Why do Blacksmiths Wear Kilts? A History of Kilts in Celtic Craftsman Traditions.
Most people know the relationship between kilts and Scottish culture, but relatively few individuals outside of the blacksmithing community and perhaps even within this group know that kilts are also a traditional garment of some smiths.
The blacksmithing or utility kilt has been part of the blacksmithing tradition for many, many years, but has recently piqued the interest of more people as forging gains popularity in culture today.
The history of kilts and their relationship with blacksmithing shows the influence of Celtic smiths on the wider blacksmithing profession and the continued functionality of kilt wearing.
The Origins of the Tartan Kilt
Scottish kilts are instantly recognizable by their bright tartan designs. This type of kilt originated in the Scottish Highlands in the 16th century as the breacon feile, or “belted plaid.” This early garment consisted of a rectangle of tartan wool held by a belt. The bottom functioned as a skirt and the top as a cape.
It is widely believed that men began wearing this garment for functional purposes. Trousers or long pants would have been constantly wet due to the bogs in which many Scotsmen lived. To prevent having to wear cold, soaked garments, men adopted the tartan kilt, which was both warm and practical.
Kilts as we know them today arrived on the scene in the early 18th century as the “little kilt.” This garment has a draped top that is separate from the skirt.
By the 19th century, native Scotsmen and those of Scottish descent typically wore kilts as a form of ceremonial dress at weddings and other functions. This continues to be the most popular use of kilts today.
Scottish Tartan Kilts vs Utility Kilts
Scottish kilts are designed in thousands of tartan patterns and colors that represent different families and clans. They are made of wool and, as mentioned above, are today worn for special occasions.
At some point in history, the kilt became a workwear option. It is believed that Celtic smiths were the first to wear kilts on the job, and the tradition then spread to smiths of all nationalities.
Today’s blacksmithing or utility kilt is made of heavy duty leather, usually in black or brown. Many smiths prefer brown because it takes on a natural patina after regular wear.
The kilts worn by smiths have straps and pockets to store tools and keep them on hand for ease of use. The garment protects smiths from sparks, bits of hot metal, and heat while also allowing for necessary air circulation and comfort.
The wearing of utility kilt has been a blacksmithing tradition for many years and has been further popularized by Forged in Fire, on which several contestants and judges wear the kilt proudly.