Published: March 31, 2007

Style Guy

Welcome back to The Style Guy, your resource for all things sartorial when it comes to wearing the Garb of Auld Gaul. The Style Guy will make your old garb less galling. Does your kilt hang low? Does it touch the ground? Flashes too flashy? Waist-belt too skinny? The Style Guy is here to help, so write in with your burning style questions before you burn your kilt in style!


Lots of inquiries from inquiring Scotch-fashionistas. Let’s open the mail-sporran to see what we have:


Dear Style Guy:

I’ve been playing in band competitions for a few years now. I notice that some judges wear pretty much what I’m wearing, taking pride in their kit, while others look like they don’t care much. What’s your take on what judges should have on?

Signed,
Judgment Judie

Hey Judie:

It is a sad phenomenon that those who have earned our respect and who you would think take pride in themselves decide to look disrespectful. I have indeed noticed some judges looking more like they’re on a fishing trip in Wawa, Ontario, than a prestigious pipe band competition in Maxville, or Pleasanton, or Bethlehem. They don’t seem to care that a lot of eyes are on them; or maybe that’s why they wear floppy hats and ill-fitting socks.

Most pipe band associations have a dress-code for adjudicators, but many don’t enforce it. Some groups even encourage judges to wear asinine-looking baseball caps. Look, Judie, all I can say is that judges who disrespect their appearance lack self-respect. What’s more, they disrespect the competitors. Too sunny? Wear sun-screen. Save the floppy hats and baseball caps for your next vacation. You’re being paid to be an esteemed adjudicator, so please act with self-esteem.


Dear Style Guy:

Am I right in assuming that tartan hose and buckle shoes is the correct attire to be worn with a Prince Charlie? I see ghillies and off-white hose worn by most men these days, which I understood was for day-wear with the Argyle jacket. Who Knows?

Tom B.

Dear Tommy Boy:

You are indeed correct. The Prince Charlie demands tartan hose. The business of wearing white socks with this dress attire is atrocious and comes straight from Alabama St. Andrew’s Society balls. Ghillie brogues can indeed be worn with tartan hose and a Prince Charlie, but make sure that the shoes are buffed to a high shine. Style Guy much prefers the dress “Mary Jane” shoes proscribed for officers of the Scottish regiments. They are delicate and a bit feminine, yes, but, hey, you’re wearing a freakin’ skirt anyway, so you may as well go the whole pig!

But never, ever wear Mary Janes with day-wear jacket and monochromatic socks (see Alabama comment above).


Dear Style Guy:

I’d like to know your thoughts on wearing a black glengarry with a tweed (probably green) jacket and waistcoat. I’m wanting to get away from the black jacket and waistcoat for solos as I think it looks too band-like, but not sure what would be proper headwear for this look (I’m not crazy about the look of a balmoral).

Thanks,
Neil

Neil kneel (that’s a command):

Slowly, slowly, like Yeats’s beast slouching towards another gyre, the piping and drumming world is realizing that the glengarry is a military hat. As such, it should be worn ostensibly with military uniforms. But because what we wear was derived from the military, we have adopted the look.

But Highland pipers started in the Highlands, so Highland dress should be used and respected. The balmoral is the Highland hat. You, being a solo-only piper, have a great opportunity for sartorial creativity. As my good friend Paula Abdul would say, You can make it your own!

Because you asked for it, here’s my advice: ditch the black Barathea jacket. Go for a bespoke tweed number made by a custom tailor in Scotland. You will pay a higher price for it, but a lot less than a decent, off-the-rack Hugo Boss suit, and your jacket will never go out of style. Find a balmoral to tie in to the jacket, kilt and hose (knitted by hand by an old wifey in Arisaig), and Rab’s yer uncle.


Style Guy also received a few comments from readers courageous enough to question Style Guy’s authority. Damn them! But here are there thoughts, with my further genius comments.

Brown brogues? Black brogues? Glengarry? Balmoral? It’s not what you wear, it’s how you wear it. Attitude and a bit of panache never went wrong.

