Style Guy

The Style Guy: of brown brogues and tweeds and flashing white sergeants

Published: February 1st, 2014

It’s a New Year, and The Style Guy emerges from his hibernation hut on the beaches of Borneo to consider a few messages that washed up in bottles from the sartorially befuddled, bemused and bemoaning hundred-billion casatways looking for a home for their very own special look.

Let’s see if the always impeccable TSG can help these poor huddled messes …

Dear Style Guy,

I am 15 years old and have been competing now for four years and compete in Grade 3 amateur solo piping. Knowing that appearance is part of the package, before I’m able to play like a pro I figure I can at least look like a pro.

Any tips?


A Mature Piper

This is an excellent question, AMP. While you’re hoping for great musical skills, anyone can raise their game at any time when it comes to Highland dress. After all, look at most professional rank solo pipers, and they have that certain carriage that communicates to the world that, yes, they know what they’re doing. You want that.

First, if you’re going to be a serious solo piper, do not wear the ill-fitting band kilt. Nothing says half-arsed un-serious amateur than not bothering to purchase your own kilt, made especially for you.

Second, and this might sound odd, make sure your drones are spaced properly. Frequently you can tell poor pipers from a mile away by their splaid-out drones. Mind you, drone-spacing styles change. The current trend if about seven or eight inches between drone. In the 1970s and ’80s many pipers went with a tighter package, with as little as five inches drone-to-drone for a compact, upright look. Old-time pipers, such as the guy pictured, would often have the drones as wide as 15 inches apart. But take a look at your drones, and go for the current trend, and make sure they’re equally spaced.

Lastly, stand upright and determine the correct blowpipe length. Few things say “crap piper” than someone who’s craning their neck or having to look off to the side with a too short or too long blowstick.

These three steps will help you to at least look the part while you’re tuning for the judge. But when it comes to actual playing, you’re on your own, AMP.

Hey Style Dude,

Lots of talk these days about trews. You recently commented on tartan trousers as an option for larger male pipers, but what about just wearing them any time in competition? What’s your opinion?


Mr. Plaid Pants

This is indeed a topic of conversation these days, propelled by the ever-sartorially adventurous Mr. Glenn Brown, who has a bit of the dandy in him, which I like a great deal. Mr. Brown occasionally misses the mark, but in general his attire matches his playing: first-class.

Most events require “Highland dress.” Now, I don’t know about you, but true Highland dress is nothing like what most pipers and drummers wear, which is a modified version of the military daywear get up. True modern Highland dress might be a Barbour coat and welly-boots. Traditional Highland dress would be a philabeg, ratty wool socks and a scratchy burlap shirt.

Since the modern daywear thing is derived from the military, well, logic tells me that trews – tartan trousers – are just as military. I have seen army pipers on occasion compete in trews throughout the years and no one batted a lash. So, what’s all the fuss now? I say go for that look, if you like it.

But, as with the kilt, make sure that your trews are made-to-measure. No scrimping on fit or material.

Dear Mr. Style Guy,

First of all … happy New Year from all of us h” in Belgium.

Now, my question/problem: recently we’ve changed our band uniform a bit, going from white socks to grey, and from white shirts also to light grey ones. But lately I noticed that the other bands I come across have quite flashy flashes on their socks.

So my question is, how do you choose flashes? What are the flash rules? And what would you suggest for our band? For your info we wear the Ancient MacKenzie tartan.

Best Belgian regards,


Alas, poor Yannick. I knew flashes would eventually hold up more than socks. Flashes are funny things. They’re a piece of the outfit that serves no real function, since they in themselves don’t hold up the hose. They just stick out and are a nuisance to keep straight and evenly matched. But they’re a traditional piece in the puzzle, so we’ll make the most of them.

Truth be told, no one would notice if flashes were not there, so that tells you something: keep them fairly discreet. Err on the side of conservative so that they don’t draw attention away from the most important item, that lovely Ancient MacKenzie sett.

Since your socks are grey, perhaps a darker shade of grey would work. Or pick up one of the main colours of the tartan – the blue, or even the black. I’m also a fan of the tartan flash, but again, keep them simply, and display no more than an inch of flash.

Avoid the red from the tartan, and certainly the introduction of some sudden colour like yellow. And by all means, no “randing” on the flashes – something that seems to be creeping in as yet another thing to sell from the makers of Highland dress. Let’s keep the logos to a minimum, and the bag cover, tie and cap badge are quite enough.And happy New Year to you, too.


Dear Style Guy,

I love the “hunting tweeds” look in bagpiping: brown brogues, cream socks, tweed jackets.

Would you find it striking to see a Grade 1 band play at the World’s dressed like this, or too daggy?



Daggy, huh? Are you by any chance Australian?

I have said it a few times before: the band that takes the plunge on a well-appointed head-to-toe tweedy-brown uniform will win major points from me. Rather than looking like every other band on earth, they will stand apart as that band. And I’d imagine that they would be adventurous musically, to boot.

But it’s in fact the brown boots that prevent this. Brown brogues are still specialty items, and few bands will purchase them for members. So pipers and drummers who have to buy their own shoes will buy shoes that will have multiple purposes, that they can wear with many tartaned outfits.

I can’t recall an entire pipe band being kitted out with brown ghillie brogues. But the brownest bands that come to mind are the old Guelph Pipe Band in the 1970s that used to wear dark or

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Resist all temptation to apply any moisture to reeds. Set up your pipes with the right sort of moisture control and allow the moist air surrounding your reed when playing to make the blades vibrate optimally.
Colin MacLellan, Edinburgh