Scottish Dress


The only traditional Scottish dress is that of the man; the ladies have always worn the dresses of the period. The tartan sash is the only traditional thing the ladies can don. It should be fastened on the left shoulder or passed over the left shoulder and fastened at the waist on the right side. This second method looks best with a long sash that comes nearly to the bottom of a long evening dress." [Dr. Jean Milligan, Introducing SCD]

The RSCDS has a special privilege, from Her Majesty the Queen, to wear the sash on the left shoulder. SCDers proudly wear their sashes on the left, in accordance with our privilege. Others normally wear the sash over the right shoulder, except wives of clan heads, who have a special privilege to wear the sash pinned on the left.

Three styles of wearing the sash noted by Thomas Innes, Lord Lyon, 1961:

  • Sash across one shoulder, the long end taken under the other arm and back over the shoulder again where it is broached, the ends hanging freely front and back (as in the RSCDS dancer motif on the cover). The style seems to date from Victorian times.
  • Sash fixed at a shoulder, about midway along, the ends have taken one forward and one back and then tied to each other at the waist on the other side, from where the short ends hang freely.
  • Style for a wider sash (18" or wider and about 2 yards long.) Gathered in to a brooch on a shoulder: the top, possibly rather longer, end hangs freely from the shoulder at the back and the lower one is draped slightly as it is taken across the back and is then fixed all the way across the back waist, with nothing but the fringe hanging below the waist from this end of the sash. [The Sash, by Jennifer A. Shaw. RSCDS Bulletin No. 71]

How to fold a Sash To make a rosette, e.g., for the third style listed above, lay the sash out to its full length, and fold it in half. Fold the folded end down 6 or 7 inches and wind a rubber band tightly around the middle.  Then spread it into a rosette and fasten the edges of the half circles together with invisible pins at A and B. Fasten a large brooch in the center of the rosette. Now you're ready to pin the sash to your dress. Using a large safety pin, pin the rosette to the shoulder of your dress from underneath, with the ends of the sash floating down your back. Now ask a friend to help you. Moving the top layer of the sash out of the way, ask your friend to pin the closest edge of the sash to the right side of your dress at the waist with a medium safety pin, so it doesn't show. That's it.


Miss Milligan had this to say about Scottish men's formal wear: "When wearing a kilt, the shirt should be white or pale pastel. A plain tie should be worn - not a tartan one - and the sleeves should be fastened at the wrists. For day dress, a tweed kilt jacket is correct but is rather expensive. The stockings are plain colored - fawn, green and blue or even white. A leather sporran is suitable for day wear or for evening dress. Animal face sporrans are for evening dress only. The belt with silver buckle is worn with evening dress only. Full evening dress is very beautiful but costly, and good advice should be taken before it is bought." 

Kilts - cost a good deal, so talk with people before purchasing one. The kilt should reach just to the top of the kneecap.

Sporran - The pouch that men wear with the kilt. It takes the place of pockets for carrying keys and cheat sheet. A leather sporran is the most versatile, being acceptable as day or evening wear.

What is worn under the kilt - One of the great Scottish mysteries (and straight line for several jokes)

Flashes - The pieces of ribbon (now often elastic) used to hold up the stockings.

Skean dhu/Sghian Dhu - The knife carried in the stocking top.

Kilt Jacket - Shorter than a suit jacket.

"A sporran is a useful thing, when trousers you must doff, It also proves itself a boon, in case your kilt falls off"

What tartan can I wear?

The association of particular tartans with clans is a recent development, started in Victorian times. If you have Scottish ancestry and choose to follow that tradition, then you probably know more about it than we do and don't need our advice. There are some tartans that most everyone agrees anyone can wear: State and District Tartans (Washington state has one, as does Seattle), Canadian Provincial Tartans, and other generic tartans, like Culloden or Clergy. There are also tartans with no name, that anyone can use. If you don't have Scottish ancestry, don't worry about it. Before the Victorians, there was not such uniformity about who wore what tartan. The purpose of our group is to dance, so first and foremost, find a tartan you like. If you are interested in the traditions of clans, tartans, etc., ask around. There are knowledgeable folk in the group, and there are other organizations devoted to such subjects.