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cl-Scot-fem-art - 7/2/96


"Scottish women's clothing" by Effric neyn Kenyeoch Vc Ralte (Sharon L. Krossa).


NOTE: See also the files: cl-Scotland-msg, cl-Scot-male-art, Scotland-msg, cloaks-msg, textiles-msg, fd-Scotland-msg, cl-Ireland-msg.





This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.


These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author.


While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.


Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at florilegium.org




----- Scottish Women's Clothing ----- last changed 16 June 1996 ('net version)


       This is a standard response I have written to the question "What

clothing did medieval Scottish women wear?" The purpose is not to tell you

exactly what clothing to make, but rather to outline the issues concerned,

and to indicate the known references that discuss Scottish women's

clothing. If anyone has any suggestions for improving this standard

response, please e-mail me at skrossa at svpal.org.


Firstly, it is unfortunately true that very little has been published (or

even researched) about Scottish women's clothing. All Scottish clothing and

costuming books of which I am aware are primarily concerned with what men

wore, and, in particular, with the development of the kilt and 'clan

tartans' (most of which developments are post medieval, but I won't go into

that here ;-). However, several of the better Scottish (men's) clothing

books do tell us a little about women's clothing. These books are

particularly useful because they do not simply give their opinions on what

people wore, but rather present the primary evidence (graphical as well as

textual) as well as their interpretations of that evidence, allowing you to

judge for yourself how convincing their opinions are. Here are the

references to these books:


Dunbar, John Telfer.   The Costume of Scotland.  London: B. T. Batsford

Ltd., 1981.  1 vols


Dunbar, John Telfer.   History of Highland Dress.  Edinburgh: Oliver &

Boyd, 1962.  1 vols


McClintock, H. F.   Old Irish and Highland Dress, and that of the Isle of

Man. Second and Enlarged ed.  Dundalk: Dundalgan Press (W. Tempest) Ltd,

1950. 1 vols


McClintock, H. F.   Old Irish and Highland Dress, with Notes on that of the

Isle of Man.  Dundalk: W. Tempest, Dundalgan Press, 1943.  1 vols


Although it does not address the question of clothing, for a good, single

volume history of Scotland, try:


Lynch, Michael.   Scotland: A New History.  London: Pimlico, 1992.  ISBN =



If anyone has any further references, primary or secondary, including any

paintings that portray Scottish women, please e-mail me at

skrossa at svpal.org and I will include them in the next draft.


"What clothing did medieval Scottish women wear?" is not actually a

question to which there is a single answer, because what women wore changed

over the 1000 years of the middle ages in Scotland just as it did elsewhere

in Europe. And, just as elsewhere in Europe, what women wore depended on

what social class they belonged to. In addition, at no time in the medieval

period was there a single, unified culture covering the entire area of what

is now Scotland, and as a result, what women wore depended very much on

which culture the women in question belonged to.


This last point bears emphasizing and further discussion. Most people are

aware of a concept of Scotland being culturally divided into Highlands and

Lowlands, with the Highlands being populated with Gaelic speakers and the

Lowlands being populated with Scots speakers (Scots being a cousin language

of English). Although this picture is not wholly inaccurate, it is only

really applicable from about the 14th century at earliest. The further back

in Scottish history you go, the less relevant and useful a simple cultural

division into Gaelic speaking Highlands and Scots speaking Lowlands

becomes. When you get back to the very early middle ages, it is completely

irrelevant, as the area that became Scotland had at that time at least half

a dozen different kingdoms and cultures, none of which corresponded to the

Highland and Lowland division. It is therefore necessary to do some

research into basic Scottish history, particularly the history of the

specific time and area you want your persona to be from, in order to

determine what sort of cultural influences they had, and therefore what

sort of clothing your persona might have worn. Even in the very late middle

ages, you need to be aware that where the physical border between Highland

and Lowland cultures lay was not fixed and unmoving, but was constantly

shifting, and continued to shift for centuries after 1600. Especially, do

not assume that where that border lies today is anywhere near where it was

in the middle ages! To further complicate matters, not everyone who had

lands in the Gaelic speaking highlands was necessarily either a Gaelic

speaker or part of highland Gaelic culture.