Margaret Aburn

Margie, Margie, Margie:

If it were anyone else saying this I’d lay into you like a chainsaw through buttermilk pancakes. But, I know what you mean. Trouble is, one is born with this sort of panache or one is not. You cannot force it. You can go to the best tailor and have the best advice (mine) in the world, but, at the beginning of the day only you can get dressed yourself. The best-dressed piper in the history of piping, John D. Burgess, had that natural panache. Even when he went over the top it suited his (at times) over-the-top personality. Here’s the clincher: He wore Highland wear that fit.

There are a lot of pipers out there who spend a lot on their unique and “stylish” looks, but fail to wear gear that fits. JDB was made-to-measure from birth. He still is my God.


Dear Style Guy Sir:

In your response to Island Woman, I oppose your view. It warms my heart to see ladies in pipe bands, or perform by themselves, when wearing the tartan skirt and a ladies’ blazer. It is graceful, alluring, attractive and most of all tasteful.

Ladies should not, not wear the kilt, nor the men’s day coat or the military doublet; neither should a lady be made to look like a “guy.”

These are items of men’s apparel, and should be reserved for that distinct male individual.

Would you suggest that men wear tutus, if the majority of the performers in a ballet company were women ? I think not!

Come on, let’s get real. There are ladies and there are gentlemen. Let’s not try to lump them into one mega-gender, for the sake of “uniformity.”

Neither should judges deduct points when assessing a groups’ or an individual’s skill on the pipes or drums because of their lack of uniform conformity. A member’s apparel can match and yet be relevant to the uniqueness of the gender that people are born with.

This does not detract from the fact that there are ladies who are excellent pipers and drummers, and should be encouraged to be pipers or drummers and solid performers.

“Craigie MacPherson”

Dear Craigie of Stirling:

Ooooo-errrr . . . all this talk of “members” and “performing” is getting me a little hot under the sporran. Down, Boy. But Craigie-Mac, you are confusing the issue. My point was about ladies and men in pipe bands, where there is a uniform.

Why do we have uniforms? So as not to distract spectators by putting a spotlight on someone who is different. When a band is out there, everyone is as one. The only person who should be attracting any attention is the Pipe-Major, and that is only because of necessity. A lovely female band-member who is out of uniform is like a bass-drummer galumphing about the circle: it distracts from the unified purpose of the band. It may be lady-like, but it is not band-like.

Sorry, Craigie my man, I remain steadfast and resolute on this one.


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!


Published: December 31, 2006

Style Guy

Here we are for another installment of The Style Guy, your resource for all things sartorial when it comes to wearing the Garb of Auld Gaul. The Style Guy will make your old garb less galling. Does your kilt hang low? Does it touch the ground? Flashes too flashy? Waist-belt too skinny? The Style Guy is here to help, so write in with your burning style questions before you burn your kilt in style!


I’ve had tonnes of mail from sartorial desperadoes needing advice on what not to wear, and here are the best of the latest:.

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


Dear Style Guy:

Two words: brown brogues?

Signed,
Brownie in New Orleans

Dear Brownie:

The brown brogues set is a peculiar bunch. These are the bow-tie wearers of the piping and drumming world. As if they don’t get enough attention for donning the Queen Victoria’s unique stylings made for the Scottish regiments, they have to be even more different by wearing brown brogues. This feat of feet can rarely be pulled off well, and the trick is to avoid any black in the rest of the outfit.

You don’t want to be one big blob of brown, which will garner some predictable and rather stinky epithets, but your jacket must be tweed, your bonnet must be of the balmoral variety, and your tartan a hunting sett. The brown shoes themselves should be of a matte finish and look well-worn. Brown brogues, like bow-ties, should be an all-or-nothing proposition. Wear them at your peril, but, if you do wear them, wear them all the time with the right ensemble. Brace yourself for comments; they quickly will become your trademark.


