Style Guy
December 17, 2019

The Style Guy – romper-stompers, defining ‘Highland,’ and are sgian dubhs done?

Okay, it’s been a minute, but The Style Guy is back to answer your vagaries of vestiary visions. It’s hard out there for a pimped-out piper or a bedraggled drummer. The Style Guy is now opening his Stella McCartney sporran to see what spills out . . .

Style Guy:

A few years ago I wrote in requesting your opinion about incorporating argyle hose as part of a fun daywear look, or “lewk” if you are young and/or on drugs. Your response was solidly in opposition to my suggestion that this was an acceptable choice. As someone who frequently works with models, designers, and fashion industry types in NYC, the repudiation stung. How could I have gotten it so wrong? And then I noticed the most recent (“rcent”) post where you seem to have had a change of heart, even advocating for bands to hit the circle kitted out in tartan shins.

Romp on, romp off.

Style Guy, I realize my last name isn’t MacLeod or MacDonald or some other surname that hearkens back to the golden days of gaeldom. But since we all know that’s BS, let’s just say I do feel like I had kind of a point that has finally been acknowledged as having merit.  

All this to say I hope you’re more supportive of the next uniform trend I’m advocating for: The Romper. Does it look good or even make sense? No and no! But that’s fashion. And, really, anything is better than spats.

Thank you for all that you do.


J.R. Strauss

Thanks, J.R. You are obviously a man of excellent taste and long-lasting memory. I, too, can lay claim to those attributes, and I remember well my flip-flop on the argyle hose dilemma. As that great fashionista (trademark black suit, bowler hat, cigar and tumbler of whisky) Winston Churchill famously said, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?

While Sir Winston stayed constant in his sartorial and recreational choices, styles change, and we must be ready to change with them. The change to the style of competing pipers and drummers might seem glacial (will the ice ever melt on those wretched black taxi-driver vests?), we’re experimenting increasingly faster these days, playing with colour, patterns and motifs.

Socks are one the easiest ways to shake things up.

Time was, way back in 2015, when you wouldn’t be caught in a coffin wearing tartan hose during the day. Fast-forward four years and all bets are off.

It’s actually a retro thing. Some bands as late as the 1970s were still kitted out in Prince Charlie jackets, balmorals, plaids and tartan hose. While that was always sort or weird, the style did have certain charms. If bands ever had any money to afford it, we can see that full-on look returning.

As for the romper . . . well, I’m down for that. Why not? The practicalities of attaining peak performance on a 100° day in July donning the usual 15 pounds of wool, pounding away at those most mechanical of musical machines, are pretty much nil. A nice cotton unisex romper, maybe even in mix-matched plaids, could result in a better result.

But, seriously, no. Changed my mind.


Hey Style Guy:

What of the sgian dubh? Is the black knife still a thing, or has it gone the way of the dirk, powder horn and brace of pistols?

Cuttingly yours,

Blade Runner Bob

Black knives out

Thank you for these excellent questions, BRB.

Ah, yes, the sgian dubh. That’s Gaelic for “black knife,” even though they come in all manner of colours and materials. Did you know the sgian dubh is traditionally worn on the right leg, since most Highlanders were right-handed and thus could swoop down, pull that dagger and slash a few throats more effectively?

True dat.

While one could argue that the sgian dubh is like the kirpan, the ceremonial dagger that those of the Sikh religion must wear at all times, it’s really not. To me, the sgian dubh is the open-carry gun of the piping and drumming world. It’s just sort of a bad idea.

Sure, it’s an intriguing artefact that will garner questions from the great piping and drumming unwashed, along with queries like, “What plaid is that?” “What’s the name of that song you always play?” “Why do those people twirling those things look so happy while the rest of y’all look so miserable?”

But the sgian dubh is an accident waiting to happen. Never mind the problems at airport security, or when you’re pulled over in Alabama and those kindly officers decide to rifle you and your car; a sgian dubh in a beer-fueled tent post-contest could be a widow(er)-maker in the wrong right hand.

Plus, a decent one (carved ebony, cairngorm, silver, etc.) costs more than $300 and the dang thing is almost sure to be lost when you let your socks down in the aforementioned beertent.

So, my advice is, rather than on a sgian dubh, spend your money on a better kilt or jacket, or on a decent tailor who can make adjustments to the ones issued by the band.


Dear Style Guy:

I read on entry forms and rules that we all have to compete in “proper Highland dress.” In this day and age, what does that even mean?



Dear ABA:


Another excellent question. I’ve said it before and will now in so many words repeat myself: realistic Highland dress would be one of two ensembles – a philibeg, cross belt and musket; or a Barbour coat, holie sweater and welly boots. Those are about as authentically Highland as there is.

What pipers and drummers wear is some Victorian derivation of military dress. And today, you’d never find any Scots regiment soldier displaying a crappy black barathea waistcoat and short-sleeved shirt.

That competing requirement, though, is a decent attempt to retain decorum for the masses, and we all know the throngs of people coming out to the local games who would be gravely disappointed not to have a gander at “Highland” dress. That’s fine.

It’s important to be well turned out, of course, in well cut kilt, shirt, hose, sporran, belt and shoes. If it’s cooler, add a tailored jacket. Headwear is always either glengarry or balmoral. The tie I feel is increasingly optional, or should be, especially in stifling summers seen by most of the piping and drumming world and more and more in Scotland, thanks to the climate crisis.

The blazing sun is a frequent matter, and there is no visor, brim or other face and ear protection with the glengarry or balmoral. Judges who are out there baking is a dusty sun-scorched competition field need to look after their health, because chances are their associations won’t. Effective sun protection is as smart for any “highlander” as it is for any judge, so I condone the use of a good Panama hat or brimmed chapeau.

At any rate, associations need to get smart about requiring “Highland” dress. They need to be ready to make exceptions for the health of their members, judges and stewards. We don’t want any falsie-downsies out there due to sunstroke.


Dear Style Guy:

Running a pipe band gets more expensive every year. We’re getting to be like skiers and golfers – all this new equipment coming out, having to keep up with the MacJoneses, needing great tracts of land to enjoy our so-called “hobby.”

With so much money committed to travel, reeds, drums, etc. just to keep the band on the field, what’s your best suggestion for keeping uniform costs low, while still maintaining a decent look?


Skint is Schenectady

A good and realistic question, Skint. I feel your pain. Piping and drumming was once for the “working class.” Today, blue collar workers in a pipe band are rarer than, well, blue collars on a pipe band tunic. Not only is the gear more expensive than ever, but expectations to travel to compete are greater. You pretty much have to have at least upper-middle-class means to sustain the avocation.

My suggestion, though, might surprise you: invest in better quality uniform parts. Buy the sturdy ghillies that can be re-soled every five years. Go for the heavy worsted eight-yard kilts. Purchase glengarries from manufacturers that supply the military. In other words, you get what you pay for, and you will be replacing pieces a lot less frequently and save money in the long run.


Got a question for The Style Guy? Just pop him an email and your query of stylistic statement . . .



  1. I’m as much about looking sharp as the next guy, but when competing in 100 degree heat and 90% humidity in Louisiana in JULY wearing a Glengarry or Balmoral, I can’t help but wonder why it’s not okay for me to sport my band ball cap instead.

    “Because that’s how we’ve always done it, ” is not a good answer.



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