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You need a kilt... so hire, or buy?

Most of us first realise we need a kilt for some special occasion, such as a wedding. And this thought is quickly followed by a second question… whether to hire one for the day, or buy your own. I thought it might be helpful to share a few considerations, to help your decision. So here are a few points to ponder:

  • Price
  • Fit
  • Tartan
  • Hygiene
  • Outfit Choice
  • Expertise
  • Legacy
  • Credibility
  • Pleasure

Price - will it cost more to buy or hire a kilt?

I’ll come to this first, as it’s probably your first thought. And your instinct is probably that hiring will be cheaper than buying your own kilt. After all, a made to measure garment using eight yards or more of high quality woven wool fabric (provided you get it from a reputable producer) is not exactly an impulse purchase for most of us.

But pause to reflect for a moment. After all, even kilt hire is not exactly cheap. The kilt hire outlets have to hold large stocks which can only realistically be sent out a limited number of times before they get too shabby to market. And once you add on the costs of fitting and service, plus cleaning costs (hopefully… see below!) the saving is less than you might think.

But more importantly, it’s important here to think long-term. The exact differential will depend on many things, but as a rule of thumb if you’re likely to want to wear a kilt more than three or four times in your life, it’s probably going to be a good investment to buy your own.

Fit - will your kilt look good on you?

As we’ve already said, mostly you’re going to be wearing your kilt on special occasions when you really want to look your best. And it’s important to understand that a kilt should really always be made to measure garment - this matters much more than, say, for a business suit. A custom-fitted kilt should fit you like a glove, designed to hang from your waist, over your hips, down to your knees - with measurements to the nearest inch, or even half inch. First time wearers describe the feeling in glowing terms that they’ve never experienced before. But the garment will also look far more impressive than anything in stock sizes.

Of course, the kilt rental companies can’t possibly stock (or have available at busy times) a full range of sizes… that would mean holding thousands of items, when they can realistically usually have a few dozen at best. So their solution is to keep just a few mid-range items, with large increments (e.g. 2-3 inches) at every turn. Hire kilts tend to be made with longer straps, to suit the needs of the hirer rather than the customer, which inevitably mean the kilt won’t hang quite right. And if you’re outsize (or they’re out of stock of ‘your’ size at a busy time) you may well end up being told to accept ‘strap extenders’ which only make it look even worse.

And please don’t start me on the off-the-shelf “kilts” you’ll find on ebay or from the ‘tartan tat’ merchants that target tourists. These are really more like cheaply made ladies’ skirts. And trust me, you don’t want to turn up to a wedding or graduation wearing one of these!

Tartan - your own family plaid?

The Scottish tradition is of course to wear your own tartan. This may mean a family or clan tartan, of which there are thousands of names recorded (or, of course, you can design your own tartan!). But equally it can show an affiliation to any group with which you identify - so there are regimental tartans, regional, national, and city tartans, business tartans, and so on. The important thing is that it’s meaningful to you.

Of course the hire companies can stock only a tiny range of tartans, or else they’d need a stock room the size of a stadium. So you’ll normally find, oh, Black Watch… and Royal Stewart… maybe a Buchanan… and if you’re lucky one or two more. The result is that you’re likely not only to turn up wearing the same tartan as other guests who hired from the same place. You’ll also miss out on the tradition and inner pride of wearing your own unique heritage. And you’ll lose the fantastic conversation-starter that a kilt in your own tartan instantly becomes.

And it’s not just the choice of tartan pattern that you don’t get from kilt hire outlets. You’ll normally find their rental garments are available only in the coarser heavier weight fabrics. There’s a good reason for this. They’re more durable, and so can go through more hire cycles. But customers who purchase their own kilts mostly prefer a medium weight fabric that’s less tiring to wear. So this may not be ideal for you, especially if you’re going to be dancing at a hot wedding reception!


Hygiene - who last wore that kilt, and has it been cleaned?

Until recently, in my naivety, I myself had assumed that the kilt hire companies would always dry clean their kilts before renting them out to another customer. Well, wouldn’t you? But then I read this article. If you skip past the tiresomely pompous opinions about how you should be allowed to wear your own kilt, there’s a rather startling admission below from a Scottish hire company that kilts can come back “too unhygienic for staff to handle”. And to me this reads as saying that if the visible residue isn’t so bad, they may send the next customer out in the same garment without cleaning!

