Style Guy
November 30, 2014

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

Dear The Style Guy:

Hey, I’ve noticed lots of pipers from the past used to wear big wing-tip brogues without the ghillie cut out and laces.

What’s up with that? Were they making a statement? What do you think of doing that today?


Jackie Smith
Grangemouth, Scotland

Ironically, Robert Urquhart Brown was actually a ghillie on the Balmoral estate, yet did not often wear ghillie brogues when competing.

Very observant of you, Mr./Ms./Mrs. Smith. Indeed, many more pipers and pipe bands of old would wear regular brogues. For bands it was usually a matter of economy. Not all of the members could afford ghillie brogues, and the band couldn’t subsidize them, so they just went without.

As is often the case today, Juvenile and Novice Juvenile bands would forego ghillie brogues for the same reason. With kids’ feet growing as fast as their toenails, re-shoeing every member every year is impractical, unless they’re willing to wear second- or third-foot pairs.


Today ghillie brogues are far less expensive and far more available, so it’s easier for pipers and drummers to kit themselves out with them. In the last 30 years, ghillies have become the shoe.

But it wasn’t always the way, mainly because of – what else? – the British class structure. “Ghillie” brogues were shoes traditionally worn by a ghillie. That is, a person who was subservient to the aristocracy. The ghillie on the estate needed these cut-away shoes primarily to that they could dry faster after slogging around in bogs and rivers all day chasing the Laird’s evening tea.

So, pipers from the “professional” class wouldn’t be caught wearing shoes designed for working-class ghillies. Time was that only working-class and military pipers would compete solo for money or with a tawdry lower-class pipe band. The aristocratic or professional pipers would keep to their “amateur” clubs. A rare few still do.

Thankfully, but for a few anachronistic hold-out organizations, there are no such petty differences and snobbery in piping and drumming, which has become a melting pot for musicians.

But, to the question, I like the idea of bringing back the non-ghillies, no-long-laces, wingtip brogue. It makes a tasteful alternative to the predictable.

And who ever wants to be predictable in this old life?


Do you speak brogue? Wonder about the width of your lapels? The cut of your jabot? The pleat of your tartan skirt?

Just drop The Style Guy a quick message, and he’ll help you with your dilemmas of dress and deportment.




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