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The original kilt
The feileadh mor was a longer untailored garment, around five metres in length, which was gathered and then belted at the waist to provide cover for both the upper and lower body. From the waist down, the feileadh mor resembled a modern kilt while the remaining material above the waist was draped over the shoulder and pinned there. This upper portion could be arranged in a variety of ways around the shoulders according to the demands of weather, temperature or freedom of movement required. At the end of day, the belt could be unbuckled to transform the feileadh mor into a warm covering for the night. The Gaelic plaid actually means ''blanket''.
The kilt evolves
The feileadh mor was simplified by disposing of its top half, leaving the belt and the skirt below. The resulting creation became known as the feileadh beg, or ''little kilt''. This was reputedly at the behest of an Englishman running an ironworks at Invergarry who felt his kilted employees needed a greater freedom of movement to do their work. Whatever the impetus for change was, the kilt now became a tailored garment with sewn-in pleats, making it neater and far more easy to put on and wear. The upper half of the big kilt evolved into the separate plaid (or sash) which is now worn at more formal events.
Proscription and survival
Following the Jacobite defeat at Culloden in 1746, the kilt and and other aspects of Highland dress were outlawed and its continued survival during these years was largely due to its adoption by Highland regiments serving with the British army. Highland regiments still wear the kilt on regular basis (although no longer into battle) but it is not an everyday article of dress in Scotland. Visitors are more likely to see kilt-wearers at formal celebrations such as weddings and at Highland Games or similar gatherings. And although the kilt is typically regarded as being Highland dress, more kilts are now worn in the Lowland cities than in the Highlands.
The kilt today
Modern kilts have up to eight metres of material which is thickly pleated at the back and sides, with the pleats stitched together only at the waistband. Fashion designers have also tried to update the kilt and make it appeal to a wider audience by using non-tartan designs such as camouflageand material such as leather. There is no truth to the rumour that alcohol delivered while wearing a kilt should be whisky.
The thistle legend
But why is it that such a proud people as the Scots should choose a humble weed as its national symbol? In truth, no-one knows. There is a legend which relates how a sleeping party of Scots warriors were almost set upon by an invading band of Vikings and were only saved when one of the attackers trod on a wild thistle with his bare feet. His cries raised the alarm and the roused Scots duly defeated the Danes. In gratitude, the plant became known as the Guardian Thistle and was adopted as the symbol of Scotland.
Sadly, there is no historical evidence to back up the tale and in fact, there''s even confusion as to the type of thistle that we see represented everywhere. There are many species of thistle and the spear thistle, stemless thistle, cotton thistle, Our Lady''s thistle, musk thistle and melancholy thistle have all been suggested as possible candidates.
The thistle as symbol
Whatever its origins, the thistle has been an important Scottish symbol for more than 500 years. Perhaps its first recognisable use was on silver coins issued in 1470 during the reign of James III and from the early 16th century, it was incorporated into the Royal Arms of Scotland. Scotland''s premier Order of Chivalry, established in 1687, is The Most Ancient and Noble Order of the Thistle and its members wear a collar chain whose links are made of golden thistles. The Knights and Ladies of the Thistle also wear a breast star which bears the thistle emblem and a motto which is regularly associated with it, Nemo Me Impune Lacessit - ''no-one provokes me with impunity''.
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