According to Andrew Bolton’s ‘Bravehearts – Men in Skirts‘ the modern style of kilt known as the ‘little wrap’ (feileadh beag) was invented in the first quarter of the 18th century … by an Englishman! The little wrap was an evolution of the ‘big wrap’ or belted plaid (feileadh beag).
The belted plaid was constructed from a large rectangular piece of material about 5 feet wide and roughly 14-16 feet long and served as garment during the day and blanket at night. In order to put the garment on the man would first pleat the cloth by hand and then secure it in place with a belt. The end of the plaid could be worn in various arrangements over the shoulder(s) to keep the weather off.
For a great pictorial explanation of how to put on a belted plaid check out the website of the Clansman Centre.
How many thousands of man days went into this daily pleating exercise? English highland dress fan Thomas Rawlinson had a bright idea that would make the kilt much easier to wear: to stitch down the tops of the pleats and so form the general style of the kilt we know and love today. How he came to invent the kilt is explained in a letter by Mr Baille of Aberiachan published in the Edinburgh Magazine in March 1785:
‘About 50 years ago, one Thomas Rawlinson, an Englishman, conducted an iron work carried on in the countries of Glengarie and Lochaber; he had a throng of Highlanders employed in the service, and became very fond of the highland dress, and wore it in the neatest form; which I can aver, as I become personally acquainted with him above 40 years ago. He was a man of genius and quick parts, and thought it no great stretch of invention to abridge the dress, and make it handy and convenient for his workmen: and accordingly directed the using of the lower part plaited of what is called the felie or kilt as above, and the upper part was set aside… It was found so handy and convenient that, in the shortest space, the use of it became frequent in all the Highland Countries, and in many of our northern Low Countries also.’
I think it is great that Scotsmen are happy to embrace good design when they see it. I’m always very pleased when a Skilt makes it’s way north of the border!