Dear Style Guy:

I’ve seen a return to balmoral hats recently in the solo ranks, but not with the pipe bands. Why is this? Should pipe band always wear only glengarries?

Hat’s off to you,
Hattie MacDaniel

Dear Hat:

Chalk up another fashion disaster to the British Army. Because the tradition of the pipe band started with the Scottish regiments, bands today still owe a lot to the garments, as discussed above, that Victorian Scotland and the tartan-craze of the 1800s assigned to the military. The extraordinary glengarry bonnet is a functional piece of headwear, as I mentioned in my last column.

“Highland dress” to the piping crowd has come to mean ersatz Scottish military dress, or even Lowland dress. If we were to wear true Highland dress we’d have Barber jackets, sweaters and welly-boots and probably arrive at the games in an old Land Rover with a border collie in tow. I digress. But a balmoral is much more in tune with authentic Scottish dress than is the glengarry. It’s also jauntier and packs easily in the pipe box or drum case. It dries out faster after a good downpour or a dousing of beer in the tent. I say this: the first band to return to balmorals and tweed jackets will stand apart from the crowd and win a Style Guy Award of Excellence!


Dear Style Guy:

I’m a woman in her 40s in a pipe band. Frankly, I’m uncomfortable wearing a sporran and waist-belt and everything that the men in the band wear. I hesitate broaching the topic with my pipe-major, since he might think I’m not “one of the boys,” but that’s exactly what I don’t want to be!

Help please!

Signed,
Island Woman

Dear IW:

One word: uniform. U-N-I-F-O-R-M. Sorry, but the idea of a pipe band is for everyone to play together and do the same things, and that includes what the band wears. When Manon Rheaume played in goal for the Tampa Bay Lightning did she insist on dressing like Michelle Kwan? I think not. She put on the tools of hockey ignorance and pulled on the U-N-I-F-0-R-M of her team and got on with it. You don’t have to be one of the guys, but you do need to be part of the team, the band and everyone in the band has responsibility not to draw attention away from the music you play.


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.


Published: November 30, 2006

Style Guy

Welcome to The Style Guy, your resource for all things sartorial when it comes to wearing the Garb of Auld Gaul. The Style Guy will make your old garb less galling. Does your kilt hang low? Does it touch the ground? Flashes too flashy? Waist-belt too skinny? The Style Guy is here to help.


The Style Guy’s been busy fielding responses from wondering readers, confused about how to put on their piping and drumming suits. Style Guy’s picked out a few of the more interesting messages he’s received. Style Guy knows this stuff. Style Guy knows that looking good makes you play better. Looking good makes others think that you play better. Pipers and drummers who look good look like they can play good. Don’t argue with Style Guy.


Dear Style Guy:

The question concerning the proper wearing of the kilt got me thinking of another style question: how high should we wear our hose? I’ve heard it said that North Americans in general wear them too high. All too often, I see kilts that are too long worn with hose that, in my opinion, are too high. The result? A funny looking piper/drummer with no knees!

Thoughts?

Signed,

Hoser Too High

Dear Hoser:

An excellent question that I shall now answer with a three-fingered salute. Three fingers (your own fingers, please, horizontal, like the measurement for a large drappy of whisky) are always the distance between the top of the hose and the bottom of the knee-cap. Assuming that your kilt is cut and worn to the correct length (see below: just slightly above the middle of the knee-cap), you should have about four fingers of leg showing.

You are correct, Hoser, that no skin looks funny, but I’d choose that over the opposite: too-short socks that give a sort of Angus-Young-schoolboy-uniform-look to the get-up. Old guys do this a lot. Watch out for piping and drumming judges with this look. If they can’t observe the right way to dress, they most certainly don’t know the right way to play.


Dear Style Guy:

Give us the correct way of tying laces on the brogues. I understand they should be tied at the side of the legs and not at the front as almost every band seems to do.

Clarification please.

Cheers,

James of the Laces


Dear James:

Neither. Laces tied at the exact front are the look of an amateur. Laces tied to the side look like a birthday present bow. Go right in between – that is, at about 1:30 on the right and about 10:30 on the left.

