The Question - What Do You Wear Under A Kilt?This famous question is one which every boy and man who wears a kilt has to face. Many non kilt wearers also often ask this question to those of us who wear kilts.
In another posting kiltpants asked for information regarding types of underwear worn with the kilt and the following provides some details for the period from the 1940’s through to the current day. I grew up in the 1950’s and 1960’s and first wore a kilt when I was about 9. I have worn kilts on a fairly regular basis since then and still do. I wore green or navy blue girls knickers on all occasions until I was around 17 and then started to wear nothing under my kilt for normal day to day wear, only wearing green or navy blue men’s bikini briefs when I am at functions where I will be dancing and there is a high probability that my kilt will swing high enough to reveal what I am wearing under my kilt. Although I found the knickers comfortable to wear I find wearing nothing is even more comfortable. My notes include personal experiences and also those of family, friends and other acquaintances.
I have split my notes into two periods – firstly from the 1940’s to the 1970’s and secondly from the 1980’s to the present time. I have also included some notes regarding dancers and the practice in the highland regiments later in these notes.
During the 1940’s to the 1970’s the vast majority of boys wore girls school knickers under their kilts. The most common colours worn were bottle green and navy blue but other colours including maroon, brown and grey were also worn. A small number of boys wore tartan undertrews (usually referred to as “trews”) in a tartan which matched their kilt. By common consent these were not very comfortable. I knew two boys who were around the same age as myself who had been wearing green knickers for a few years and when they were around 12 or 13 started to wear trews instead of knickers. Both found the trews quite uncomfortable and after only a few months reverted to wearing green knickers again. There is fairly general agreement that white underwear is inappropriate for a kilt and only very rarely did any boys wear such underwear. When some boys reached the age of 13 to 15 some boys started to wear gym pants usually black, navy or green instead of knickers. A small number of boys wore nothing under their kilts. This was usually due to either family traditions or traditions within some Scottish private schools.
Men’s coloured underwear only started to become readily available in the early to mid 1960’s. As a result until this time as boys reached adult hood many continued to wear their knickers and indeed some still do to this day. After the mid 1960’s some men started to wear normal men’s briefs under their kilt, usually black, navy blue or green. On reaching adult hood some boys started to wear nothing under their kilts but they were in the minority.
During the period from the 1940’s to the 1970’s a very significant majority of men wore underwear with their kilts. In the early part of this period this was quite often trews as these were frequently worn in the 1930’s and usually lasted for many years. Trews largely went out of fashion in the 1940’s and were replaced by girls school knickers as the knickers were considerable cheaper, readily available in appropriate colours and most found them far more comfortable. As a result although it was quite common for men to be wearing trews into the 1950’s when these wore out they were normally replaced with either bottle green or navy blue girls knickers. As noted above by the mid 1960’s coloured men’s underwear started to become readily available and many men progressively started to wear men’s briefs (usually black, navy blue or green) instead of knickers. By the end of the 1970’s a majority of men were still wearing underwear mainly men’s briefs but also knickers. Trews appeared to have virtually disappeared by this time.
By the 1980’s bikini style briefs had become available for boys which were similar in style to the girls knickers and also widely available in dark colours. These became the garment of choice for most boys instead of girls knickers. Also from this time the practice of girls wearing school knickers was on the wane and were opting for more fashionable garments. Boys no longer appeared to change to wearing gym pants as they grew up but continued wearing briefs until they reached adulthood.
Although a majority of men were still wearing underwear in 1980, since then it has become progressively more common practice for men to wear nothing under their kilts. Currently it would appear that a very significant majority choose to wear nothing under kilts. This appears to be particularly the practice of younger men with those under about 40 rarely wearing underwear with those primarily wearing underwear being those men who grew up in the 1940’s to 1970’s and continued to wear knickers or briefs as they entered adulthood. Boxer shorts are occasionally worn but many men consider these inappropriate for a kilt as the legs of the boxers could be visible with the swing of the kilt whereas with knickers or briefs the kilt has to swing quite highly before any underwear becomes visible.
Dancers wear coloured underwear, preferably toning with the colour of the kilt as this is part of the dress code laid down by the Scottish dance governing bodies. This has been the case of many years and before the early 1960’s these would have been either green or navy blue girls knickers as before that time no coloured men’s underwear was available. Since that time coloured men’s underwear became more readily available and most dancers now wear black, navy blue or green men’s briefs under their kilts. Some may still wear girls green or navy blue knickers.
My understanding regarding regimental regulations in the highland regiments is that these changed during the course of the 20th century. I have a friend who served in a highland regiment during the 1950s and the 1960s. During that time the regulations were very strict and required that no underwear be worn at all times other than when taking part in organised sports or highland dancing. Frequent inspections took place with solders having to walk over a mirror in the guard room or by a sergeant walking down the ranks with a small mirror attached on a cane to ensure that the regulations were being complied with and that they were correctly dressed (undressed). Any one found incorrectly dressed had to immediately remove the offending garment and was also put on a charge. I understand that officers also had to comply with the same regulations but it is not clear as to whether they were subject to inspections or not. In the early 1900’s it appears that officers may have worn trews under their kilts but this practice appears to have stopped by the 1950’s.
The current policy in the highland regiments regarding underwear with the kilt appears to be as follows:-
“Underwear will be worn when:
1. Taking part in organised sport
2. Highland dancing
3. At any time ladies are in the Mess (which would include mixed dancing)
At all other times it is discretionary.”
It is not clear whose discretion – the wearer or by order. As a result of the change in regulations it appears that inspections have either been eliminated or only take place very occasionally.
I am not sure of the exact timing of the change but it appeared to be probably sometime during the 1970s. Despite the change in official regulations I understand that currently virtually all soldiers in the highland regiments continue the long standing practice of not wearing underwear with the kilt unless they are taking part in the activities noted above. This does not surprise me in the slightest as traditions in the highland regiments are maintained wherever possible and also, there is a fairly general consensus that a very significant majority of Scots currently choose to wear nothing under their kilts for normal day to day wear and only wear underwear when taking part in potential revealing occasions such as dancing and taking part in sports such as Highland Games.
I understand that it was normal practice in some Scottish private schools with Combined Cadet Forces to adopt the military practice of the time with regard to underwear with the kilt when in uniform. I have heard it that Queen Victoria School follows the official regulations for under-kilt wear (or not). As this is a boarding school for the children of Service personnel I would not be surprised if this was the practice. I note from another article that Captaindog went to this school and perhaps he can confirm if indeed this is the practice.