Sunday, 17 January 2010

Many a mickle.....

I'm guessing most of you have never tried to kit out a budget-conscious Filipino with a kilt.  Lucky you.  Don't go there, it's a nightmare.

You might think the chances of needing such a warning are minimal, but you only need have Scottish friends and end up with a Pinoy boyfriend and you'll be glad you read this blog.

Even though I'm pure Sassenach as far back as I can trace, Burns' Night, when Scots around the world celebrate the birth of Robert Burns, their national poet, is one of my favourite dates of the calendar.  If you've never seen a dirk plunged dramatically into the Great Chieftain o' the Puddin' Race whilst Burns' Ode to the Haggis is recited, or heard the Selkirk Grace or eaten cranachan (or, worse, if you haven't a clue what I'm talking about), I'm sorry for you.  You are missing a treat, the perfect antidote to January's dark, depressing drear.

I celebrate with the same friends every year who request each guest wear tartan.  I bought tartan trews from the long-departed Scotch House in Knightsbridge when I was first invited.  Even though there was 50% off in the January sale, they still cost around £70.  I needed a not-so-wee dram to recover from the shock.  How a pair of trousers not encrusted with diamonds or featuring 24-carat gold thread could cost so much, I've never understood, although I suppose I've ended up having my money's worth; I may only wear them once a year but they're still going strong 16 years on.  And knowing I have to fit into them so soon after Christmas and New Year helps enormously when I'm being tempted by a fifth glass of mulled wine or nineth mince pie.

I have long fanticised about having a partner to initiate into the glory of tatties and neeps and peaty single malts, and finally, it has come to pass.  My Filipino boyfriend of 13 months will accompany me this year so we needed to get him kitted out with a Royal Stewart kilt, MacDonald trews or Culloden waistcoat.

Pay attention, entrepreneurs, for I have discovered a gap in the market.  In London's tartan shops, prices for a single item of clothing start in three figures.  They are all about top-end bespoke tailoring.  There's nothing wrong with that, of course, but what the capital also needs is a tartan Zara or H&M, a modern, inviting store with a youngish vibe and off-the-peg Scottish attire of reasonable quality at modest prices. 

It can be done.  Edingburgh, I'm told, has a chain of gift shops called Gold Brothers where you can get kitted out for comfortably under £100.  And in 2008, Lidl, the cut-price supermarket chain, offered, in its north of the border stores, full Highland dress including kilt in a choice of tartans, Jacobean shirt, leather sporran and kilt hose, for an astonishing £55. 

Despite its name, Gold Brothers is owned and run by Asians whilst Lidl, of course, is German.  Scottish outfitters, it seems, prefer to sneer at such cost-conscious retailing from their lofty, bespoke mountain tops, rather than get their sporrans dirty and deign to compete.  They dismiss these cheaper alternatives as 'tartan tat'; I don't doubt the quality doesn't compare, but if you are only going to wear it once a year for Burns' Night or perhaps at a couple of rugby matches, you may not want or need to invest in a Savile Row-level outfit. 

We are all far more aware of our cultural heritage these days.  England fans now invariably wave the flag of St George at sporting events, not the union flag.  Similarly, Scots who would never have bothered with highland dress a couple of decades ago now don the sporran and the dirk at every major social event.  They are not all wealthy, and many of them live in England, so I am convinced a big business opportunity is going begging.

Back in London, my partner, a hardworking, modestly paid nurse, couldn't justify splashing out a three figure sum, and so ended up buying a £14 tie.  It's hardly the major item of tartan attire our hosts request but we have explained, and they have graciously accepted, the situation. 

The shop from which we bought it was antiquated and with less atmosphere than the Moon.  The stock seemed aimed squarely at the over-70s.  The manager was brusque, apparently considering us time-wasting penny-pinchers.  It wasn't a shopping experience anyone young, fashion conscious or watching the pennies would have savoured.

The tie will suffice until Gold Brothers decide to come marauding across the border or Lidl runs another special offer.  At which point, the posh purveyors won't see our ghillie brogues for dust.



  1. I sympathise with you both re the Captain Peacockesque grump you encountered whilst tartan shopping - but well done for persevering. Although I've a 'proper' Black Watch kilt which I wear for black tie occasions, I've also got a 'Heritage of Scotland' £50 number from Gold Brothers which I bought whilst in Edinburgh a couple of years back.
    It's perfectly serviceable and does everything (well nearly everything)that a 'real' kilt should do.
    Despite being born and raised in Scotland, I never acquainted myself with proper highland dress until I settled south of the border, although each time I visit family up in the land of the Single Malt, I notice more evidence of what appears to be general, everyday kilt wearing
    among the populace.

    For further kilt and kilt related information, discussion and retail reviews -
    Despite the name, most contributors are from England and North America.

  2. Thanks, Frank, for a lovely response. I'm delighted to hear the Gold Brothers are as praiseworthy as my friends and a look on the internet suggested. I'll certainly look at the kilt discussion when I get a moment! Keep reading, BBx