Style Guy
June 30, 2007

Style Guy June 07

And now, your latest installment of The Style Guy, your expert advisor for the cryptic world of Highland foppery, your sartorial sensation with all the right advice for those who think a philabeg is someone on a popular TV show featuring a psychologist doctor. The Style Guy helps with whatever questions you have but are too ashamed to ask, whether your cairngorm is gormless or your cords are discordant.

There were many questions for Style Guy devotees over the last month or so, head a-spinning with cockamamie counsel from fashion-challenged wannabees. Let’s have a quick look at the best . . .

Dear Style Guy:

Band members who wear “shades” when playing or, even worse, competing. What are they thinking of? Do they think they look “cool” or something? Is this part of the new look of pipe bands? Don’t get me wrong; I’m not a traditionalist. I was one of the first to welcome No.2 dress being brought in, as wearing No.1 dress was just agony in the summer.

I remember playing in R.A.F. Akrotiri Pipe Band in Cyprus in 1974 in full No.1 dress. All that was left at the end of the parade was a puddle. Oh, yes, the tunics were white, supposedly to reflect the heat . . . not!

I agree with some of the other comments about wearing long-sleeved shirts with waistcoats. This looks very smart. Another thing that really annoys me is the wearing of capes. Okay, when you are walking about or practicing, yes, that’s okay, but I feel when the band is on parade, performing or competing they should take the capes off. After all, the public came to see bands in colourful tartan, not to see everyone dressed like Batman.


Thank you, Geordie. You are a man after my own heart. You ask several questions, and I have answers for all of them.

Sunglasses: when a piper or drummer is performing these should not be worn. The only exception is when a pipe band outfits every single player with the exact same “shades,” as you call them. Then they would be in uniform, I suppose, but they would look even more ridiculous.

The fact is sunglasses look stupid. They are not cool. More often than not, they are lame attempts to obfuscate the fact that one cannot play that well. In performance, sunglasses are meant to distract, just like facial hair with the balding. Everyone knows you’re a baldy, and now everyone knows that you’re ashamed of it.

I have heard the usual argument that sunglasses protect one’s eyes from harmful UV rays. This generally comes from those who insist on wearing floppy fishing hats while performing or judging, saying that otherwise their poor nose will get burned, as if SPF-45 sunscreen had not been invented. Fair enough, but your eyes will survive I think for the five precious minutes that you’re competing, and not wearing sunglasses will ensure that people concentrate on your music and not how much of a tit you look like.

On capes: exactly. When competing, take off the cape. In a band, give it to the guy who was cut an hour ago so that he/she has something to do. In a solo event, simply dispose of it before coming on. If it’s raining so hard that your £1500 Highland ensemble risks ruination, perhaps you should question why you are doing this in the first place.

I have seen solo pipers and drummers ingratiate themselves in downpours, risking wrecking their expensive kilt and priceless instrument for the sake of some inconsequential prize. Bands are different: you have to stay with the team and compete when called. But, as one well know pipe-major of a Grade 1 band was known to say at the World Championships several years ago, “I’m not playing in the foookin rain!” And that was that until it let up a bit.

As the Latin-speaking dropped-piper says, cape diem, or, “seize the cape.”

Dear Style Guy:

Which kilt maker or shop in Scotland makes the best kilt?


Dear Pete-The-Pickled-Piper

Ah, yes, I am asked this question a lot. In fact, I have been approached by several well known tartan clothiers to be a “spokesperson” for them, paid to say favourable things in return for filthy lucre.

Never! This is beyond the pale for The Style Guy! I cannot and will not be bought (. . . at least until the offer reaches five figures . . .)

The truth is that there are more good kilt-makers today than ever before. There is a dizzying array of tartan from which to choose, and the kilted world is your oyster.

My advice is this: if you see a well-cut kilt, politely ask the wearer at an opportune time, preferably with a dram of Speyside malt on offer, who made it. I can virtually guarantee one thing from their response: it will have been made especially for him/her – “made-to-measure,” in the parlance of the tartan tailor. I cannot stress this enough. Never purchase a kilt off the rack. Do not accept one from a band that is simply handed to you on a hanger. Demand of yourself or the band that a knowledgeable person measures you and makes a kilt of minimum eight yards of heaviest-weight worsted wool that fits.

There are plenty of excellent kilt-makers out there. They all have tape measures. Get them to put one to good use.

I had comments from faithful readers, ready to quibble with my counsel. Here are a few:

Dear Style Guy:

Thanks for a great column.

I must take issue with you on your advice that the Glengarry bonnet be worn straight on the head.

Why then does no less a figure than Pipe-Major Donald MacLeod wear his Glengarry markedly to the right, to show the badge, and clearly also down over the right eye (I mean right as from the inside of the person’s head, i.e., from the piper’s perspective)? Surely Donald MacLeod knew how to wear a Glengarry. Have a look at his advertisements for Granger & Campbell.

Also, pictures of the Bobs of Balmoral show the same thing, as also pictures of Willie Ross.

Are you suggesting these guys all wore their Glengarries incorrectly? Pray tell, on what basis can you quibble with the likes of such authorities (they were piping as well as Highland dress authorities)?

By the way, the Glengarry looks a million times better the way Messrs MacLeod, Brown, Nicol and Ross wear it that “straight-on-my-head-I-am-a-bloody-American” style. Why on earth would you advocate that? The other awful thing is pushing it down too far on one’s American head.

What do you think?

Nicholas Taitz

Nickie Tams:

You are perceptive and raise valid points. These are gods of the piping world who, besides brilliant playing abilities, had something else in common: they were all from a military background. They were also from well in the past.

And this leads me to my point: Highland dress, like all fashion, is subject to trends. Now that the military has little if any impact on what pipers and drummers play, what we wear is no longer dictated by army orders. It’s no coincidence that the aforementioned “No. 2” dress became popular with pipe bands as the Scottish Regiments reduced their involvement in piping and drumming. Combine that with the end of National Service, and the military really has relatively little bearing on the clothing styles of today’s competitive piper and drummer.

Today it is perfectly acceptable to wear the Glengarry bonnet square on the head. Tilt it a bit if you want that jaunty-Jock look, but anything more will apear – like those images of Brown, Nicol, MacLeod et. al – completely old-fashioned. Incidentally, those guys were out of style with what D.C. Mather or John MacColl used to wear, and Mather and MacColl were out of style with what Patrick Og MacCrimmon favoured.

My dear Nick, style marches on.

And this in from the nether-reaches of California:

On waistcoats: undoing the bottom button is an English conceit, after the fashion of George IV, who couldn’t sit down without popping his waistcoat buttons. Keep the bottom button done up.

And pocket watches? Commonly worn by gentlemen in Scotland, and even by a few ghillies today. You may be an arbiter of Canadian pipe band fashion, but your overall knowledge is lacking.

So it goes,

Iain Sherwood

Thank you, Mr. Forest, for your homage to the late, great Kurt Vonnegut.

Rather than debate you, all I can say is that occasionally a picture says much more than mere words. I leave my readers with this, and caution them to don a welder’s helmet with dark glass made for viewing work being done with a phosphorus torch.

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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