Style Guy

The Style Guy: sartorial suggestions for your situation

Published: November 30, 2015

It’s been awhile, and The Style Guy’s been saving up your questions on piping and drumming dress, your conundrums on kilts, your confusions on caps.

Let’s see what the mailbag holds . . .

Hey, Style Guy:

You’ve often talked about your desire for pipe bands to be original, to add a little flash to their flashes, to sporadically spot their sporrans, of even to tie-dye their ties. Is that happening? Are you seeing a trend towards the creative?

Tommy Gofigure

PS: Does anyone even listen to you?

Thanks for asking, Tommy. Sadly, to your first set of questions, the answer is no. Pipe bands are more predictable than ever. Apart from the slight distinction in their always-inoffensive tartans, there’s

The late Ed Neigh (front) and Geoff Neigh of the Guelph Pipe Band in the 1970s, one of the few bands to sport tweed and balmorals.

less and less to tell bands apart these days. Some might say that that is a good thing, as bands put more emphasis on the music and put more of their budget into instruments and travel, but their uniform dress is a creative element that can speak volumes about who they are, or once were.

Why can’t a band deck themselves out in nice Harris Tweed jackets and vests? What of the balmoral? How about making a bold move and give up the laced-ghillies for plain brogues? Or maybe burnt-orange shirts? Hey, wait! That’s the Guelph Pipe Band of the 1970s, today still one of the most elegant and distinctive ensembles ever put together.

I’d say the only top-grade band right now making a true statement with its tartan is St. Laurence O’Toole, because their kilts aren’t even tartan. They’re green. And what communicates the Emerald Isle of Ireland better than green?

And, to your final question, Yes, sometimes. I can’t take full credit, but the number of bands wearing short-sleeved shirts and vests/waistcoats is now tiny, and we have nearly eradicated the use of belts with vests/waistcoats. There are miles to go, though, before I sleep.



Dear Style Guy,

I read a while ago some old guy criticizing some younger piper for wearing trews and more creative attire. Assuming you know what I’m speaking about, what’s your opinion?

Glenn Closed

Thanks for the letter, GC.

Not really following you on this one. You mean some newsletter or other was bashing a piper for wearing trews? Provided they were tasteful and well-tailored, what’s not to like? Tartan trews are every bit as “Highland” dress as the current quasi-military get-up, which is about as “Highland” as Edinburgh Rock. It’s all Victorian pastiche, so give it a rest.

Trews: not just for golfers.

My guess is the critical old dude is just angry because things have passed him by. We all know that, with rare exceptions, as we age we become less tolerant of change, even if a “change” like trews instead of a kilt is going back to a different era. And my guess is that whatever publication the old bunt writes for is just as unchanging and unoriginal as he is.



Hi SG,

I’m seeing coloured practice chanters hit the market, cool with the kids. Do you think bands and solo pipers should start playing pipe chanters in colours other than black?


Bob Johnstone

Yes. Yes, I do. Why not? There’s hardly a band today playing wood chanters, and Delrin can pretty much be coloured any way you like, so the first band to come out with matched chanters tastefully coloured to go with their uniform will make a cool statement. After all, just look at drums. Bands change their drum shell colours and designs all the time. The top bands that are sponsored by drum companies appear to be encouraged to get creative with their shells, as that hastens change in design trends. And no drum section wants to look dated, do they?

Picture the possibilities . . . [artist’s rendering]

I say it’s only a matter of time when some major bagpipe maker teams with a top band to come out with new chanters especially coloured, maybe even matched with their drums. It makes marketing sense, and allows the pipe section to catch up with the drum section when it comes to being the cool kids.



Dear Style Guy:

My band is considering going in a whole new direction with our kilts. We want to change tartan completely. But we’re afraid that we might sink the ship. What should we do?


HMS Tartanic

Good for you, mate! If your band can’t afford to create its own tartan, designed specifically for the band, I suggest you scour the tartan registry for the obscure stuff. Bold colours. Something that becomes your band’s special brand.

Something that might announce your arrival before you even get there.

Years ago the 78th Fraser Highlanders gave up their trademark pumpkin orange tartan for a plaid that they designed especially for the band. Good idea, and it would have worked, but they neglected to stay with the distinctive garish orange as the base. So, they lost their trademark colour and, sadly, look similar to many other bands out there. Right idea; wrong execution.

More than any other piece of kit, a band’s tartan makes its individual look. With so many setts and colours and weaves, your kilt can set you apart from the army of MacLean of Duarts and Red MacPhersons out there. Just use good taste and sound judgment.



Dear Style Guy:

What’s your view on neckties? Are you seeing a trend towards one style or another? Do you think the bowtie – so popular with many bands all over the world for many decades – will ever come back?

Yours truly,

Knot Tieler

Thanks for this, KT. It is time to talk again about ties. Let me first put the bowtie question to rest: No. Bowties will never return to pipe bands, at least not in my lifetime. I’m pretty sure the big red bozo bowties that City of Victoria wore in the 1970s killed off the trend altogether.

In tune with the times . . .

You might be surprised by my other thought on neckties. I think it’s time for pipe bands and solo players to relax the “rules,” and drop them completely. That’s right – open neck. Tieless. Shed that noose! I mean, ties have pretty much died a death in the workplace anyway, so why do we pipers and drummers still wear them, especially when so many of us compete and perform in hot climates? Like trews, army uniforms of the past made for tropical and desert situations had soldiers go without a tie and, guess what, no one died! Well, actually, lots of soldiers died, but not from not wearing tie. Let’s relax in these casual-dress times, and untie the tie once in a while.

Do you have a question for The Style Guy about piping and drumming dress? Just send him an email message and he’ll be pleased to include your question of confusion in his next column. Until then, dress on!


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When playing a three-note run, accent the third note. The run is a fancy way of playing the last note. The third note is the one that gets the attention and the weight.
Ian Whitelaw, Redondo Beach, California