On a tour around Edinburgh city center, the kilted guide is highly entertaining, even when one woman inevitably asks him what he is wearing under it. “My socks,” he says.
“That’s macho bull,” says David Withers, a Highland tour guide who wears the kilt almost every day. “The early clansmen did not wear underwear because it had not yet been invented but we are not living in the 16th century anymore. A lot of it is a masculine thing: ‘I may be wearing a skirt, but I am a real man.’”
It also comes back to the British Army, always dedicated to tradition, which ordered soldiers to go commando, so to speak. The last time a kilt was worn into battle was during the Normandy Landings in 1944, but it is still worn on ceremonial occasions. The kilt that is, not underwear.
A good kilt is not cheap, as I discover in the shops along the Royal Mile. With jacket, sporran, hose (socks) and traditional shoes, the cost can easily exceed $1,000. At Geoffrey Tailor Kiltmakers, Alistair McLeod helps me look at a few. “Our customers are about 60:40 local to tourist,” he says.
“When I was young the kilt was not cool. Its popularity has followed films: Highlander, then Braveheart. People from abroad look for a clan tartan. Local people are more often concerned about the color and what is going to match with the bride, as a very high proportion are for weddings.”
Sure enough, at nearby St Giles’ Cathedral, I see a groom and his friends in matching kilts, with the bride in traditional white. Time for one last joke: What's worn under the groom's kilt? “Nothing – it’s all in perfect working order.”
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