Published: September 30, 2008

Taiwan on

To every tartan there is a season. Turn! Turn! Turn! To every sporran there is a season. Turn! Turn! Turn!
 
So let me take a turn to answer the many questions of serious piping and drumming style that have come my way over the past season . . .
 

 
Dear Style Guy MBE:
 
I have been asked to come up with a design for the bands ties, and have now spent countless lunch breaks, bothering people at different tie companies for the perfect tie. Of course when I bring the ideas in, only three people out of 50 agree on a certain design.
 
While this could technically be considered the majority, simply by being the largest number of people agreeing on the same item, I am at last sent back to my tie idea hole, not to come out until the tie is perfect. Do you know of any well priced reliable tie makers with a knack for working with pipe bands?
 
Also, I think the band tie should have a logo or name on it, I like the new big fancy striped ties everyone has going on, e.g., Shotts. But what’s the point if, 10 years down the road, you don’t know whose tie you traded for at the World’s? What is your take on this?
 
Thank you in advance, I must go back to my hole now before I get caught.
 
Tie around head guy
 
Well, TAHG, yours is a particular troublesome quandary for bands these days. I remember when band ties were created once and that was it for a few decades. Now, it seems like bands change ties like undies, which, for some bands, might not seem like a lot, but you know what I mean
 
I, too, have seen the trend towards stripes and big knots, some bands foregoing the logo entirely in favour of a strong fabric design. I understand that they are trying to capture some current non-pipe band-world fashion trend, but, to my eye, it doesn’t quite work. Why? Simply put, I find that wide, heavy stripes clash with the wide, heavy stripes of the tartan. It looks clunky.
 
When in doubt, keep it simple, elegant and timeless. Don’t scrimp on quality or durability. Go with a tie that will become iconic, like, say, the Shotts tie of the 1970s and ’80s: simple white band motif and a thin red stripe over a black base fabric of durable silk-like synthetic material. Always go with woven/embroidered over silk-screened. Find a band with a tie that you really like, and find out what the company was that made them.
 
Coming up with a band tie design should be by a very small committee of people who have good sartorial taste. If anyone doesn’t like it, just  tell them that they must have missed the vote.
 

 
Dear Style Guy:
 
I know the Irish can be a bit weird sometimes, I’m Irish myself, but I have noticed some bands sporting large-buckled leprechaun-like shoes. Does this sound right by you? I must confess that I have joined an Irish band recently and this apparel is part of their uniform during competitions. I was not completely convinced that it looked good, but it seems to be growing on me. Any thoughts?
 
Regards,
 
Rusty Piper
 
Faith and begora! My thought is that this Lucky Charms-esque stereotype is insulting to the Irish, maybe the proudest race to walk the earth. I suppose they have shillelaghs in their socks, too. Times change and pipe band uniforms should with them. Take a look at what St. Laurence O’Toole has done: they’ve kept their trademark uber-Irish “green” kilt but adopted many excellent and current upgrades. They make a huge statement with their look and their playing, and they have successfully bridged the gap between Irish and Scottish.
 
Throw the cheesy buckles in the bucket.
 

 
Dear Mr. Stylish:
 
Until now I have read your always competent answers to all kinds of questions. But laces: it must be four twists at the front and two at the back.
 
I remain etc.
 
Lance Lace
 
Are you sure you’re not related to Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp? Only a monkey would enjoy complicating ghillie brogue laces. Keep them simple, low and discreet. These shoes are a bit ridiculous, but I do like the fact that they are called “ghillies” because they were originally made for common estate workers, or “boys,” who would get wet feet working outdoors and so needed a shoe that dried faster. Ghillie brogues connect us not with the very worst traditions of the British aristocracy, but with the real people who made the great pipe . . . great.
 
It’s really a simple shoe for practical use and practical people. Keep it simple and practical.
 

