Style Guy

The Style Guy: for better or for worsted

Published: November 12, 2016

A few fashion seasons have passed since I last checked in with you on matters of piping and drumming attire, from checks to stripes, from barathea to tweed, for better or worsted. The Style Guy will set your sartorial situations straight, so let’s see what messages might be filling my vintage-cantle sporran today . . .

Style Guy,

A local band decided they wanted to stand out from the crowd more, so they have all begun wearing red shirts. I certainly think they’ve accomplished their objective. What do you think?



Red alert! I like this for certain reasons.

Interesting. I am of a few minds about this look. First, red-on-red is always a risky business, especially when it comes to offsetting or upsetting a tartan with red as its foundation colour. Second, not everyone looks good in red, and women in particular can have strong opinions about wearing it – many people outright refuse to do it. So, a band takes all types, and most assuredly there are members who avoid red like they might the third part of “The Jig of Slurs” – they just can’t handle it. Red is also a colour that suggests a fight. Some would say it’s an angry hue, and you don’t ever want to anger-up Shuggy. But, as any of my long-time readers will know, I love your style making a statement. I like standing apart from the crowd of vest-wearing conformist-uniformists. I and the stewards like a band that can be easily identified coming along from over the field, past the Port-a-loos, beyond the beer tent. This accomplishes that. So, while you might joke about battery-powered shirts, I say, More power to them!


Dear Mr. Guy:

What about pipe bands wearing vests, or waistcoats as they call them in the UK? Has this look run its course? What alternatives might there be for a band on a budget?


Invested for the Future

Could be World Champions, but looks like every other band on earth.

Thanks for the question, IftF. The pipe band waistcoat started to emerge in the mid-1980s, when the Polkemmet Pipe Band’s leaders, Pipe-Major Robert Mathieson and Lead-Drummer Jim Kilpatrick, set themselves apart by donning a waistcoat along with their jackets. The rest of the band wore just jackets. Other bands followed (three-piece) suit, and some top bands even had all members wearing waistcoats and jackets. Then, one warm day, they dispensed with the jackets and wore only vests/waistcoats, providing a dressy look but without the cumbrance of a wooly jaekit. Today pretty much every pipe band on earth wears waistcoats and many don’t even have jackets. It’s a good solution, since it cuts down on band uniform costs and allows for more freedom of movement. (And thank G.S. that bands have abandoned the horrific short-sleeved-shirts-and-waistcoats look.) With a waistcoat and a proper-fitting kilt, bands can further cut costs by skipping the waist-belt, since the buckle peeking out below the waistcoat is a fashion faux-pas. But the reality is, the look is ubiquitous. It’s passe. It’s a cliché. I recommend that bands can go a step further: skip the vest and completely cazsh it up with just nice, long-sleeved white cotton shirts. And go with just jackets if you want to dress it up, and why not try a bit of tweed? With all the suppliers, the price of good quality Highland wear has come down, and bands can more afford tweed jackets than any time I can remember.


Dear Style Guy:

What about they Balmoral bunnets? You ken what I mean.

Monarch of the Glen

When hats were heady.

Love the Balmoral, when it is worn right. But this business of cheap wrong-coloured Balmorals propped up with awful dicing is just plain dicey. Some people think their Balmoral is a look-at-me statement, but it ends up making them look like a clown. And we know how popular clowns are these days.

Balmorals are great, but do them right. Invest in one of quality, and ensure that it lies properly on the head. The colour should complement not clash with your ensemble. And this isn’t the Kentucky Derby: your hat is not supposed to draw attention on its own. The Balmoral is an elegant headpiece that can be the crowning element to your carefully chosen look. Leave it to the fools to try to attract attention for their madcappery. You? You should bring attention to yourself for your good taste, discreet attention to detail and subtle elegance. Wear it well.


Dear Style (can I call you by your first name?),

Hope you’re well, since we haven’t heard from you in a while. My question to you is this: who on earth do you think is the best-dressed piper or drummer there is? I’m talking when he or she is competing or judging.

Is there one person who you would single out as sartorially best?



Well, Howie, since we’re going by first-names, this is an excellent question. The God of Immaculate Perception is and probably always will be the great John David Burgess. His was an impeccable style, sparing no expense, taking the time to work with a tailor to gain that perfect Highland look. I prostrate myself at the altar of JDB every evening at 5, when I look to the west and rinse my hands with malt whisky and think about taking up smoking Silk Cut cigarettes.

Sadly, our God is no longer with us. Memories of curly-haired sporrans and powder horns will remain forever.

But, who today carries the title? I love the great Pipe-Major Gordon Walker’s military look. Always gleaming, to match the smile and good cheer he perpetually sports. Or maybe it’s the natty Robert Worrall, who’s as tastefully adventurous with colour as they come, seemingly willing to try anything once. Quite the dandy.

donaldson_brian_2016_style donaldson_brian_2016_03_style donaldson_brian_2008_portrait_style

But you might not be surprised that my choice for World’s Best-Dressed Piper goes to Burgess’s long-time pupil and understudy, Brian Donaldson. Mr. Donaldson carries off his look with Burgess-like ease and grace. Regardless whether in a competition, on the bench or teaching at a workshop, he is immaculately turned-out. Pencil moustache trimmed perfectly. Every hair on his head in pomaded place. And the kilt pressed to perfection, and landing exactly at the right point of the knee. Just like his mentor, Mr. Donaldson loves his tweed, and sports an amazing array of stylishly different bespoke jackets. His military background as a Scots Guardsman in the ilk of the also-perfectly-turned-out Pipe-Major Angus MacDonald, combined with the influence of the God of Immaculate Perception, JDB, Brian Donaldson is the perfect combination of elegance and taste, wrapping a totally authentic, no-nonsense and often hilarious personality.

Brian Donaldson: the World’s Best-Dressed.

Worn out wondering what to wear? Think they might be laughing at your flashes under tops? Uncertain about that famous blue raincape? Just send your questions and a photo if you have one to The Style Guy, and he’ll give you his always impeccable opinion as he guides you to your first Best-Dressed prize.



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November 21, 1881Royal Scottish Pipers’ Society founded, Edinburgh.
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