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History of the Kilt – Part 3 – Dress Act 1746

Kilts and tartan were not always prosperous in Scotland and sometimes their development was restricted. 1746 saw the implementation of the Dress Act 1746, which put the future of Highland wear, the Kilt and Tartan into jeopardy.

The end of the 17th century and the first half of the 18th century was filled with political and religious turmoil around Scotland. Jacobitism was gaining popularity in Scotland in a stand against the Union. From 1688 to 1745 several uprisings from the Jacobite loyal against the British Government. The most famous Jacobite rising from this time are the Risings of 1715 and 1745. (The 1745 Rising was led by the ‘Young Pretender’, Bonnie Prince Charlie, who lends his name to the Prince Charlie style of jacket.)

Bonnie Prince Charlie
Bonnie Prince Charlie

After the failed 1745 uprising support for Jacobitism began to decline. They drew a large amount of their support from the Highland Clans, and in 1746 the government brought in the Dress Act to dampen their support.

The Battle of Culloden
The Battle of Culloden, where the 1745 Jacobite Uprising came to an end.

The Dress Act 1746 restricted the wearing of Highland Dress, Kilts and Tartan. It states:

‘…no man or boy within that part of Britain called Scotland, other than such as shall be employed as Officers and Soldiers in His Majesty’s Forces, shall, on any pretext whatever, wear or put on the clothes commonly called Highland clothes (that is to say) the Plaid, Philabeg, or little Kilt, Trowse, Shoulder-belts, or any part whatever of what peculiarly belongs to the Highland Garb; and that no tartan or party-coloured plaid of stuff shall be used for Great Coats or upper coats…’

This Act several restricted the wearing of Kilts and Tartan outfits. The banning of Tartan cut off a way in which communities and families associated themselves with each other and the banning of Kilts suppressed the dress associated with the Jacobite Uprisings.

King George IV
King George IV's Visit to Scotland in Highland Dress

The ban would stay in place for almost 40 years, finally being repelled in 1782. The Kilt and Tartan had fallen on hard times, but its popularity would return in the 1800’s through King George IV’s visit to Scotland and Queen Victoria’s efforts to revive the Scottish Icons. Find Part 4 of this series HERE!