Scots Clothing Quotes

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16th & 17th Century quotes
concerning Scottish Men's and Women's Attire


-Illustrating the change from Scots wearing the "Irish dress" to the great-kilt, or belted plaid.

Highlanders wearing "Dyed shirts" and a "light wrap of wool of different colours." - Jean de Beaugue', 1540's.

"Several wild Scots followed them (the Scottish Army) and they were naked except for stained shirts, and a certain light covering made of various colours".-Monsieur Jean de Beayque, 1549.

"Their clothing was made for use (being chiefly suited for war) and not for ornament. All, both nobles and common people, wore mantles of one sort (excert that the nobles preferred those of several colours). These were long and flowing, but capable of being neatly gathered up at pleasure into folds. I am inclined to believe that they were the same as this to which the ancients gave the name of brachae. Wrapped up in these for their only covering, they would sleep comfortably. They had also shaggy rugs, such as the Irish use at the present day, some fitted for a journey, others to be placed on a bed. The rest of their garments consisted of a short wollen jacket, with sleeves open below for the convenience of throwing darts, and a covering for the thighs of the simplest kind, more for decency than for show, or defence against cold.They also made of linen very full tunics with many folds and wide sleeves, flowing loose to their knees. The wealthy dyed these with saffron, and others oiled them, to keep them longer clean among the exertion and exercise of a camp... In making these, grace and ornament were not lacking, and the different pieces were seemed together with silk, commonly green, or red."-Bishop Lesley, 1578

"The Scots today do not differ in manners and customs from the Irish, from whom they originated, as we have said above: for when the sky is clear one can see Ireland from Scotland. Further, their language, their customs and their dress are alike. . . They are dressed in such a manner and in such shirts dyed with saffron as the Irish and go with bare legs to the knee." -1575, Sebastian Munster, Cosmographia.

-1581 A woodcut from John Derrick's "Image of Ireland"

"The highlanders take pleasure in clothing of various colours, especially striped, and their favorite colours are purple and blue. Their forbears wore plaids of many colours, and numbers still in keeping with this custom, but most now prefer to wear a dark brown, matching the leaves of the heather, so that, while lying among it in the day-time, they may not be revealed by a sight of their clothing. In these, wrapped, rather than covered, they face the worst storms of the open, and at times will lie down and sleep, even in snow." -Nicholas d'Afreville, Cosmographer to the King of France, circa 1580's

"Those who inhabit the North are more rude, homely and unruly, and for this reason are called "wild". They wear like the Irish a large and full shirt, coloured with saffron, and over this a garment hanging to the knee, of coarse wool, after the fashion of a cassock."-1583, Nicolay d'Arfeville.

- Circa 1588. A contemporary drawing showing dress of the Irish who met the shipwrecked Spanish seamen of the Spanish Armada. Scanned from "Campaign of the Spanish Armada," by Peter Kemp.

"A speckled garment of many colours, hanging in folds to the calf, with a girdle round the loins over the garment." -O'Clery describing Islemen fighting the English in Ulster, 1590's.

The Wild Scots "Are clothed after the Irish fashion, in striped mantles, with their hair long and thick. -1607, Camden, in his Britannia.

Lady Montgomery, wife of Sir Hugh Montgomery, 'set up and encouraged linen and woollen manufactory (in Ulster), which soon brougt down the prices of the breakens (tartans) and narrow cloths of both sorts.' The beginning of such (manu-)factories might be part of the reason the kilt became more common during the 17th century. -1613

It appears that the desire for uniformity in the colors of tartan used by a clan was beginning in the early 1600's:"remove the red and white lines from the plaides of his men so as to bring their dress into harmony with that of other septs". -1618, Letter from Sir Rbt. Gordon of Gordonstoun to Murray of Pulrossie

-1632, Scots mercenaries arriving in Stettin to serve with the Swedish army in the 30 Years War. Although described as "Irrlanders," Scots were often lumped together with the Irish because they both spoke the "Irish" language , or Gaelic. Scanned from "The Army of Gustavus Adolphus", by Richard Brezezinski.

"Many Highlanders were obvserved in this town (Leith), in their plaids, many without doublets, and those who have doublets have a kind of loose flap garment about their breech, their knees bare. The inure themselves to cold, hardship, and will not diswont themselves. Proper personable well-complected men, and of able men: the very gentlemen in their blue caps and plaids." - 1635, Sir William Brereton.

