The wearing of kilts and tartan was once banned in Scotland

Anita Durairaj

The Dress Act of 1746 made wearing the Highland dress including the kilt illegal in Scotland.

The Dress Act came to the fore because of the Jacobite uprising that occurred between 1689 and 1746.

King James II of England and Scotland was forced to give up the throne by England's Anglican Parliament. Instead, the throne was handed over to Mary and William of Orange.

The Jacobite Uprising of 1745 was an attempt by the son of James II to regain the British throne for his father. The Jacobite Army was assembled to lead the uprisings. The army included members from the Scottish Highlands as well as north-eastern and lowland Scots.

The Scots in the Jacobite Army went to war dressed in tartan kilts which was a staple of the Highland dress. The kilts were unlike the skirt-like modern kilts of today. Rather, the kilts were swathes of cloth that were draped around the body. The kilts came to signify dissent against England and the British throne. Thus, the Dress Act of 1756 was instituted by the British.

The Act stated that "no man or boy" who hailed from Scotland would be allowed to wear Highland clothes including kilts. Also, no tartan was to be used for upper coats.

Anyone who failed to comply would be imprisoned for six months. A second offense would lead to being shipped abroad to work in plantations for at least seven years.

While the law seemed to work, many who rebelled still found a way to wear kilts without invoking an offense.

The ban lasted for 35 years and was only lifted in 1782. By then, there was no fear of a Scottish uprising. However, kilts and tartan continued to be embraced by the Scots as a symbol of their heritage and patriotism.

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Trained with a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Cincinnati, I write unique and interesting articles focused on science, history, and current events.


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