Style Guy
November 30, 2014

The Style Guy: tassel hassles, willynilly ghillies and back in black

Dear Style Guy,

This issue has been dangling in the back of my mind for some months now.

As the piper’s kit gets more streamlined and modern, what’s the next to go? Gone are the days of crossbelts, plaids, spats and shaggy sporrans. The “Number 1” dress has been flushed away like a number 2 and the trend is to look more like “city boy” bankers in kilts. The more decorative elements are falling to the wayside. I say what’s next is the drone tassel.

Of course we need something to keep our drones in order. Alan MacLeod’s drone chains made a lasting impression back when the Tannahill Weavers were breaking the mold but even that may be too clunky. Plus they would raise alarms with airport security in our globetrotting efforts to win big prizes.

But the de rigeur braided cords are not the problem. It’s the blasted tassels. The outside tassel gets wrapped up between the tenor drones, the bass drone tassel gets so tangled so tight that you can’t even turn the joint on the pin. Then there’s the cat’s cradle mess that happens in massed band counter marches or the pyre of drones in the beer tent. And let’s not overlook how ratty they can become after only a season or two.

Unless they offer some crucial plumbob, cantilever balance, the tassels need to follow the drone ribbons into the bin. What mold breaking soloist or band will be the first? Is it worth the risk of losing “best dressed” at Cowal? Or would losing the tassels ring the death knell of our other quaint apparel traditions like hose flashes and brogue tassels?

Your opinions on the matter, Style Guy, may rescue this question from the delicate balance in which it hangs.

Yours, aye,
David Tassel-off

What an interesting and not a little long-winded question, Mr. Tassel-off. Until your peculiar missive I had never considered a tussle with the tassel.

In my last installment I discussed drone spacing, which implicitly concerns drone cords. But what of the cords themselves? Thinking about them now, I’m surprised that more pipers haven’t tested the boundaries pretty much since the aforementioned Alan MacLeod with his Jacob Marley-esque chains. I guess dronekind was his business.

I suspect that the tassel was part of Queen Victoria’s attempt to dress up “Highlanders” and pipers like over-bearing lampshades, all velvet and fringe and brocade. It really serves no purpose, so we might as well try without to see what sort of fashion statement can be made.

No tassels; no hassles?

While the cords themselves serve the purpose to keep the instrument organized and stable on the shoulder, the tassels do nothing but decorate. Eliminate them if you wish, but drone cords are perhaps the equivalent of the guitar strap. Mr. Woodrow Wilson Guthrie used a piece of string, making a frugal statement to fit his “Okie” persona, but someone like Mr. Prince might be a shade more flamboyant.

There is something to be said, though, for the finial. It’s fine tuning the garb. It’s the birl at the end of the part. The a mach to finish with a flourish. But cutting them off could make a simple, utilitarian statement that might work well for you and your own brand of piping/drumming.




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