This is an old blog that I started in 2006. I keep it because it has a lot of historical data and people still come here. As of September 2016, no new updates will be made here. All new blog posts and writing/publishing related news will be posted over on my new site at

Friday, January 02, 2009

Early Highland Warrior Clothing

By Jennifer Hudson Taylor

When I decided to write a Scottish medieval novel, I discovered that my "idea" of what a medieval highlander would wear was completely incorrect. What I had seen in photos and movies like Braveheart and had read in other Scottish novels had given me the wrong impression. Even after I discovered this, my opinion of the movie didn't change. I still love it. But the depiction of the characters in my book would be different.

I wanted them to be as accurate as possible, but I didn't want to throw people out of my story by using terms such as "leine" when most people would be unfamiliar with the term. So I chose to use the terms "plaid" and "tunic" to refer to my hero's clothing. The other alternative would have been to use the specific terms and include a glossary in the back. I don't know about others, but when I read for education, I don't mind a glossary, but when I read for pleasure, I would find it annoying. I'd love to hear some opinions on this.

Modern kilts as we know them today date back to around 1725. It’s similar to a skirt with pleats from the waist down to slightly below the knees. However, it is not a skirt.

The Great kilt or Belted Plaid dates back to 1594. The great kilt was an untailored garment made of cloth gathered up into pleats by hand and secured by a wide belt. The upper half could be worn as a cloak draped over the left shoulder and secured by a brat (clip) or draped down over the belt and gathered up at the front. In cold or wet weather, they might have brought it up over the shoulders or head for protection against weather.

Before the Great kilt or belted plaid, they wore a long shirt that is known as a "leine" in Gaelic and thought of as a "tunic" in English. A plaid of wool cloth would have been draped over the shoulders and around the arm and fastened by a brat. The tunic came down to the knees on a man and was much longer on a woman. Because of the length on a woman it was similar to what we think of as an English chemise.

The association of clan family specific tartan colors and plaid designs was a late development in the 17th & 18th centuries. However, much earlier family clans that lived within a region would wear similar plaids and colors because they used the same seamstresses in the area. And of course, families that intermarried typically lived in the same region in medieval Scotland, especially in the highlands. Much of the clan colors and design patterns associated with specific family clans probably derived from this regional practice.

For more detailed information, visit these sites: - The Early History of the Kilt by Matthew A. C. Newsome - The Leine by Matthew A. C. Newsome - A MacCorkill, History of the Scottish Kilt - This site has some excellent resource material


What a very interesting post. I'm currently reading the novel, Nefertiti by Michelle Moran. It's set back in Nefertiti's time (of course) and she has some terms that were used back then throughout her story. She has included a glossary at the back, which I find helpful. However, I don't always use the glossary when I come across the word; I'll just skip over it and continue reading. It really depends on my curiosity and if I really want to know what it means.

I had heard that Braveheart was innacurate.
Yeah, I definitely wouldn't check a glossary to find out what a leine was, but would just read over it and try to figure it out through the story. LOL
Cool stuff. Kudos to you for doing all this research!

Hi Jennifer, I'm glad to see you've done your homework and researched the Highlander's clothing (oh that Hollywood were so thorough)

I enjoyed your post very much, just on small point.

The kilt should come to the middle of the knee, if it comes to slightly below the knee as you suggest, then it is to long.

I look forward to your novel.

Kind Regards,


Very cool post. I am so glad to have found your blog. I love historical fiction when well-researched. Thank you for commenting on Becoming Me. After next week, I'll be back to writing my devotional type posts.

It is such a pleasure to meet you! I cannot imagine the amount of research it must take to write historical fiction! It would probably take me WAY more research than most people. :)

I saw in your profile that you love Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers...I love that book, too. That and her Mark of the Lion series.

Blessings to you as you write this book!
K :)

I prefer having the meaning of an unusual word explained by the context or the use of the item. If I don't understand something, it pulls me out of the story.

Susan :)

Thanks everyone for your feedback. It helps me determine how much of an accent to put into the dialogue and so forth. Thank you for stopping by.

I have a very similar post over on LJ, that I would like to get published in some SCA-centric organs. So far just my local newsletter. While it has some more details it essentially lines up with what you've posted here.

Also, check your meaning of "brat". I'm pretty sure is a rectangular cape-like drape that is thrown over the shoulders, not the clasp that holds it on.

I found this very interesting too! Thanks for posting your comment in my blog, and I look forward to your medieveal when it comes out - congrats!

A book I was reading used the word "brat" as an article of the male-lead's clothing. Of course, I didn't immediately look up the word but based on its context was able to come to a reasonable assumption of what the author was talking about until I could look it up. Apparently a "brat" is a rectangle piece of cloth used over the leine and was the forerunner of the kilt. Also, from what I understand,there is also a fastener also known as a brat but not necessarily clothing. As far as having a glossary is concerned, if term(s)are exclusive to that author's book series or a world/peoples they have created, then by all means please do furnish.