So, before you can answer "What clothing should my Scottish persona wear?"

you must answer four questions:

1 - Exactly when does your persona live?

2 - Exactly where in Scotland does your persona live?

3 - To which Scottish culture does your persona belong?

4 - To what class does your persona belong?


Here are some *very* general observations about Scottish medieval women's

clothing, which most especially should not be taken as gospel truth, nor

should they be acted on without further investigations! These are only some

ideas to get you started, but you should read the books referenced above

and any other reliable sources you may come across before setting out to

clothe your persona! (And some general Scottish history books wouldn't

hurt, either ;-)


Women living in the burghs (towns) were not part of Gaelic culture, and

would not have dressed as Gaels. In general, their clothing, it seems, was

very similar to that worn by women of similar class in England, France, or

other northern European kingdoms. English influence would have been at it's

lowest during wars with England in the 14th and parts of the 15th

centuries. This observation should be tempered by the fact that as a

general rule, Scots were poorer than their English or continental

counterparts, and by the fact that it would take time for the latest

fashions to reach Scotland. There were very probably a number of

differences between these Scottish and other European fashions, at any

given period of time, but at the moment, I don't think anyone knows exactly

what they were. One exception to this is that, at least in the 16th

century, burgh women were known to wear long rectangular (tartan) plaids as

shawls, which are described in the books referenced above. [Please note

that the idea of 'clan tartans' is not only a 19th century concept, but

women in towns did not belong to clans.]


Noble women, in the later middle ages, with certain exceptions including

some noble women from Gaelic culture, would also, it seems, have dressed

very similarly to women of similar class in England, France, and other

northern European kingdoms, with the same provisos as for burgh women

(i.e., poorer, later, etc.). It is possible (but not known) that noble

women's clothing would have had fewer differences from their English and

continental counterparts than burgh women's would have, as they probably

had more contact with other kingdoms and certainly they often had more



Women living in Gaelic culture, sometimes even noblewomen, it seems, for

most of the middle ages would have dressed very similarly to how Irish

women dressed. In the very late middle ages, however, it appears that, just

as Scottish Gaelic men's clothing diverged from that of the Irish, that

Scottish Gaelic women's clothing also may have diverged. Unfortunately

there seems to be very little evidence about Scottish Gaelic women's

clothing. What does seem to be known is that at least in the late middle

ages, Gaelic women wore an earasaid (modern Scottish Gaelic spelling),

though exactly how is not clear, and married women wore the bre\id (modern

Scottish Gaelic spelling), which is a type of kerchief, though exactly how

is again unclear (at least to me!). [Please note that the idea of 'clan

tartans' is a 19th century concept.]


In the sixteenth century, noble women from the highest and richest Highland

families probably started dressing more like their Lowland sisters,

depending on if they belonged to one of the rich and powerful Highland

families that began to abandon Gaelic culture in favor of the Lowland

culture of court. With some research, it should be possible to discover

which families were likely to have done this.


There is some possibility that Highland nobles of the 15th or 16th century

would have worn Highland fashion while at home, but Lowland fashion if they

visited court. I suggest reading the known evidence and deciding this for



Please note that I have not even begun to address several Scottish cultures

and classes whose women may have dressed quite differently from those

discussed above!


This should be enough to get your started :-)

Again, any suggestions for improvement, please e-mail me at skrossa at svpal.org

{In particular, I would like to know of WWW and other electronic sources

that give practical instructions for making period Scottish women's

clothing, so that they can be mentioned in this article}


Gook Luck!


Effric neyn Kenyeoch Vc Ralte, attempting to avoid typing the same thing

over and over!



Copyright 1996 by Sharon L. Krossa, <skrossa at svpal.org>. Please get permission from me before redistributing!


If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in

the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also

appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being

reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org