Style Guy
November 30, 2007

Style Guy Nov 07

For all of you northern hemisphere types, you’ll be thinking of altering your Highland wardrobe this off-season: getting rid of those well-past-it-waistcoats, considering French cuffs, putting the finishing touches on your band’s most important ensemble – the uniform. The questions will abound. Fear not, dear readers. The Style Guy is here to help. Like letters to Santa, The Style Guy always delivers on messages sent his way.

Let’s open up the Inbox to what my confused fans have to ask this time . . .

Dear Style Guy:

I need you to settle a debate. We recently upgraded to some snappy new ties, and are having some discussion as to where the bottom of the tie should lay when playing with jackets and/or vests off.

Just atop the belt buckle? Split the buckle? Just below? Or the ever favourite, middle of the chest with the thin side of the tie a couple inches below (and behind) the wide part?!


Weaving Thru Glengarry

Dear Glen:

Tae the weavers gin ye gang, fair maids! I am so glad that you had the courage to ask me these important questions. Where the necktie hangs is one of the most frequent Highland fashion faux pasesesses. I so often go round the games witnessing the most atrocious and slovenly finishes to one of the most important pieces of our piping and drumming get-up. I shall now put the issue to rest.

The end of the straight necktie – that is, its very end-point – should meet exactly at the half-way point of the waist-belt buckle, if one is wearing no waistcoat/vest. (A belt should never be worn with a waistcoat; see previous Style Guy columns.) This takes a bit of finessing of the knot, and, chances are, you will have to re-tie your tie a few times to get it right, so leave extra time on the morning before a competition for that.

A too-long tie that crosses into tartan territory is an abysmal site, as bad for the aesthetic eye as the too-short tie that creeps up the shirt, leaving a gap between tie and buckle. The former is often a problem seen on skinny short guys; the latter is often seen on overweight pipers and drummers who have too much human real-estate for a standard-length tie to cover. For them to get it right they will have to leave relatively little of the “thin side,” as you call it, Glengarry, sticking out. In this instance, stick the thin bit into your shirt. It’s the only real way to avoid the unsightly tail at the top.

Ancient MacLean of Duart.Modern Ferguson.

Dear Style Guy:

I’ve read your column many times and find it very refreshing and your opinions, for the most part, solid.

Aside from band playing, I am getting very tired of wearing only a solid colour (especially black), boring tie with my outfit (the classic shirt, vest, and sometimes jacket) for solo work and competition. I’d like to wear something like you see the top players at the World’s and big solo events wearing.

What colours/designs/ties would you recommend to wear with the Modern Feguson tartan and the Ancient MacLean of Duart? (I’ve attached pictures of both: Ferguson is the green one; MacLean being the red.)

Thanks a lot,

Hunter Rhoades

My Dear Cecil:

“For the most part”? For the most part?!! Good God, man, give your wee head a shake and pay attention. The Style Guy has the final word in what to wear. Anddonchaforgettit.

Now, then, your dilemma. First off, there is nothing “classic” about your shirt-vest combination. Classic is Willie Ross at Strathpeffer in 1928. Classic is John D. Burgess at Blair Atholl in 1976. Classic is Pipe-Major Angus riding a horse-drawn beer cart over Dean Bridge in 1984. Yours is not classic; it is the hackneyed stuff of cheap, anonymous pipe band attire.

I will say it again: if you wear a vest/waistcoat, it must be accompanied by a long-sleeved shirt. Short-sleeves such as yours look tawdrier than tawdry.

Let’s start with your MacLean of Duart dilemma. This tartan is the Levi’s plaid of pipe bands. It is a commonplace cliché. That said, you have the redder version, which is slightly more interesting, and links to black quite nicely. So well done there. I would stay with black jackets, but try to shake it up by ditching the mass-produced “silver” diamond buttons in favour of something more original, like black stag-horn buttons. Just get rid of the vests. Unless a waistcoat is expertly tailored, it rarely fits, and an ill-fitting vest is a horrible thing. Your band will look smarter and be cooler when it’s hot playing in just shirts.

Invest in decent ties. Bands need hard-wearing ties, sure, but today tough genuine silk is more available than ever. Perhaps a royal blue or forest green with a black stripe would work nicely, and draw the eye away from those not-so-great, mix-matched sporrans. Abandon the creamy-white hose for hand-knitted wool socks that tie-in with the ties, dark green or dark blue. Now you’re making a tasteful statement.

As for your Ferguson ensemble: quite well done! While not spellbinding, this would not look the least out of place at Eden Court Theatre. You have some nice attention to detail here. Drones are spaced nicely; carriage of the instrument is very good. Your kilt is just ever so slightly too long, and do lower your ghillie brogue laces so that they go only slightly higher than your ankle bones.

But please get a new settee. That thing is dreadful.

Dear Style Guy:

I play quite a few weddings, memorial services, and so on. Most of the time, by band’s uniform (plain black sporran, white shirt, straight black tie, vest and/or jacket) works just fine. There are times, however, when I’d like to “kick it up a notch” for more formal, evening events.

I’ve seen some chaps now and again who look quite silly with big fur sporrans that kids like to come up and pet (Michael Jackson, eat your Peter Pan heart out!), coat and vest combinations, floppy bow ties, etc. What would you suggest?

I’d appreciate any help you can offer. I can’t really trust anyone around here . . .

Peter Deneen

Grand Traverse, Michigan

Dear Peter Piper:

You’re in a pickle. There comes a time when every serious piper needs to get serious and get to a proper tailor who can suggest many, many options. A Prince Charlie jacket, waistcoat, tartan hose and bowtie (every gentleman should learn to tie one) are de rigeur for those who perform at or attend formal “Scottish” evening events. You cannot go wrong with it at a Burns Supper, St. Andrew’s Night ceilidh, or the celebration of Scotland’s full secession from Westminster tyranny. Oh, yes, that day will come.

Remember that at a wedding or funeral you must never upstage the groom or the corpse. Best to keep it relatively smart and simple, and this may be done by investing in a good “dress” sporran of fine imitation sealskin (The Style Guy is an avowed environmentalist) and perhaps the aforementioned tartan hose that perfectly match your kilt. (Remember that tartan hose may only be worn with a black or deep-blue jacket or doublet.) I also suggest going bonnet-less, and absolutely demand it if the gig requires you to play inside. Unless you are wearing a military- or police-uniform, a gentleman wearing a hat indoors is like a man who lets loose flatus in an elevator.

So, if you have the money: the Prince Charlie route is best; if on a budget: a nice sporran and tartan hose will do the task nicely.

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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