Most of us first realize we need a kilt for some special occasion, such as a wedding. And this thought is quickly followed by a second question… whether to hire one for the day, or buy your own. I thought it might be helpful to share a few considerations, to help your decision. So here are a few points to ponder:
PRICE - WILL IT COST MORE TO BUY OR HIRE A KILT?
I’ll come to this first, as it’s probably your first thought. And your instinct is probably that hiring will be cheaper than buying your own kilt. After all, a made to measure garment using eight yards or more of high quality woven wool fabric (provided you get it from a reputable producer) is not exactly an impulse purchase for most of us.
But pause to reflect for a moment. After all, even kilt hire is not exactly cheap.
FIT - WILL YOUR KILT LOOK GOOD ON YOU?
As we’ve already said, mostly you’re going to be wearing your kilt on special occasions when you really want to look your best. And it’s important to understand that a kilt should really always be made to measure garment - this matters much more than, say, for a business suit. A custom-fitted kilt should fit you like a glove, designed to hang from your waist, over your hips, down to your knees - with measurements to the nearest inch, or even half inch.
TARTAN - YOUR OWN FAMILY PLAID?
The Scottish tradition is of course to wear your own tartan. This may mean a family or clan tartan, of which there are thousands of names recorded (or, of course, you can design your own tartan!). But equally it can show an affiliation to any group with which you identify - so there are regimental tartans, regional, national, and city tartans, business tartans, and so on. The important thing is that it’s meaningful to you.
Of course, the hire companies can stock only a tiny range of tartans, or else they’d need a stock room the size of a stadium. So you’ll normally find, oh, Black Watch… and Royal Stewart… maybe a Buchanan… and if you’re a lucky one or two more.
HYGIENE - WHO LAST WORE THAT KILT, AND HAS IT BEEN CLEANED?
Until recently, in my naivety, I myself had assumed that the kilt hire companies would always dry clean their kilts before renting them out to another customer. Well, wouldn’t you? But then I read this article. If you skip past the tiresomely pompous opinions about how you should be allowed to wear your own kilt, there’s a rather startling admission below from a Scottish hire company that kilts can come back “too unhygienic for staff to handle”. And to me, this reads as saying that if the visible residue isn’t so bad, they may send the next customer out in the same garment without cleaning!
OUTFIT - YOUR CHOICE, OR THEIRS?
A kilt isn’t (usually!) worn on its own, of course, but as part of an outfit. Exactly how you put together your ensemble will depend on the occasion it’s for (formal, casual, etc.) on the impression you wish to make (restrained, impressive, etc.) on any affiliations (e.g. clan accessories) and not least on your personal taste. A full outfit can include up to a dozen or so components, including major items such as a jacket and vest, down to small accessories like the kilt pin and Sgian Dubh. There are a fantastic range of styles and finishes for each of these pieces, ranging from traditionally conservative to strikingly contemporary.
EXPERTISE - SOUND ADVICE, BASED ON EXPERIENCE?
If you shop with a kilt specialist dedicated to traditional quality, like Scotweb, you’re getting not just a garment, but access to decades of specialist knowledge, experience, and advice. In fact any authentic traditional kilt maker has most probably got into that business in the first place due to some personal enthusiasm for the traditions, and so will probably be committed to helping you take your own first steps on that wonderful journey of discovery.
LEGACY - AN HEIRLOOM, TO HAND DOWN?
This may or may not matter to you, especially if you’re relatively young. But it’s long been part of the Scottish tradition that a kilt is quite unlike any other garment. It’s a possession of the family, as much as of the individual. And many are the young man who takes tremendous pride in wearing a kilt that once belonged to his father or even grandfather. And this is also a fact to ponder for those who fear that as their waistline advances together with their years, the range of adjustment that comes with any kilt may exceed its limits.
CREDIBILITY, AND SELF-RESPECT - HOW DO YOU WANT TO LOOK?
Again, this may or may not matter to you. But it seems to me that a major factor in why so many of choose to wear a kilt is because of the particular prestige that such a striking garment bestows on its wearer. Whether you’re going to at a gathering surrounded by others in their own kilts, or whether you’ve chosen to stand out from the identikit suits worn by the rest, there’s just something incomparably impressive about wearing your own kilt, in your own tartan.
PLEASURE - THAT INTANGIBLE FEELING
I’ve left this one until last. But, as the saying goes, it’s certainly not least. My problem is that until you’ve actually worn a kilt made especially for you, in your own measurements, in your own tartan, it’s practically impossible to describe the inner glow you’ll feel every time you do so. All I can suggest is that you ask around, of others who’ve already made that choice. I’ll wager you’ll find few of them who regret their decision, whether its days or decades since they made their purchase. That, perhaps, tells you all you need to know.
Okay, I admit it, I’m biased. I don’t expect to convince every potential kilt hire customer that they really need to spend several times more for a purchase that’s probably their largest ever outlay on a single garment. But I hope I’ve given you a few points to ponder before reaching your decision. Always remember the adage about those who know the price of everything, but the value of nothing. Sometimes it’s worth thinking of the bigger picture.