 
Dear Style Guy:
 
While noticing that some of the big bands are starting to venture towards performances in the circle that the crowd might get into. What is your take on a pipe band that would be formed just for such. I recently ventured into the thought of forming a Grade 4 band solely for the purpose of being able to compete in a circle while awaiting the summer trips of the only Grade 2 band in the area.
 
It would have its own uniform and a name maybe not like that of a pipe band, but more along the names of a music industry act. The uniforms would be stylish. The band would also put together music that would not usually be played. Maybe some of the tunes you hear with false notes, and such.
 
Before deciding this to be nothing but cheese, please remember this band is being formed so that the players could be having fun with out the stress of a normal band, and basically to keep them competition ready during the long off season.
 
Is this a waste of the judges’ time? And would bandanas around the face be too much?
 
Sincerely,
 
The soon to be P-M of “November Tone”
 
November Tone . . . I like it. Nice assonance. But prepare your thick skins, since the cruel pipe band world will immediately refer to you as “No Tone.”
I say go for it! I’m not quite sure what the intention is, since you talk about judges. It sounded like this was to be an off-season project to be dropped when the competition season approaches.
 
As with all things, be true to yourselves. Don’t get in the trap of changing things just to get up someone’s nostril. Don’t be different just to be different. Go with what you believe in, and any statements that happen will be made naturally and people will like what you have to say, whether it’s through music or style.
 


 
Hey Style Guy!
 
My parade band is trying to settle a debate. Our number one dress is full military, with spats, hose-tops, horsehair sporrans and, yes, some bird-brained bonnets. Currently, the male pipers in our band wear full plaids and cross-belts, while our female pipers wear drummer’s half plaids, sans cross-belt.
 
It looks ridiculous having part of the band with big black and tartan Xs on their fronts and half without. Some of the members say that women aren’t supposed to wear full plaids because it’s not traditional, that they wouldn’t fit right, etc.
 
I’ve seen she-pipers in other bands (including Gail Brown with Shotts & Dykehead in the 1970s) wearing full plaids. What’s your opinion?
 
Thanks!

Feather-Head
 
Dear Feather-Head,
 
I do like your jaunty use of exclamation points.
 
Bird-brained is right. Few things in the pipe band world are sadder sights than a bands-woman wearing the arcane and archaic Victorian military get-up referred to as full “number one dress.” Just what is the purpose of that insane cross-belt, anyway? It doesn’t hold or do anything. Just another piece of regalia that makes piping with a five-pound plaid and two-inch-thick double-breasted tunic even harder. Crazy.
 
Not traditional? If someone can find me a picture of a woman in the pre-1970s Scots Guards wearing full number one dress then I will agree that such attire for a female is “traditional.” It is not.
 
Besides, unless it’s fitted and worn perfectly, the number one get-up looks terrible. Few people still know how to tie a proper full plaid. Tunics invariably are fifth-generation, sweat-stained things that lost their shape around 1981. Hand-me-down feather-bonnets look like an emu that lost a fight with a dingo.
 
But if your band must wear this woolly suit of horror, then I say, yes, allow the women to wear a half-plaid and be saved the indignity of the cross-belt and full-plaid. A band that wears number one dress is doing so with a single purpose in mind: to create a spectacle. So, just go the whole-hog and draw even more audience fascination by having the women wear something different.
 


 
Dear Style Guy:
 
For those of us who do not have a military background could you please give a head to foot run down of what “number-one dress” consists of? Are there acceptable variations and if so what are they?
 
Thanks, I’m still new at this. 
 
Cathy & Adrian
 
Cathadrian:
 
See above. Don’t worry about it. Number one dress is for the military. Civilian piping and drumming have mercifully moved on to attire that facilitates good playing. Unless you’re in a band simply to be a Sunday parade spectacle a few times a year because your dreary life feels invisible and innocuous, don’t go there.
 


 
Has your band’s attire gone to the Byrds? Are you looking less like Gordon Walker and more like David Crosby? No matter the season, send me your queries and I will set you straight.

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