Style Guy
February 29, 2008

Style Guy Feb 08

I be stylin’. Stylin’ is my major mojo. I am The Style Guy. You are not worthy. But Style Guy will attempt to help you through your Highland dressing-delirium. It’s not easy being right all the time, but I do try.

Now let me see what’s in the mailbox this time . . .

Dear Style Guy:

My band is nearly half girls – we outnumber the boys in the drum corps by far, and there are at least five girl pipers. My question is, what do you suggest we do with our hair? We wear glens, and I know boys aren’t to have any messy hair peaking out from under their caps, but what about us? Kind of hard to hide it all when your locks are two-feet long! I watched the girls at the World’s this year – there aren’t many of us in the top bands to copy!

Any suggestions?

Hairy in Glengarry

Dear Hair-ball:

A fine question, and one that I hadn’t pondered too much until your kind missive arrived. You are correct, my long-locked one: hair style is an important part of Highland style. There has been some classic facial-hair through piping history. John Ban MacKenzie’s crazy mutton-chops. G.S. McLennan and Willie Ross competing for most Clasps and best handle-bar ‘staches. John MacDougall Gillies and that Santa-like beard. Bill Livingstone’s Harry Reems-esque soup-strainer.

The trend of women joining pipe bands started seriously in the mid-1970s after Gail Brown cracked the ranks of Shotts & Dykehead Caledonia. Since then there’s hardly a band today that does not have a female piper or drummer in its ranks. Long may this trend continue.

But what should women do with their hair? One does not want today the disheveled look that Triumph Street carried off in the late-1970s, when many of the men in the band sported hippy-hair-do’s, looking like a pack of extras from The French Connection. No, today’s bands are far more spit and polish, for fear that some ignorant judge won’t like the cut of their jib or something. Tut-tut.

I have said this before: women in bands should not try to look like men, but they should be in uniform, i.e., wear a tie, sporran, and the rest of it. It’s a team. Teams wear uniforms. So, I always like the look for a woman’s long hair simply tied back in a ponytail. Long blonde tresses juxtaposed black barathea can be breathtaking, and, depending on the judge, could help him to, er, split hairs in your band’s favour.

So, tucking your lovely locks under your hat is like The Highlanders wearing their horse-hair sporrans backwards. If you got it, brush it and flaunt it!

I shall eagerly await this awesome sight. [shiver]

Dear Style Guy:

I was reading one of your recent pieces about never wearing a belt with a waistcoat / “vest.” I own a copy of So You’re Going to Wear the Kilt by J. Charles Thompson, and on the cover it shows a man wearing a belt with a vest. One section is dedicated to belts and vests. What am I missing? Has the mindset changed over the years?


First of all, throw away that dreadful book or sell it on eBay to some unsuspecting fool. It’s written by someone who is not familiar with the world of pipers and drummers. No one wears the garb better than or more frequently than us. So, listen up, Craigie.

I am adamant about this because, in this instance, we take the cue from the world of mainstream fashion. No man who purchases his suits on Savile Row would ever wear a belt with a waist coat. He’d be sent from his men’s club posthaste. It just is not done.

For pipers and drummers, all too often we’re wearing the kilt and vest issued by the band and, all too often, that kilt and the vest does not fit. So the waist-belt is used to cover up the imperfections, or because everyone else in the band is wearing one (see uniform comment above). Even worse is the shirt ballooning out between the kilt and the vest. The horror!

Yes, you will see famous people wearing a waist-belt with a vest and a kilt, but that does not mean that they are correct. If your kilt and vest are well tailored, there should be a perfect overlap at the front and the back. If you need to keep your kilt up, get some braces to wear underneath.

Actually, I welcome the day when this dreadful pipe band predilection for vests ends. The things never look the way they need to to pull off this feat of Highland fashion.

Dear Style Guy:

With No.1 uniform, what is preferred – top-hose and spats or buckle brogues and full-hose?



Dear Unsigned:

Big Angus wore it right.In a word: neither. That is, unless you’re in a Scottish regiment, and then you should just do as you are ordered, soldier.

But, if you – as a civilian who wants to flaunt a full plaid, brooch, tunic, dirk, powder-horn, brace of pistols and full-basket sabre – obviously have more money-matter than grey-matter, so perhaps there’s no stopping you. Just get that famous picture of Pipe-Major Angus MacDonald, hand it to the best Highland dress tailor you can find, and ask them to replicate it.

And, by the way, Big Angus was wearing full tartan hose and Scots Guards-issue dress brogues with toe-buckles.

Dear Style Guy:

I purchased a new kilt (Freedom of Scotland) and I was wondering what I should wear with it. I was thinking a black pair of hose, a white sleeved shirt, a purple tie and black Prince Charlie vest. Any input would be great.


Freedom of colour!First, what’s the story with that tartan? It looks like a band of Goths should be wearing it. Very dark and dreary. But perhaps that’s the idea, and when Scotland finally is free then they’ll change it to fluorescent blue or something.

My advice is not to get too cute by overdoing the black. You’ll like Johnny Cash gone Celtic-wrong. Similarly, don’t try to contrast the all-black kilt with too much bright colour. Red’s definitely out unless you want to look like Tim Curry in Rocky Horror.

I think you have a good start with what you’ve suggested. I like the plain white shirt approach, and the black hose should be okay. I would ditch the vest. I think silver works better with black than gold (except the aforementioned luscious long golden hair . . . I digress), so keep the buckles and chain either that or pewter. The purple tie could work, but link it somewhere else, maybe with your flashes. This is a tough one, but good luck, and send me a picture when you’re done.

Dear Style Guy:

Hello! I will be most likely buying a uniform this summer for my solo competitions and just thought of asking a question regarding tartans. I have always wanted to own a kilt and considering I am a French Canadian with absolutely no Scottish background, my question is: are there any restrictions/limitations I should consider while choosing a tartan? Would I have to ask permission to a clan, for example, before wearing their tartan?


Elizabeth Desgranges

Bounjour Lizzie D:

Congratulations on this big leap forward and welcome to the dizzying world of piping and drumming fashion.

The sad reality is there are a few people or organizations who “own” their tartan. They have some sort of trademark set up on it, and woolen mills are under order not to produce it unless at their direction. I know, for example, that one is supposed to obtain the Earl of Lauderdale’s permission to wear the Maitland tartan. How hoi-polloi of the old bar-steward!

Fortunately, the vast majority of tartans are available to anyone who wants to wear them. A common misperception is that one only has the “right” to don a family tartan by being an actual member of that family, i.e., you, Lizzie, can wear only a Desgranges tartan.

This is nonsense. If your last name happens to have a beautiful tartan associated with it, then you’re fortunate. But all too often people dogmatically wear their “family” tartan just because, design and garishness be-damned. Some of these tartans are hideous, and no amount of family pride can correct that.

So, Lizzie, mon cherie, go out and get yourself the best looking tartan you can find and wear it proudly, thankful that you are not donning a “uniform,” but only your personal fashion-statement.

Got a question of dress for The Style Guy? Click here to send! We can’t promise that yours will be posted, but The Style Guy will get back to you with advice.

Remember playing well is good. But looking good is marvelous!




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