Archive for : May, 2013

Just what do Scots wear under their kilts?


According to popular belief, a “true” Scotsman wears absolutely nothing under his kilt.  Bit breezy? Yes. But is this actually true – or simply the stuff of folklore?

The answer is yes – and no.

Historically, the Celts were the earliest kilt wearers, or wore versions of the kilt. They certainly did not wear undergarments per se, but tucked very long shirts or tunics under their kilts for comfort. There was a later undergarment worn in Scotland, referred to as “trews”: and all-in-one garment of knitted hose and loose breeches. It was sometimes trimmed in leather or buckskin on the inner thigh, to provide comfort and prevent wearing down or the garment when horseback riding.



It has historically been a British military requirement that men be naked under their kilt. This is a custom that endures to this day. Being “commando” under one’s kilt is referred to as wearing “Traditional” Scottish dress, or “going Regimental”.


The only occasions when a Scottish Soldier in uniform can (and should) wear underwear is when dancing or performing gymnastics.

Outside the military, the question of what to wear under the kilt is up to personal preference. Some men will, purely for reasons of Scottish pride, be “traditional”. Others will wear boxer shorts or briefs. Underwear with a kilt these days is always required when participating in highland games or highland dancing – high kicks and swinging kilts are not conducive to bare nether regions!



Some pipe bands associated with military regiments do require or at least recommend use of undergarments, as pipers can use a high-stepping march.
Kilts are also very breezy and very scratchy, being made of wool – and not soft wool at that! Underwear will undoubtedly provide much-needed comfort and a sense of protection.


It is not considered polite to inquire of a kilted man as to whether anything is being worn underneath it all. Some have suggested that the following be the response to the unending questioning as to whether anything is worn under there: “no wear, everything is in perfect condition, thank you for asking.”

Postscript: The writer of this article can confirm from personal experience that Scots the world over do wear nothing under their kilts:

A cousin of hers piped the cortege as it left the funeral service of a great aunt, in full Scottish dress and regalia. Later in the day, as a much needed cup of tea was being enjoyed, another person posed the question of just what was under the kilt. No real answer was given, however later in the day a cheeky “flash” from across the room (and for your writer’s eyes only) answered the question once and for all. Let’s hope no kilt wearers are allergic to wool!


Stay Tuned for more exciting underwear history next week!

A Short History of Underwear #7 – Corsetry – 1875-1920

Another dramatic change in women’s fashion occurred around 1875; the large crinoline skirt made way for longer, slimmer lines of dress design. This elegant look, combined with such a narrow waist, had what is possibly an unsurprisingly positive effect on the male libido – even more incentive for women, during what was such a morally repressive time, to continue tightlacing.

To fit in with these new dress designs, corsets were required to be longer, covering the entire hip area as well as up to the bust. In 1876 the “swan-bill” corset made its debut: it had a very long, strong, front-fastening busk, with a curved end. Back fastening corsets were also sometimes worn, as the fastenings at the front were apt to interfere with the close-fitting bodices of slim fitting dresses.

“Hose supporters” were also beginning to be attached to the corset, to replace garters.

Corsets were now made for beauty as well as function, from silk, satin and brocade with  lace trimmings, and in rich, jewel colours.


During the 1890s, the full hourglass was again in vogue and women padded their hips and shoulders, and wore huge “leg’o’mutton” sleeves while cinching their waists to the extreme, to  facilitate a true hourglass look.

By 1902, corsetry had again evolved to provide a whole “New Look”. An new era (Edwardian) saw this look immortalised by the drawings of Charles Gibson. The figure was corseted into an “S-bend” shape: unnatural, uncomfortable, but oh so desirable, a very firm front busk forced the breasts up and forward, hips back and bottom out, this look was further enhanced by the wearing of a bustle. The waist was narrowed and made to look long in the front and short in the back.


Also known as the “health corset”, and devised by a medical doctor, it was considered to place less damaging pressure on the stomach and provided less breast support. This was surely counteracted by the pressure on the spine of the wearer.

By 1908 corsets were worn longer and longer, to slim the hips as well. Mid-thigh was a common end point for the corset, yet  they did not always extend so high on the breast. Sitting down was particularly uncomfortable, if not impossible. Unless wealthy, most women wore corsets of coutille, which is basically modern-day denim.


