This might seem like a simple subject, but in reality it is not. The way in which you put on and fasten your kilt makes all the difference between looking very smart indeed and looking (to a knowledgeable observer) really awful. To begin with, 9 out of 10 kilts that I see people wearing around at the games are either not correctly fastened and adjusted or they just plain don’t fit. When I see someone who DOES look good, they really stand out in my mind. As a kiltmaker, I think that I must look with a more critical eye, but to which group would you like to belong? Read this and find out how to look your best in a kilt.
The kilt is supposed to come to the top of your kneecap. Many, many people are walking around Highland Games across the country with the kilt covering their knees. For women this may be a fashion choice. For men it is incorrect. For most of them it’s not because the kilt was made too long; they’re wearing it too low. The upper buckle should be at the waist. The actual top of the kilt is usually 2″ above this. This is called the “rise”. If men buckle the kilt snugly at a point just above the top of the hip bone that is a good start. Notice that I said “snugly”. The waist should never be loose. If you need the buckle moved over, have it done by a trained kiltmaker. This is an easy fix that will make your kilt look much better. If you are putting your kilt on below your navel (frequently done by more portly gentlemen) that is WAY too low. You need a kilt that will go over the round part, as much as you hate to admit that you’re not a 34 waist any more. Band members seem to be the worst offenders in this matter, usually because they are wearing kilts that were not made for them that may not really fit. Wearing a kilt too low looks bad because of the length issue, but it also makes the fell(the sewn-down part of the pleats) come too low on the wearer’s backside. So, the bottom line is this: buckle the kilt on snugly, higher than you think it should be. Buckle the second (the apron one) so that it doesn’t gap in the front. A correctly fitting kilt will have the right edge of the apron just covering the inverted pleat at the right side. If you have a gap between the apron edge and the inverted pleat (and you’re buckling the kilt on the last hole of the strap) your kilt is too small.
If your kilt has a third buckle, it is usually located on the apron, sometimes as low as the bottom of the fell. If you are a man, you can remove this buckle if you wish. It is not necessary, and often interferes with how the apron falls. If you don’t want to remove it, buckle it LOOSELY so that it won’t make the apron pull to one side. When I put a third buckle on a kilt, I put it no more than 5″ from the top edge, so that it falls high on the hip. In this way, it won’t pull. I still recommend buckling it loosely.
Now the finishing touches. Stand sideways to a mirror, and check to see that the top of the kilt is level-no dipping down either in the front or the back. Check to see that it is level from side to side as well. Then check to see that the underapron isn’t showing at the bottom, and that it’s smoothed out. Now check to make sure that the tartan pattern is centered over your navel (this should be the most prominent stripe in the tartan) and twitch it sideways if necessary to get it centered. Now (if you are a man) you can put your sporran through the sporran loops in the back of the kilt, and then put your belt on OVER the sporran loops. Do not put your belt through those loops, no matter how tempting it may be. If you do, it will pull on the back of your kilt in a very unflattering way. The final touch may be a kilt pin fastened at the lower corner of the apron, going through the underapron as well. Sometimes it is good to have someone else do this so that you can stand up straight as they do the pinning.
For Highland Dancers putting the kilt on correctly is particularly important. Dancers need to make sure that the kilt is on high enough, just like men, and that it is very snug at the waist. The reason for this is that as they dance, the rib cage lifts, and the kilt may become loose enough for the kilt to twist sideways. Dancers also need to pay attention to the way that the apron falls. It is important that there be no wrinkles, and the center stripe of the apron should be lined up exactly with the center front of the vest or jacket. This is another reason that a well-fitting kilt is a must for a premier dancer: they need to be smartly dressed, and have everything, including their tartan hose, put on perfectly. Knees really need to show on a dancer, and given the choice between a kilt that is too long and one that is too short, I would take the short one.
Dancers frequently do a few other things to help the outfit to stay in place. Many wear suspenders to keep the kilt up. This is really helpful for young girls with no waists (they are really straight up and down when they are under 10 or so) and all boys. Suspenders should be attached to the aprons in the front, and to the top of the kilt in the back. Many dancers also use elastic loops to keep the jackets from rising when they lift their arms. The loops can be put around the straps, which are then buckled.
So, that’s about it. If you put your kilt on correctly, you will look amazing. You will certainly look better than the vast majority of folks who just slap the kilt on and go. A few minutes in front of a mirror can really make a difference!