And here’s free bonus advice: one wrap around the leg, no more than 2.5 inches up from the ankle bone. Leave the lattice-style Roman Centurion-like winding up the leg for pathetic groomsmen forced to rent Highland dress for their buddy’s “cool” kilted wedding.


Dear Style Guy:

My question is about the wearing of drum harnesses. Should they be worn inside or outside the jacket? Wear them inside and we look like robots or the Hunchback of Notre Dame; wear them outside and all we can see is a mass of ugly metal. I trust you understand my dilemma.

Also, should the tie be left hang down over the harness in either case?

Your advice please!

Regards,

Harnessed to the Corps


Dear Harnessed:

Oh, the ignominy of those drumming contraptions! This is where the instrument meets attire. The equivalent to a drum harness for pipers is the bag cover, which lends so, so many opportunities for style individualism. Velvet? Corduroy? Denim? I’m waffling.

Here’s the rule: inside the jacket, the tie underneath the harness. Not a great solution, but the solution nonetheless. Then get the harness off as soon as you’re finished competing and return to your usual sartorial splendor. Exacerbating the problem: drum manufacturers insist on making harnesses in brushed aluminiumiumium, which is supposed to go with everything, but really goes with nothing. It’s time they designed harnesses to look better, maybe even to match the drums (and drum-colour is a whole new topic for The Style Guy that I’ll tackle when asked).


Got a question on Highland 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.


Previously on The Style Guy:

Dear Style Guy:

What’s the story with waist-coats – or “vests,” as they call them in the new world? Lots of bands wear them. What do you think?

Signed,

Vested in Edinburgh

Dear Vested:

I’m glad you wrote, since I have an, um, vested interest in this subject. A good waist-coat looks sharp, no doubt about it. But an ill-fitting vest makes a piper or drummer look like a London cab driver. Here are my dos and don’ts when it comes to wearing a waist-coat with a kilt:

  1. Never, ever wear a waist-belt with it. The same rule that applies to a three-piece suit applies here. No waist-belt. If your kilt falls down, get it adjusted or buy braces/suspenders to keep it up.
  2. Never let your shirt show between the bottom of the waist-coat and the kilt, front or back. Nothing ruins the vest effect more than this tawdry look.
  3. Don’t button the bottom button. Don’t ask me why, just don’t button it.


Dear Style Guy:

What length should a kilt be? Are there rules for where the top and the bottom of the kilt should be on the body?

Signed,

He kilt me

Dear Kilt Me:

Yes, this is probably the most important question of dress there is. Here goes:

  1. The bottom of the kilt should hit just slightly above the middle of the knee-cap. Anything higher or lower looks a mess. It screams “I can’t play and I need a horsehair sporran!”
  2. For pipers and drummers, the top of the kilt should be lower than what most kilt-makers will tell you and try to sell you. If you listen to them, they’ll make your kilt up to your nipples. Save that for your St. Andrews Society membership-days. We wear the kilt lower down, pretty much where you wear a pair of trousers – just above the hips.

Pipers and drummers wear a kilt with a different cut than others. Just above the knee-cap and sitting on the waist. That’s the look.

Got a question on Highland 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.

Published: November 30, 2006

Style Guy

Welcome back to The Style Guy, your resource for all things sartorial when it comes to wearing the Garb of Auld Gaul. The Style Guy will make your old garb less galling. Does your kilt hang low? Does it touch the ground? Flashes too flashy? Waist-belt too skinny? The Style Guy is here to help.


Style Guy’s mailbox runneth over with inquiries from dowdy dressers and those who don’t know which way their cock-feather should point. Style Guy will now present the most alluring queries over the past few weeks.

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


Dear Style Guy:

Is it right and proper to wear coloured laces in your brogues that match your kilt/jacket/bag-cover/mood, and does it really matter anyway if you are colour blind?