Fortunately for women, the corset became of secondary concern with the coming of WWI. Metal was needed for the war effort,  and  less constricting fashions were adopted out of necessity as well as common sense. By the time the war came to an end in 1918, it was the dawn of the “Flapper” era … and a completely new body shape for women was to be the ideal.

Next week –Just what do Scots wear under those Kilts?

A Short History of Underwear Part 6 – Women’s Corsetry 1796 – 1875

A Short History of Underwear #6 – Corsetry – Part 2 – 1796 – 1875

Fashions changed dramatically in about 1796. A high waisted, “empire” style of ladies’ dress de-emphasised the waist and “stays” became a lot less constrictive. “Short stays”, or a “corsette”, was worn to primarily support the breasts, while still also supporting the back and improving posture. Slight slimming of the upper torso was achieved, though this wasn’t considered to be a priority. The  corsette was about six inches long (15cm).

For a short time between 1800 and 1811, before another short reprieve, corsets lengthened again, to cover the hips and push up the breasts. They were made of heavy duty buckram stiffened with whalebone. Padded cup supports for the breasts were sometimes included, enhancing these as a feature.  With a steel busk at the front, these corsets were laced from behind – not easy to manoeuvre in and out of! The point of these corsets was to minimise the hips dramatically (and uncomfortably) and push the breasts as high as possible – quite a shelf of flesh was achieved in larger breasted women! Some even reached the vicinity of the chin!

In 1811, a pregnancy corset (The “Pregnant Stay”) was produced to enclose the pregnant body from shoulders to hips and compress the shape with elaborate boning. Not good for the health of mother or baby, one would think.   In 1816 the “Divorce Corset” appeared – to lift and separate the breasts, it was a triangular piece of iron, padded and curving at the sides.

By the 1830s, fashion brought the waist back to its natural position. At this time the true corset reappeared and had the dual purpose of breast support and waist narrowing. Herein we see the stereotypical “Victorian” or hourglass corset we usually think or when corsetry is brought to mind. This was also the birth of the term “corset” as part of the English language.

Initially, clothing still exaggerated the shoulders, so the waist needed be laced only slightly to achieve a narrowing effect, as with the voluminous skirts in fashion at the time as well. By the 1830s, however, shoulder exaggeration disappeared and the waist had to be cinched even further to achieve the true hourglass figure. The corset was shaped severely and flared well above the waist and began to be mass produced. When working in the home, a “demi-corset” of half length was worn to allow bending and performing household duties – a full corset allowed no such natural movement.  Even walking and sitting were a chore.

(Sometimes common sense did prevail – and the breast and hips were padded so the contrast  between these and the waist was greater and lacing did not need to be quite so extreme).

Interestingly, tightlacing was not simply a fashion statement. It also became a symbol of moral restraint. Tightlacing even came to be a health concern: weakening of the back and abdominal muscles from wearing corsets meant that corsets became required for remaining upright, yet they brought with them pain, breathlessness, fainting, constipation, gas, and other health issues including liver damage.

In the late 1860s, there was even a spring loaded fastening corset, for front fastening – heavy metalwork for restriction and shaping. Some women spent only an hour every week – while they bathed – without being tightlaced to within an inch of their proverbial lives.

Girls were introduced to corsets at the age of fifteen, and the ideal was for a waist of 23 inches. The aim was that this be reduced to as low as thirteen inches within two years. An ideal of the time was that an unmarried girl have a waist measurement no more than the same in inches as her years in age. Hardly natural!

Next week – Corsetry 1875 – 1920

A Short History of Underwear Part 5: Women’s Corsetry #1 – 2000BC – 1790

A Short History of Underwear Part 5:  Women’s Corsetry #1 – 2000BC – 1790

Say the word “corset” and all kinds of images spring to mind: from sexy or fetishist lingerie to nightmare-inducing days of old where women were tight-laced within an inch of their lives (literally!) to fit with the dictates of the fashions of the time and even as a symbol of society’s morality.

There is, however, much more to the story. Not even originally used primarily to narrow the waist, its primary function in earlier times was to change or enhance the body’s shape, particularly support and position the breasts.

The word “corset” comes from 12th Century France, and meant a “laced bodice”.  A corset was commonly referred to as “stays” from about 1600 to the 1900s.

