The question of dress

As the clans gather, chiefly thoughts turn to hats and jackets, feathers and kilts

There’s growing panic about the massed march of the clans to Edinburgh Castle for the Gathering at the end of July. Thousands of tartan devotees, young and old, will attempt to make the trek up the cobbled Royal Mile. But it’s not so much the matter of the distance and effort, there’s also the question of what one should wear. Scotland’s clan chiefs know they must look the part, but does that mean turning out in day or evening wear? And if you’re a Lowlander, are tartan trews acceptable? Other matters keeping the country’s finest awake at night are how to keep their eagle feathers straight. And what about the sporran? Should it be modernday beaver-face ostentatious, or grandfather’s small, plain but rather moth-eaten one? As a former army major, MacGregor of MacGregor is a bit of an expert on uniform; and so we were asked to the house of a relative and fellow chief. Lunch with His Lordship was delicious, but with advice badly needed, it was not entirely free. The fixing of the feathers was a prime concern (yes, they must be firmly pinned to the cap by a badge bearing the chiefly crest, but not the buckled belt), but suggestions were also made on other matters. For example, the bonnet must be the right colour, and even though His Lordship’s black one is too small, he was told that he must on no account be tempted to change it for a better fitting and more comfortable brown one. This is the no pain no gain theory. Urging restraint The jacket should be a plain, day one; in fact understatement is the order of the day. At the risk of being snobby, loud sporrans should only be seen on visiting Americans. And yes, he would need a black leather belt; his energetic and resourceful wife was last seen heading off to Perth to attack the shops. This July Gathering will be the first time that a hundred Scottish Clan Chiefs will try to get together without killing or wounding each other and pride will be all. To watch your feathers wafting off in the wind down the Royal Mile will simply be social death. But it’s the prelude to the Gathering, the Clan Chief ’s Convention, which is taking place at the Edinburgh Parliament, that is raising a bit of blood pressure. Delegates to this were told it’s a business meeting and they therefore should come in suits. Apart from the fact that this will look pretty dull on the team photo, as my husband and others point out, no self-respecting Highland Chief, on specific chiefly business, would think of attending without his kilt. It may become a case of the kilts versus the suits. For the suits this is a day of serious debate about the future role of clans in Scotland and abroad. They don’t want the business of chiefship to be seen as something from another age. The kilts say just because you wear Highland dress, it doesn’t mean you’re stuck in the past; indeed, one needs only look at the dash cut by the actor Ewan McGregor, or the entrepreneurship of Donald Trump, or the edifying sight of one former Lord High Commissioner who wore a kilt to work at Holyrood every day. For some clan chiefs, a kilt is an intergral part of the kit, and should be worn at anything Scottish or anything official. Personally I can’t think of anything more dramatic or glorious than the sight of a hundred clan chiefs in varying shades of tartan. It would be a photographer’s dream. And Scotsmen have always stood out from the crowd… So come on chaps, if you’ve got it flaunt it!

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