-A "Scotch Man" and "Highland Man" decorating a map of Scotland by John Speed (1552-1629)

Lowland Dress

The husbandmen in Scotland, the servants, and almost all in the country did wear coarse cloth made at home, of grey or sky-colour, and flat blue caps, very broad.
The merchants in cities were attired in English or French cloth, of pale colour, or mingled black and blue.

The gentlemen did wear English cloth, or silk, or light stuffs, little or nothing adorned with silk lace, much less with lace of silver or gold, and all followed at this time the French fashion, espcially at court. -Englishman Fynes Morison, visiting Scotland 1598 (Whalebone sleeves: sleeves stretched on whalebone hoops. Falling bands: A deep linen collar, turned down.)


Women's Highland Dress

"The dress of the women among them is most becoming, for over a gown reaching the feet, and very richly adorned by the Phrygian art (embroidery), they wear very full cloaks, of several colours, such as I have described - loose and flowing, yet gracefully drawn into folds, as they will. With their arms tastefully adorned with bracelets, and their throats with necklaces they have great grace and beauty." -Bishop Lesly, 1570's. The original is in Latin, and uses the word tunica, for gown, which may suggest a straight-hanging fullness of more Medeival style, in contrast to the more fashionable farthingale.

Women's Fasions, Edinburgh

The original paragraph has been broken up by social class to help make the descriptions distinct from each other.

"The women here wear and use upon festival days six or seven several habits and fashions, some for disctintion of widows, wives and maids, others apparelled according to their own humor and fantasy.

Many wear (especially the meaner sort) plaids, which is a garment of the same woolen stuff whereof saddle cloths in England are made (A close felt-like cloth that would keep out rain), which is cast over their heads and covers their faces on both sides, and would reach almost to the ground, but that they pluck them up and wear them cast under their arms."

Some ancient women and citizens wear satin straight-bodied gowns, short little cloaks with great capes, and a broad bonegrace coming over their brows and going out with a corner behind their heads: and this bonegrace is as it were lined with a white starched cambric suitable thereto." (Bonegrace: a silk, or cloth hood over a starched under-coif projecting around the face like the headgear of some religious orders?)

"Young maids not married all are bare-headed, some with broad thin shag ruffs, which lie flat to their shoulders, and others with half bands, with wide necks, either much stiffened or set with wire, which come only behind: and these shag ruffs, some are more broad and thick than others."- 1635, Sir William Brereton.
(The bands with wide necks are the broad lawn collars on each side of a square decolletage, as in the painting of Van Dyck. These seem to have reached Scotland sooner than England. Van Dyck's portrait of Mevrouw Leerse shows just this collar, with eh tilted back cut separate, and edged in lace. It is shown with deep cuffs to match on a black satin dress. His portrait of Marie-Louise de Tassis has another, with the back part pleated. Later the stiffening went, and it lay flat. The "shag ruff" is a puzzlement. According to the Oxford Dictionary, shag was cloth of wool or silk, with a velvet nap similar to a modern velour. The true ruff was of linen, perhaps with lace, and did not lie flat. The author may be describing a pleated tippet, worn for warmth above the low-cut dress of the day)

-A "Scotch Woman" and "Highland Woman" decorating a map of Scotland by John Speed (1552-1629)

Lowland Dress

The original paragraph has been broken up by social class to help make the descriptions distinct from each other.

Gentlewomen married, did wear close upper bodies, after the German manner, with large whalebone sleeves, after the French manner, short cloaks like the Germans, French hoods, and large soft falling bands about their necks.

The unmarried of all sorts did go bareheaded and wear short cloaks with most close linen sleeves upon their arms, like the virgins of Germany.

The inferior sort of citizen's wives and the women of the country did wear cloaks made of coarse stuff, of two or three colours of checker-work, vulgarly called ploddan.

To conclude, in general they would not at this time be attired after the English fashion in any sort, but the men, especially at court, followed the French fashion, and the
women, both in court and city, as well as in cloaks as naked heads and close sleeves on the arms and all other garments follow the fashion of the women of Germany.
-Englishman Fynes Morison, visiting Scotland 1598 (Whalebone sleeves: sleeves stretched on whalebone hoops. Falling bands: A deep linen collar, turned down.)


A Short History of the Scottish Dress.Grange, R.M.D. Burke's Peerage Limited: London, 1966.
The Scottish Pageant 1513 - 1625. MacKenzie, Agnes Mure. Oliver and Boyd: Edinburgh & London, 1948.
The Scottish Pageant 1525 - 1707. MacKenzie, Agnes Mure. Oliver and Boyd: Edinburgh & London, 1949.