The earliest images of the corset date from Crete in 2000BC. At that time it was worn as a snug but not tight outer-garment to support the mid-section.

The corset became very popular in Italy in the early 1500s and was brought to the French Court by Catherine de Medici. It consisted at that time of a tight, elongated under-bodice, and was worn with a farthingale: a device worn under skirts to hold them in a stiff cone shape. The corset had shoulder straps and was of an inverted cone shape to oppose the conical shape of the skirts. Made of an iron frame covered in velvet, its purpose was to flatten the bodice (including the breasts) to push the breasts up and enhance the bust where they were pushed out from the top of the bodice. Narrowing of the waist was of little to no concern.

By the mid-1500s the corset had made its way into fashion throughout the rest of Europe and Britain and was more comfortably made of whalebone and wood.

During the reign of Elizabeth I, corsets were made of a  very stiff whalebone. A “busk” was worn, constructed of a mixture of whalebone, wood, ivory, horn or metal to stiffen the front of the bodice, and was removable from the “stays”, which were made of multiple layers of linen.  While some women found it fashionable to cinch the waist (the queen did so), the emphasis was still on the contrast of the flatness of the bodice and the curving top of the breasts. Others did not wear corsets at all – Mary Queen of Scots is said to have not worn a corset.

During the French Revolution, corsetry spent a time being out of fashion.

In the early 1700s, an inverted conical shape was given to the bodice to contrast with the fullness of the skirts worn below. The corset’s purpose was to raise the breasts, tighten the midriff, support the back and improve posture, while only slightly narrowing the waist. Informally, quilted linen “jumps” were worn to give slight support. Only partially boned, they were less restrictive and more comfortable.

Corsetry was about to change by the 1790s…

 Next Week – Corsetry Part 2 – 1796 – 1875

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A Short History of Underwear: Part 4 – 1930s – 2000.

A Short History of Underwear: Part 4 – 1930s – 2000.

A big revolution in men’s underwear came in 1934 – with the introduction of Jockey’s Y-Front range. Having begun manufacturing men’s snug-fitting briefs – considered risqué at the time – in 1930, this new innovative Y-front diagonal vent feature was soon adapted into boxers and briefs as well as into long-johns.

In 1936, a company called Munsingwear developed the horizontal vent line of men’s undies known as the “kangaroo pouch”.

Nothing much changed during the early 1940s, while the world was at war. To save for the war effort, Jockey stopped using elastic waistbands for a time and reintroduced the woven band with side buttons. In addition to this, unbeknownst to the civilians back home, soldiers wore boxer shorts in army-green – important for camouflage, as white shorts drying on a line in the jungle would have been far too obvious!

After the war, pre-shrunk cotton blend fabrics were used for underwear manufacture, and briefs and boxers became the norm for everyday wear..

Print patterns became available for the first time by the 1950s. Simple geometric patterns were followed by wild animals, playing cards and dice, to name but a small sample of what was available.Synthetic fibres were also introduced in the 1950s, including rayon and nylon, affording more comfort and better fit.

Thanks in part to cinema, the T-shirt graduated from being purely an undershirt and became acceptable outerwear for certain circumstances.  Notably, stars like James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause”, and Marlon Brando in “A Streetcar Named Desire”, brought the T-shirt-as-a-shirt to the attention of the masses and the fashion for it took off.


The biggest evolution in the 1960s and early 1970s for underwear was that it was coming off! The hippie and liberation movements saw youth shed their undies as a protest – against anything they felt the need to protest, including the Vietnam War.

In the 1970s T-shirts began to be used for advertising – rock bands, movies, businesses, branding, sporting teams, etc.  Wearing what you love or showing your allegiance to on your chest was desirable, especially among teens and younger people. And as exercise for its own sake came more into vogue, the jockstrap was a popular piece for lots of men.

In 1982, men’s undies became more of a fashion item as Calvin Klein launched his men’s undies line. Some of the most famous advertising campaigns since have been for this brand.

Today the range of available men’s undies is enormous – long gone are the days where we sewed them at home.  Men tend to personally prefer either “boxer” or “brief” (or commando!) – but comfort, a sense of protection, and a certain level of enhancement are qualities a man seeks in his choice of undies – and that has not changed in over two thousand years!

Next Week: Part 5: Women’s Corsetry #1