11 August 2010

The Dress Act: When Wearing Tartans and Kilts was Banned in Scotland

Before tartans became associated with royal patronage and the upper class in Britain they were banned in the Scottish Highlands. The Dress Act was imposed in 1746 and made the wearing of Highland Dress including tartans and kilts illegal. This was done to break the clan system and stop Jacobite risings supporting the House of Stuart. Prince Charles Edward Stuart (1720-1788) known as Bonnie Prince Charlie was considered the Jacobite claimant to the thrones of the Kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland. The Catholic Charles, who was born to his exiled parents in Rome was supported by the Highland Clans, as opposed to the reigning Protestant House of Hanover's George II. The young prince was painted by Italian Antonio David (1698-1750), the official painter for the exiled Stuart court living in Rome. A 1744 image shows a private and corporal in the Highland Jacobite Regiment.


Charles and this followers were defeated by the English at the Battle of Culloden in 1746 resulting in a campaign to assimilate the Scottish Highlands by repressing Gaelic culture. When the act was appealed in 1782 tartans and kilts were no longer limited to the Highlands but became symbolic of Scotland. In the nineteenth century the fashion was incorporated into Britain with the Highland romantic revival. Robert Ronald McIan (1803 -1856) was a Highland actor and painter who depicted Scottish clansmen in The Clans of The Scottish Highlands which he dedicated to Queen Victoria. The Queen, great - great granddaughter of George II, embraced Gaelic culture buying Balmoral Castle. Prince Albert decorated it in the red Royal Stewart and green Hunting Stewart tartans of the House of Stuart. When the royal family visited they would wear Highland dress.


13 comments:

  1. I did not know this history Kendra... thanks for writing about this. I just think kilts are amazingly fun things!

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  2. Thank you Author and I love your post about the Scottish "Bog" people. Best, Kendra

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  3. Kahn & Selesnick's work is definitely one of my favorites... they've worked with the concept of fable/history for years. Such amazing images.

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  4. Immediately the ban France has imposed on the wearing of the burka comes to mind-though for different reasons wearing a particular style or heritage or religious garb imposed by law is off putting. The clans still gather in the NC Highlands every year http://www.gmhg.org/
    and very serious too. pgt

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  5. Thank you PGT, I have always heard of the NC games and I attended the Northern California Games for many years. There is a beautiful highland dance called Seann Triubhas that relates to England's ban on Highland Dress. It translates to "old trousers"; the dancer symbolically kicks off the oppressive article of clothing, Best, Kendra

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  6. Balmoral and it's tartan decorative scheme has always enchanted.
    Makes me want to run over to the garment district to grab a few yards of black Watch. Alas i have no clan to call my own.
    Thanks as always,
    leonard @ Babylon Baroque

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  7. Leonard, I have to credit your postings on politics and fashion in France for inspiring this post. I actuallay love to wear Black Watch because my family tartans are all too garish for me. Best, Kendra

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  8. I had no idea of the ban...thank you, I always learn something here. My brother was a highland dancer for many years; I love the way the kilt swishes.

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  9. Hi Alaine, I was a Scottish Country Dancer many years ago and I feel the same way about kilts. Best, Kendra

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  10. The history of the kilt is quite complicated as is the story of union of the two kingdoms and over the years has been overlaid with fable and fiction. That apart, my Celt looks fabulous in his kilt - the one his grandfather had made for himself many years ago - but the climate here does not lend itself very often to wearing twenty yards of pleated wool.

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  11. Hello Blue, San Francisco has a much better climate for kilts! Best to you and the Celt, Kendra

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  12. nice sight thanks its great history

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  13. Thank you Kellis, Please visit again. Best, Kendra

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