Now, maybe this doesn’t trouble you one bit. But bear in mind that quite a large proportion of kilt wearers DO prefer to ‘go commando’. Maybe for you this doesn’t conjure up unsettling images of nasty wee beasties crawling around inside, patiently awaiting the proximity of the next punter’s privates. But for me? Ewww!


Outfit - your choice, or theirs?

A kilt isn’t (usually!) worn on its own, of course, but as part of an outfit. Exactly how you put together your ensemble will depend on the occasion it’s for (formal, casual, etc.) on the impression you wish to make (restrained, impressive, etc.) on any affiliations (e.g. clan accessories) and not least on your personal taste. A full outfit can include up to a dozen or so components, including major items such as a jacket and vest, down to small accessories like the kilt pin and sgian dubh. There are a fantastic range of styles and finishes for each of these pieces, ranging from traditionally conservative to strikingly contemporary.

The advantage of owning your own kilt is that you can build up your own outfit, exactly as you want. And what’s more, by introducing additional items at relatively low cost (another more formal dress sporran, for example, you can assemble a great choice of items to ring the changes from your original daywear sporran perhaps) to give yourself a wardrobe suitable for every occasion or mood.

When you hire, unfortunately, you’re pretty much stuck with the standard pieces they’ve chosen for you. And these will almost always be most common denominator options that fewest people will find objectionable, rather than those that are particularly striking or attractive. You may even be stuck with taking (and paying for) items you don’t actually want or need, but come as part of your hire company’s standard package. Oh, and the hose will almost always be those awful white ‘single use’ hire socks, which both look and feel about as good as they sound. So if all this happens to reflect your personal taste, and the way you’d actually wish to present yourself in public, then you’re pretty lucky.

Expertise - sound advice, based on experience?

If you shop with a kilt specialist dedicated to traditional quality, like Scotweb, you’re getting not just a garment, but access to decades of specialist knowledge, experience, and advice. In fact any authentic traditional kiltmaker has most probably got into that business in the first place due to some personal enthusiasm for the traditions, and so will probably be committed to helping you take your own first steps on that wonderful journey of discovery. They’ll want to help you discover your roots, choose the right tartan with which to express your own identity, find the right fabrics and other outfit components to suit you both practically and in terms of the impression you want to make, and ensure it fits you perfectly… and so on. They have little vested interest in whether you choose one tartan or another. And crucially they’ve probably been doing this for years, and so will have built up a great deal of experience which they can share with you.

But frankly kilt hire companies have never had to do all this. Their job is ultimately to maximise the usage of their stock, to get an adequate return on their capital outlay. Let me put this simply. Who would you trust more for the best advice?

Legacy - an heirloom, to hand down?

This may or may not matter to you, especially if you’re relatively young. But it’s long been part of the Scottish tradition that a kilt is quite unlike any other garment. It’s a possession of the family, as much as of the individual. And many is the young man who takes tremendous pride in wearing a kilt that once belonged to his father, or even grandfather. And this is also a fact to ponder for those who fear that as their waistline advances together with their years, the range of adjustment that comes with any kilt may exceed its limits.

Wouldn’t you like to have something so meaningful to bequeath to your heirs, encouraging them to discover their heritage and traditions in the same way that you yourself once did? And even if such considerations seem far over the horizon, just consider that one day you might be glad to have such a wonderful gift to pass down, lurking at the back of your wardrobe. So at least give this some thought, before you reach a decision.

Credibility, and self-respect - how do you want to look?

Again, this may or may not matter to you. But it seems to me that a major factor in why so many of choose to wear a kilt is because of the paricular prestige that such a striking garment bestows on its wearer. Whether you’re going to at a gathering surrounded by others in their own kilts, or whether you’ve chosen to stand out from the identikit suits worn by the rest, there’s just something incomparably impressive about wearing your own kilt, in your own tartan.

Will a hired kilt in a standard off-the-shelf package in one of the ubiquitous tartans that don’t quite fit (which anyone with an experienced eye will instantly recognise as a hire garment) stand you in such good stead? Does this matter to you? Quite simply, that’s for you to decide.

