt, unless you have been wearing great kilts for many many years. Heavy weight tartan is 100% premium wool woven in Scotland, and is available in the great kilt, ancient kilt, phillabeg, 5 yard kilt, and the 9 yard kilt.
HOMESPUN: Approximately a 10/11oz. tartan made from a 55/45 blend of polyester & wool, woven by hand on old-world looms. It looks very authentic to what would have been woven historically. The yarn is worsted, but not spun as tightly as modern machine-made tartan. The cloth is also not as tightly woven. Because it is hand woven, there are small flaws that are a natural part of the tartans character. This makes this tartan a great choice for any of the reenactment kilts. It might seem that because of its authentic look and feel it might not be a good choice for a modern style kilt, but in fact it’s still a great choice! This tartan is what is used for our rentals kilts and our Good Basic Kilts. Always woven in double width, so you never have to worry about it having to be seamed together. Available in over 60 tartans, with more being added each year.
Allergic to wool but still determined to wear a kilt? No worries.
We offer 2 different non-wool tartans, the Acrylic tartan and poly/viscose. These are great for those who either are allergic to wool, want something wool-free because they can’t stand the feel, or want something that might be a little easier to care for.
ACRYLIC: This is a loose weave and only available in our Acrylickilt. It makes for a great starter kilt and is a bit cheaper than our other kilts. It feels about equivalent to a light weight tartan.
POLYVISCOSE: 12 oz. tartan and a twill weave. It’s a double width at 60in wide, with a finished selvedge edge. To the untrained eye, it is nearly indistinguishable from expensive 100% wool tartan. 65/35 blend of polyester and viscose. This tartan is great for any of the kilts it’s available in! Woven in the UK.
Deciding between pleat to sett or pleat to strip, and what you need to know about the difference. You may have questions like, “Is the kilt I’m ordering pre-pleated, or will I have or pleat it myself? How in the world do you do that?” Or maybe you’re asking yourself, “What are cheater pleats and what kilts offer this service?” We’ve got your answers below!
The difference between Pleat-to-Sett and Pleat-to-Stripe
Now that you have picked your kilt, tartan, and weight, we might ask how you prefer your pleats – to sett, or to strip. Not all kilts have this option, because most come pleat to sett.
Pleat to sett — Each pleat is positioned so that 4th pattern (sett) appears to continue through the pleated portion of the kilt. This is the standard default pleating method. Probably 90% of the kilts we make and sell are pleat to sett.
Pleat to stripe — A prominent stripe in the pattern is chosen (by the kilt maker) and that stripe is centered down the middle of each pleat. This is a traditional military style, and can look very nice. However, some tartans just don’t look good pleated to stripe. If you choose this option, we will let you know if it can’t (or shouldn’t) be done.
Box pleats – Another traditional military style. Every other pleat is reversed. This creates pleats twice as wide (3 to 4 inches wide depending on the sett width of the tartan you chose), with tartan folded under both edges of the pleat. Incidentally, box pleating uses less tartan, so you can actually get by with a 6 yard kilt all the way up to about a 50 inch waist. If your waist size is larger than 50 inches, and you would like box pleats, select a 9 yard Ancient Kilt. (only available in the reenactment kilts). A few of our canvas kilts also come with box pleats.
What Kilts are pre-pleated and what kilts do YOU have to pleat?
All of our modern style kilts will come pre-pleated and ready to wear the day you get it. The pleats that are sewn down in the back to give the clean, crisp look that is normal in modern style kilts. The depth of the pleats will be determined by the kilt that you chose and the amount of tartan used for that kilt.
All of our reenactment kilts are kilt that require you to pleat it each time you wear it, just as they were traditionally worn. A kilt was more than just clothing, it was also a blanket and a backpack/satchel. You couldn’t have the pleats sew in if you planned on flapping it out at the end of the day and using it to keep warm. Back then, they needed to have the freedom to bunch and gather their kilt as needed to create pockets to carry things.
Because these are not things that are required when wearing a kilt nowadays, we offer our famous Cheater Pleats™! Some enjoy the ceremony of pleating their kit each time before they wear it, and brings them a sense of authenticity and closeness to their ancestors. But it can also bring a bit of trill and anxiety of not knowing if you did it right or if your kilt might just fall to the ground, and this is why we offer Cheater Pleats™.
Cheater Pleats™ are a nice, convenient option. Your kilt will still look like you pleated it yourself, but you can take it off and put it back on any time you want to without redoing your pleats. Depending on how concerned you are about the appearance, pleating your kilt can take anywhere from a few minutes to a half hour each time you wear it. We’ll pleat the kilt for you, and stitch in a hidden waistband to hold it together. Once you belt it on, no one will know you didn’t pleat it yourself!
How do you want your Cheater pleats ironed?
Only available in our reenactment kilts, we don’t generally ask when you are ordering but if you prefer your pleats a certain way, please let us know in the comments when checking out.
Do Not Iron – Will give the appearance of a kilt just pleated by hand.
Lightly Iron – Will help shape the pleats but still look rustic.
Crisply Iron – Will defined the pleats and help with “the swoosh effect” of the kilt. Great for dancers, or for a more formal look.
Do you want straps and buckles?
Rest assured if you have ordered a modern style kilt you wont have to worry about the straps and buckles. All of those come with three straps – two on one side and another on the opposite. The quality of the straps and buckles will depend on the quality of the kit you choose.
Ancient Kilts – For ancient kilts, we can stitch a single leather strap and buckle inside the kilt to assist in putting your kilt on and keeping it on. It will be hidden out of sight, but allows you to tighten up the inside apron so you are not as dependent on the belt to hold things together. Not at all necessary, but nice for more convenience. A belt will still be required to hold your kilt on.
Great Kilts – For great kilts, we can stitch a pair of leather straps and buckles on your kilt to help you with putting your kilt on and keeping it on. One inside the kilt on the left hip, and one outside the kilt on the right hip. Again, not at all necessary, but convenient. Straps and buckles on a great kilt will make it so you are not as dependent on the belt, but one will still be required to help hold your kilt on, and to complete the look.
Phillabegs – For phillabegs, we can stitch a pair of leather straps and buckles on your kilt. One inside the kilt on the left hip, and one outside the kilt on the right hip. Both straps and buckles will be hidden once you get your kilt on. Of the three types of kilts, the phillabeg benefits most from straps and buckles. You can wear a belt if you want to, but you don’t have to. The straps and buckles will hold your kilt on just fine without any help from a belt. This is my personal favorite kilt, and pretty-much all I wear to our summer events. A phillabeg with straps and buckles is light, unrestricting, and very easy to wear.
Different style kilts require different measurements. Please follow this link for more in depth instructions on how to measure for modern and historic kilts. Keep in mind that if you are buying a kilt to attend formal events, that you will want to measure at your navel for your kilt waist, and for the length you want your kilt to hit the top to middle of your knees. If you are planning on wearing your kilt whenever and where ever, then you can measure at either the navel or where you wear your jeans most comfortably, and the length can be anywhere from the top to bottom of the knee.
You made it through and now your pretty much an expert on all this to know when buying a kilt. But if your still feeling unsure about any of the process, please call us. We will gladly talk you through any questions concerns, or “what about this?” you might have. Being in the kilt business for over 18 years we are here to help with anything “kilt” you might need.