April 5, 2016

How to be a true Scotsman on Tartan Day, even if you’re not.

By RJ In stubble

April winds are blowing strong and if you’ll be heralding in Tartan Day (6th April) in true Scottish attire, then you might want to opt for some tartan trews rather than a kilt to save your modesty. In celebration of Scottish heritage and tartan, the criss-crossed pattern that has come to be inalienable from Scotland, we have compiled a three-step guide to blagging it as a true Scotsman this Tartan Day. So even if you’re about as Scottish as former President Geoge W. Bush (who signed the proclamation on the 4th April 2008 making the 6th April National Tartan Day), no-one will be able to tell!

1. Go commando — Lose your underwear if you want to call yourself a true Scotsman!

“Are you a true Scotsman?” — This tongue-in-cheek euphemism is often asked provocatively upon encountering a kilted man. To ask a man these five words is to check if he’s wearing any underwear beneath his kilt. These thick woollen garments — almost always made of tartan — are capable of keeping your manhood warm even on the chilliest of Scottish mornings. As such it has long been tradition to abandon your knickers and bare all should the wind blow a little too fervently. This convention’s origins have also been accorded to military tradition and during the First World War it was said that the higher-ups would attach small mirrors to the end of golf clubs to look under their infantrymen’s kilts during inspections.

2. Dress to the nines — Proper Scottish attire goes further than the kilt.

Even if underwear isn’t part of the ensemble, if you want to pass for a true Scotsman, you still need to dress the part — Going commando in a kilt just won’t cut it if you want to succeed typical highland dress. Don’t fret, we’re here to help you dress to the nines (quite literally) with our nine-part explanation of the Scotsman’s tartan wardrobe.

Long woollen socks and flashes (garter ties)

To keep out the Northern chill, you should don some long, thick woollen socks and keep them up with the help of some flashes or garter ties.

Ghillie brogues

These black leather boots with long laces and no tongue is the Scotsman’s choice in footwear on important social occasions. The long laces are wrapped around your socks and tied around the calf so the knot doesn’t trail in the mud. The lack of tongue is deliberate and helps your long woollen socks to dry in the damp Scottish weather.


No, we didn’t make a typo, you read that correctly. Pronounced “skee-in-doo”, this small single-edged knife is an important aspect of Scottish highland dress and is tucked into the sock on the side of your dominant hand so that only the hilt protrudes. Today having only ceremonial purpose, the sgian-dubh was originally used to cutting fruit, meat, bread and cheese and also provided the wearer with some protection from attack.

Kilt or Trews

Kilt-wearing dates back to the 1500s but it would be another 300 years or so before the tradition became popular in Scotland. If you’re not a fan of the wind between your legs, you can opt for Scotland’s lesser-known, but perfectly acceptable substitute to the kilt: tartan trews, high-waisted trousers in the typical Scottish pattern.


As your kilt doesn’t have any pockets, you’ll need a sporran. The small leather pouch’s chain or leather strap is wrapped around your waist and the bag itself sits just in front of your groin and it’s the perfect size for a small flask of Scotch whisky (for toasting to the Scots on Tartan Day of course!)

A dress shirt with turndown collar (with black or matching tartan tie, cravat or bowtie)

A simple white shirt with turndown collar (wing-collar with a bowtie) will suffice.

Five-button waistcoat in matching tartan or belt and buckle

If you opt for the former, don’t forget to leave the bottom button undone. This tradition is often said to have originated from King Edward VII whose vast waistline called for his bottom button to be left undone.

Plain or tweed Argyll Jacket

A plain or tweed Argyll jacket to complete your bonnie look is complete.

3. Learn some basic lingo and be on your way to becoming a bonnie wee Scotsman

For the sake of faking it for Tartan Day, we’ll keep it simple. Swap your “littles” for “wees”, “boys” for “laddies”, “girls” for “lassies” and your “yeses” for “ayes” and you’ll be well on your way to being a wee Scottish laddie in no time.

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