Pleasure - that intangible feeling

I’ve left this one until last. But, as the saying goes, it’s certainly not least. My problem is that until you’ve actually worn a kilt made especially for you, in your own measurements, in your own tartan, it’s practically impossible to describe the inner glow you’ll feel every time you do so. All I can suggest is that you ask around, of others who’ve already made that choice. I’ll wager you’ll find few of them who regret their decision, whether its days or decades since they made their purchase. That, perhaps, tells you all you need to know.


Okay, I admit it, I’m biased. I don’t expect to convince every potential kilt hire customer that they really need to spend several times more for a purchase that’s probably their largest ever outlay on a single garment. But I hope I’ve given you a few points to ponder before reaching your decision. Always remember the adage about those who know the price of everything, but the value of nothing. Sometimes it’s worth thinking of the bigger picture.

And I can promise you, if you do decide to buy rather than hire, the process of choosing your kilt and outfit will be one of the most interesting and enjoyable experiences for a long time. And the day your first kilt arrives from the kiltmaker, ready for you to unpack and put on, will be an occasion you remember forever. So take a moment to ask yourself now… how much are such memories worth to you?


Tartan Designer - now free of all conditions or restrictions 

Visit the Tartan DesignerSince the Scotweb free online Tartan Designer was launched, it has been universally lauded for its game-changing facilities and ease of use. It’s the only such DIY tartan design facility in the world that is more than a fun toy, devised from first principles and user-tested to help you design professional quality tartans ready to go straight to the weaver. That’s why it’s the only such facility that lets you order fabrics or garments right from the site. (And it’s still great fun too!)

People were astonished when we released such a sophisticated piece of software, in which we’d invested months of programming time, free-of-charge. After all, it effectively replaced expert services for which previously you’d have paid many large professional fees. But to recoup some of our investment, we initially made it a contractual condition that if you produced a design there you’d ask Scotweb to produce it for you. Fair enough, you’d think.

But now we’ve gone a step further. We’ve removed even that condition, and indeed all restrictions on its use. You can now use the Tartan Designer in any (reasonable) way you like, and have your designs woven wherever and by whoever you wish. If you do so, you’ll retain full copyright, just as if you’d done your design on paper. (And of course if anyone else designs it for you, they own the copyright by law.)

Why have we done this? Well, for one thing we’re confident that our simply unbeatable pricing for woven fabrics means you’ll come to us anyway. Even a single premium quality kilt or corporate uniform made in your own unique design can cost less than a lesser garment in standard stock fabrics elsewhere. That’s the Scotweb way. And for larger volumes prices tumble further. Great news for pipe bands and companies!

But we also know that a few people were uncertain about using the Tartan Designer at all, in case they became locked into a closed system. Well, worry not. You may now use this remarkable tool without restriction. So our hope is that with even more people using the system, we might make enough extra sales to help pay for the business that goes elsewhere. So there’s no catch. No legalities. (And that means we’ve less costly admin to worry about!)

But anyway. It just feels right. We want everyone to have their own tartan, whether or not they ever have it woven. Whether you have Scottish blood or not, displaying our shared identity by wearing a shared tartan is part of our heritage. It’s our joy. It’s our fascination. So please help spread the word!


IKEA - rant, and warning

Click to enlarge
Saw a shocking example of deceptive pricing today at IKEA, Edinburgh. But worst, the staff and supervisor I talked to refused to see any problem at all, and wouldn’t even log my complaint. (And of course, they publish no way to complain online.)

At the Checkouts, they promote things like food and sweets. I picked up a bag of Daim sweets, prominently marked as £2.99. At the checkout I was charged £3.32. The lower price was only available to Family card holders. The full price in solid black ink was roughly ten times higher (i.e. 100x more dominant) than the real, tiny grey-ink price.

This must surely contravene Trading Standards regulations on clear pricing. I am sure it also contravenes the Disability Discrimination Act, as my own eyesight is far from poor, but there’s no way I’d have seen the smaller price. Anyone elderly or with a visual disability would stand no chance.