Signed,

Hugh Jarse

Dear Hugh:

You are joking, right? There was one person in history who could pull off the coloured laces thing, and that was the great John D. Burgess who could wear just about anything (and did) and look brilliant. For the rest of us mere mortals, stick with black. Anything else crosses into the realm of foppery, I dare say.


Dear Style Guy:

Please shed some light on the appropriate / desirable method of wearing the glengarry. The more games I attend, the more confused I get.

Some pipers and drummers seem to wear the glengarry with a “rakish cock” (off to the side that is), while others display it squarely on the heed (straight up and down, as it were).

What’s a guy to do? 1:30 like the laces?

Yours in good dress,

Balmoral Ben

Dear BB:

What I am about to tell you will stay with you forever. You will always, but always wear your glengarry the same way from now on. But first a bit of history.

The glengarry is a functional piece of headgear. Just as a baseball cap was designed to shield the sun from the eyes, the glengarry bonnet, since there’s very little sun in Scotland, was made to keep the rain off of the head. It is a veritable gutter/eavestrough, my man.

For it to work as designed and thus look right, the glengarry must be planted squarely on the head, so that the little cascade may trickle down the back, using the ribbons as a further channel. Off to the side at all, and the water of Glasgow (not the Clyde) will pour over your ear and down your neck.

Not to mention the fact that you’ll look like you should be working the fry station at the local Taco Bell.

For glengarries, it’s high noon all the way.


Dear Style Guy:

While I think I already know the answer to this one, I’d love for you to clarify how low the sporran should hang on the front of the kilt.

So often I’ll see some guy with his sporran hanging down around his knees, and a bulging sack of kilt (and I’m sure other things) hanging over the top.

Please address this atrocity!

Signed,

No Baggy Crotches

Dear NBC:

This is a great question, and it unfortunately depends on body size. The atrocious sight you describe is more often than not seen in regions of the world where people tend to be a bit, shall I say, larger than in others. The ratio of fast-food eateries to people is generally an indicator.

A giant bum and a massive belly are recipes for sartorial disaster when it comes to our piping and drumming suits. All I can say is people with these problems should jog to and from and at band practice. Otherwise, they can simply tuck their sporran somewhere in the folds of their skin. (See “Austen Powers in Goldmember” for ideas.)

Now, then, your answer. Provided the wearer does not have a huge weight issue, when in doubt, wear the sporran higher, ideally resting right where – there’s no other way to say it – one’s pubis resides. Pubis talk aside, the sporran usually should be worn at the magic cross in the tartan’s sett: the centre vertical stripes and the horizontal stripes second-from-the-top of the kilt.

Only Borat should wear a sporran below the crotch for make benefit glorious nation of Skye.

May your sealskin always dangle discreetly, NBC. You can thank me later.


Dear Style Guy:

I’m starting a new band and want to look good. I know some looks that I like, but would like your opinion. I’m looking for something that is “hip” yet classic. Any suggestions?

Signed,

Perplexed PM

Dear Pee-Pee:

What a quandary this one is! Many a band has suffered beer tent ridicule by attempting to be “hip yet classic.” Why, I remember a band adding revolting “pocket squares” (faux handkerchiefs) to the breast pocket of their black Barathea jackets and being threatened with banishment from the United Kingdom and a good kicking from a group of soccer casuals. I digress.

Today, what’s old is new, so I would be inclined to go retro. No, no, not the look that the old City of Victoria band gave us in the 1970s when their Bozo-the-Clown bow-ties and waiter-jackets nearly overshadowed their brilliant music (“Jesus Christ, Superstar” excepted), I’m thinking something more Highland.

I’m thinking now of the tweedy looks that bands like Glasgow-Skye and Guelph supported. Guelph struck just the right 1970s chord with their earthy tweed kilt-jackets and rust-orange shirts. Hotter than Hades in non-Scottish climes, but worth a go. Say goodbye to our ersatz military look, and say hello to true Highland dress.

But watch out for the casuals.


Got a question on Highland 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.


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