By the Left
Frumpy, lumpy . . . and grumpy: ladies, it’s time to get comfortable
By Laura Mullin
After a 25-year hiatus from piping, I was just beginning to get my “hands” back when Covid sent us all into lockdown. I had spent so long away from playing that I was worried I would drop out again, so I turned to solo video contests for motivation.
Many contests require “proper Highland dress.” My local piping and drumming association’s website led me to the current rules for what is considered “proper.”
I’m not sure what I expected, but I soon discovered that while a lot has changed in piping and drumming over the past 25 years, the dress code has not. To compete, I needed to source the following:
- Head Dress: Feather bonnet, glengarry, or balmoral.
- Shirt: Collared shirt. More formal dress may include a military-style doublet (for which a shirt will not apply), Prince Charlie-style jacket, police/military-style jacket or vest.
- A tie is optional but encouraged.
- Kilt (with sporran) or Highland trews.
- Knee-length hose (not applicable to trews).
- Shoes: Oxford-style dress shoes or ghillie brogues.
- Ignoring for the time being the fact that the dress code still appears to assume that only men will be competing, I made my list and researched the cost of getting kitted out again.
Between kilt, hose, sporran, belt, shoes, flashes, shirt, tie, jacket, large leather belt with buckle (or vest instead), and glengarry (feather bonnet . . . really?!), I quickly realized I might have to choose between university tuition for my son, or Highland dress. I was reminded (and not for the first time) that my hobby of choice is not just “niche” but perhaps downright fiscally irresponsible.
I was reminded (and not for the first time) that my hobby of choice is not just “niche” but perhaps downright fiscally irresponsible.
So how did I meet the contest requirements without breaking the bank?
I reached out to a very talented seamstress and ordered trews.
And I’m writing now to urge other female pipers and drummers to do the same.
Though trews themselves are still a bit of an investment, they have many distinct advantages:
– Women of all sizes look great in trews. They can be made for people with hips!
– Trews require less fabric than a kilt, and so cost less.
– Gone is the heavy leather kilt belt so wide it cuts right into our ribs . . . or worse, our Fair Bosom (excellent reel, by the way).
– We can ditch the hot and smelly wool socks for something light and breathable.
– No need for flashes cutting off the circulation to our calves.
– No sporran required.
– That lovely kilt pin your auntie gave you looks just as great pinned as a brooch on your lapel.
– You can wear an elegant but cool tank top under a properly fitted jacket, and you’re still fully compliant with association dress codes because, remember, “tie is optional.”
– No time to shave your legs? It doesn’t even matter!
It’s time, ladies, to get comfortable. Between a fickle instrument, lousy weather and nerves, solo competition already carries enough challenges. I’m tired of putting in hours and hours of hard work at home, only to find I haven’t given my best performance because I felt frumpy, lumpy, and grumpy.
It’s time, ladies, to get comfortable.
And let’s face it. While there is nothing so dashing as a well-dressed gentleman in a kilt, jacket and vest, we all know that “proper Highland dress” was never designed for people with curves.
Please, join me in embracing trews. Reach out to your local seamstress, order your favourite tartan, and help support a largely female-driven industry in cities and towns everywhere whose talented members are frequently underpaid, overworked, and unappreciated.
A native of Inglewood, Ontario, Laura Mullin now lives in Everton, Ontario. She was taught piping first by Wilbert McCormick and then got instruction from John Walsh, and has played with Sandhill Pipes & Drums, the Georgetown Girls, the Grade 1 Toronto & District Caledonia and the Grade 3 8 Wing Pipes & Drums. She is now a member of the new St. Andrew’s College Association Pipe Band, which will make its competition debut this summer. Her “Piping during a pandemic” piece was one of the 10-most-read pipes|drums Features of 2021.