The dominant number is also the rounded ‘price point’ as used for standard pricing throughout the store. The real price is a odd-pennies number that would never normally appear on a standard price at Ikea.

Think this is trivial? Few people will notice the extra on their receipt, and fewer still complain. If this is more than a single example at a single store, over time it will net IKEA millions by deliberate deception. I think there’s a word for that.


New Video - the Making of Harris Tweed

If you’ve been following this column in recent months, you’ll know that we’re getting into Harris Tweed in a very big way. Why? Well, mostly because it is just such an astonishingly wonderfully fantastically magnificent fabric of almost infinite complexity and beauty.

But words only go so far. So here’s something to let you see for yourself just how much work and centuries of traditional skill go into the production of every single piece of Harris Tweed. If you have seven minutes or so of your life to spare, watch our video on The Making of Harris Tweed. I promise you’ll look at the fabric with a new found appreciation.

I did.


Grand Contest!! Million pound prize* to design an Edinburgh Trams tartan...

The much-loved Edinburgh Trams project is now nearing completion, with just a few short years to go until it is nearly ready to be announced when the network line might possibly be up and running, soon, probably. Until then we can all enjoy a relaxing time, lounging around on the comfortable seats of our cars and buses, enjoying the convivial camaraderie of the traffic jams. When else do you get such a chance to enjoy the glorious views of this city without having to worry about inconveniences like actually moving. I ask you.

Anyway, we felt this fine Scottish engineering project really deserved its own tartan. So we spent endless minutes upon minutes designing an Edinburgh Trams Tartan with all the painstaking professionalism and expert skill of the consultants and contractors responsible for the Trams project itself. We think it has a quality to it that’s totally fitting. What do you think?

Or perhaps you could do even better? Why not try your hand at designing your own? Make sure you give yours a Description that explains your choices and inspirations (see the Description tab on ours as an example). The best entry in our judgement will be forwarded to Transport Initiatives Edinburgh (TIE) to use as the livery for their trams, for a fee of one million pounds, all of which will go to the winner. We feel confident they’ll want to do this, as such a trivial addition to their budget would hardly be noticed.

  • Note, conditions apply. In particular it is possible that TIE might not accept our offer, in which case the prize fund will have to be void. Sorry.

How Harris Tweed is made

Gunn Tartan in Harris TweedI’m just back from a few days in the Hebrides, meeting Harris Tweed producers. I knew a bit about it before my visit, and like many people have always adored the fabric purely for its aesthetic quality. But now I’ve actually seen exactly how it’s produced I love it more than ever. So I wanted to share some of this…

So why is Harris Tweed so special? Here’s a fully illustrated piece I’ve just put together explaining, step by step, How Harris Tweed is Made. I hope you’ll find this as fascinating as I do!

Within a few weeks we expect to have literally hundreds of traditional patterns on sale, plus thousands of tartans which we can also weave as Harris Tweed, which will certainly mean we’ll have the largest retail choice of Harris Tweed anywhere in the world. Watch this space.


Tweed Patterns - a quick guide

We’re often asked how to choose tweeds, from the hundreds of patterns available. Tweed is a fantastically beautiful fabric. But let’s be honest, at first sight a lot of tweeds can be a bit hard to tell apart when so many are basically variations on, erm, autumnal nature colours.

So we’re busy putting some better tools in place to help you choose the tweed you want. Firstly, here is a Quick Guide to Tweed Patterns. This should help you distinguish your Herringbone Tweed from your Houndstooth Tweed, and your Overchecks from your unpatterned twills.

And watch this space as we expect to be making a few more tweed-related announcements over the next few days and weeks, as we expand and improve our (already world-leading) ranges… and make it easier for you to find them!


A Poem for Burns Night

With Burns Night just a couple of days away, I thought I might share my own personal favourite recitation. No, not by the bard himself, but by that other great wordsmith, Monty Python. I once heard Michael Palin recite this at Edinburgh Book Festival, and ever since it’s amused me. So if you’re looking for a party piece with a difference while tucking into Haggis, neeps, and whisky at your Burns Supper, here’s an offbeat idea for you…

Much to his Mum and Dad’s dismay,
Horace ate himself one day.
He didn’t stop to say his grace,
He just sat down and ate his face.

