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23rd February, 1795. In compliance with your desire, I have now the honor to send you a few remarks on the Highland dress.
When I first saw in the papers that you had appeared at court in a new Highland dress, substituting trowsers, or pantaloons, for the philibeg, I was highly pleased with the improvement. The Highland dress is, in fact, quite modern ; and any improvement may be made without violating antiquity. Nay, the trowsers are far more ancient than the philibeg.
The philibeg cannot be traced among any of the Celtic nations, Ireland, Wales, or Bretagne, either as an article of dress, or as a word in their languages. Giraldus Cambrensis, A. D. 1180, informs us that the Irish wore bracca, or brecchi, (that is, the long, ancient breeches, now called pantaloons, or trowsers). On old monuments the Irish kings are dressed in a close tunic, or vest, long trowsers down to the ancle, and a long loose robe, fastened at the waist by a large brooch. Perhaps the brooch might be substituted in your regiment for the breast-plate with much costume.
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" This letter is here inserted out of its chronological order, to bring it in contact with the preceding, in which it was inclosed by Sir J. Sinclair to Mr. Pinkerton.
In the book of dress, printed at Paris 1562 (from which I have published fac-similes), the Highland chief is in the Irish dress; and I can discover no philibeg. No part of the dress is tartan: nor is there a plaid, but a mantle. The woman is dressed in sheep-skins; and, as that sex is always more ornamented than the other, there is reason to believe that the common Highland dress was then composed of sheep or deer skins.
Certain it is that Froissart, though astonished at the sauvages d'Escosse, as foreigners termed the Highlanders even down to Mary's reign, and though a minute observer, remarks no fixed appropriated dress among them, though the plaid and philibeg, if then worn, must have struck him as most particular.
Fordun, lib. ii. cap. 9, only mentions the Highland people as “amictu deformis," a term which I dare say you will agree with me rather applies to a vague savage dress of skins, &c. than to any regular habit. Hector Boece, 1526, though very minute, is equally silent; but he mentions canvass hose, or trowsers, as a part of the old Scotish dress.
Lesley and Buchanan, 1570-1580, are therefore the first who mention the modern Highland dress. The former represents tartan as then confined to the use of people of rank. The latter says the plaids of his time were brown.
Advocates for the antiquity of the philibeg say it is borrowed from the Roman military dress; but it is quite different; for the Roman skirts were mostly those of the tunic, which was worn under
their armour; whereas the philibeg is a detached article of dress.
It once appeared to me that the tunic with skirts to the knees, used by the common people of England in the Saxon and Norman times (see Strutt's Plates), had passed to the Lowlands, and thence to the Highlands, where it remained, as mountaineers are slow in changing fashions. But it now seems to me far more probable, that the philibeg arose from an article of dress used in France, England, and Scotland, from about the year 1500 to 1590, namely, the ancient haut-de
In Montfaucon's plates may be seen some of these, which are absolute philibegs.
The ancient loose braccæ were followed by tight hose, covering thigh and leg; but, as manners advanced, these began to seem indecent, (being linen, fitting close, and showing every joint and form); and the haut-de-chausses (or top of the hose) began to be used. At first it was very short, and loose as a philibeg; was lengthened by degrees; and Henry IV. of France wears it down to within three or four inches of the knee, and gathered like a petticoat tucked. Louis XIII. first appears with what are now called breeches. Hose were still worn under the haut-de-chausses ; but, as the latter was lengthened, the former was shortened, till the present fashion prevailed. The Germans call breeches hosen, a term which we confine to stockings.
But the haut-de-chausses or philibeg, at first invented for the sake of modesty, and to cover that indecent article the bragetto or cod-piece, has become among the Highlanders most indecent in itself; because they do not wear, as they ought, long hose covering thigh and legs under the philibeg. It is not only grossly indecent, but is filthy, as it admits dust to the skin, and emits the fætor of perspiration : is absurd, because, while the breast, &c. are twice covered by vest and plaid, the parts concealed by all other nations are but loosely covered : is effeminate, being mostly a short petticoat, an article of female dress : is beggarly, because its shortness and the shortness of the stockings, joined with the naked knees, impress an unconquerable idea of poverty and nakedness.
As to the plaid, there is no reason to believe it more ancient than the philibeg. The chief in 1562 appears in a mantle ; and, if the common people were then clothed in sheep-skins, the plaid was superfluous. But I suppose the plaid and philibeg passed from the Lowlands to the Highlands about the same time. Our old historians, in speaking of the Highlanders, always judge and describe, as was natural, from those next the Lowlands. In 1715, as appears from Mr. Dempster's letter,* the remote Highlanders were only clothed in a long coat buttoned down to the mid-leg.
It is to be regretted, on many accounts, that our old historians wrote in Latin ; whence their terms are often so vague as hardly to admit accurate interpretation. John Major, who wrote in 1521, says, p. 34, that the caligæ (hose) of the High
* See p. 231.
landers did not extend below the mid-leg ; and he describes their whole dress to be a linen shirt, tinctured with saffron, and a chlamys (plaid, mantle, or loose coat,) above. He is speaking of the chiefs: the commoners he describes as proceeding to battle in a quilted and waxed linen tunic, covered with deer-skin,
Not a particle, you will observe, of the modern dress.
The tartan, I dare say, passed from Flanders (whence all our articles came) to the Lowlands about the fifteenth century,* and thence to the Highlands. Tartan plaids were common among old women in the Lowlands in the last, and even in the present century.
Lord Hailes (Annals, i. 37.) ludicrously supposes tartan was introduced by St. Margaret. The writer he quotes is only speaking of clothes of several colors, red cloth, blue cloth, green cloth, &c.; wbile the Scots, probably, before followed the old Norwegian custom of wearing only black.
Nothing can reconcile the tasteless regularity and vulgar glow of tartan to the eye of fashion ; and
every attempt to introduce it has failed. But in your uniform, by using only two tints of a colour proverbially mild, and without glare, all
* It is never mentioned before the latter part of that century. It first occurs in the accompts of James III., 1474, and seems to have passed from England; for the rouge tartarin, in the statutes of the Order of the Bath, in the time of Edward IV. (apud Upton de Re Milit.), is surely red tartan, or cloth, with red stripes of various shades.-- Pinkerton.