“We can’t have this!” his dad declared,
“If that’s lad’s ate, he should be shared”.
But even as he spoke they saw
Horace eating more and more.
First his legs and then his thighs,
His arms, his nose, his hair, his eyes…

“Stop him someone!”, Mother cried,
“Those eyeballs would be better fried!”
But all too late, for they were gone,
And he had started on his dong.
“Oh! Foolish child!” the father mourns,
“You could have deep-fried that with prawns,
Some parsley and some tartare sauce…”

But H. was on his second course:
His liver and his lights and lung,
His ears, his neck, his chin, his tongue;
“To think I raised him from the cot,
And now he’s going to scoff the lot!”

His mother cried: “What shall we do?
What’s left won’t even make a stew…”
And as she wept, her son was seen
To eat his head, his heart, his spleen.

And there he lay, a boy no more,
Just a stomach on the floor…
None the less, since it was his
They ate it. That’s what haggis is!


A Tartan Christmas

We’re feeling all festive here at Scotweb (could it be because of the hundreds of Christmas presents we’re sending out the door?) and it got us thinking about a Christmas tartan.

Well, it turns out that Santa already has one. Called ‘Claus of the North Pole’ (STA No. 7869), the tartan has been designed by the folks behind the Clan Claus Society, which was set up last year. Its basic mission is to bring together the traditions of Scotland and the magic of Christmas in a family-friendly atmosphere that can be enjoyed by all. The society has the aim of “preserving and perpetuating the history, ideals, traditions, family values and heritage of the Scottish Santa Claus persona.” And part of this included designing a new tartan for Santa Claus himself.

Four colours are used in the tartan – red, green, yellow and white. The red represents the traditional colour for Santa, and the green the evergreen holly and mistletoe that signifies Christmas traditions. The three bands of yellow represent the three bags of gold that St. Nicholas gave the three daughters of the merchant, and the two bands of white are for purity, and the snow and ice of the North Pole.

So if Santa ever decides to opt for a look other than the bright red suit, it’s good to know he has a tartan option out there. And of course if you want to design your own Christmas tartan, you can do so here.


England are Out-Plaid

USA World Cup 2010 TartanOkay, I admit it. I stole the headline from the Scotsman newspaper’s coverage. No one does great puns like a veteran journalist.

The story? Dear English readers, we hope you enjoy friendly teasing, of the kind only best mates can share. We’ve produced a tongue-in-very-cheeky new tartan designed for all “true” Scots wanting to show solidarity with the USA’s football (aka soccer to our colonial chums) team at the South Africa 2010 World Cup. After all, there are far more Scots living in North America than in Scotland itself. And to be honest, our American cousins are often rather better at celebrating our Scottish heritage than we are ourselves. So it seems only fair to produce their own special tartan. We thought we’d base it on Mel Gibson’s check from Braveheart, since the islander who designed and wove that is one of our producers. Then we wove into it the lines of the Stars and Stripes. Nice, huh? (Click the image above to enlarge it, or click here see its full details.)

Okay, admittedly it just so happens that the US team has been drawn in the same group as our other great friends, the English. And we acknowledge there may just be a regrettable perception that this is just another rehashing of the tired old tradition of Scotland supporting whoever England is playing in any sport, any time, anywhere, ever. The self-pitying underdog always blaming “them” for our woes, rather than actually getting off our lardy butts and doing it for ourselves, and all that. But no, that’s all in the past now, since we now control our own affairs with our own Parliament. We’re the new empowered self-confident nation that stands on our own ten million feet. But since we know and love our own team’s selfless dedication to dramatic last-hurdle oh-so-close glorious failure, we can still enjoy a little friendly rivalry, can’t we?

Apart from supporting our friends and family in America, we also produced this to show off the capabilities of our new online Tartan Designer. As the good chap from the Scotsman noted, this tartan was not just designed, but ON SALE within an hour of the World Cup draw. Order a properly made kilt in pure new wool, delivered to your door within a few weeks. Or go the whole hog and we’ll weave it for you in authentic Harris Tweed, produced on a traditional loom in an islander’s own home (as required by Act of Parliament).

Or of course, you can also design your own…