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Devils in Skirts
by Howard Watson


The Sexual Allure of the Kilt

The rise in Scottish nationalism allied to a cultural resurgence north of the border has brought Scotsman the confidence to don their national dress. To be Scottish now is to be hip cool and trendy. Everyone from true blue Scotsmen such as Ewan McGregor to honorary Celt Mel Gibson sport the kilt.

One of the few redeeming features of, the dire Americanised big screen version of The Avengers, the classic British 60's television series, was the glorious sight of Sean Connery, the first and best 007, clad in plaid. In my humble opinion a magnificent sight, that was worth the price of admission alone.

In the last episode of This Life, the cult BBC drama about law students sharing a house, an answer was provided for those who wonder what a Scotsman wears under his kilt. It is when the kilted Lenny as played by Scottish actor Tony Curran, is being graphically buggered by Ramon Tikaram, in the role of Ferdy, in the men's toilets at the climatic wedding reception.

And, we now have evidence to prove the Queen of Pop herself, Madonnna, is a fan of the kilt. In the run up to her marriage to Guy Ritchie, which took place, of course, in Scotland, she was reported to have confided in Elayne Grimes, the Northern Constabulary's media relations officer. Apparently, Madge admitted that Ritchie was "incredibly sexy in his kilt" and that he always goes commando, the phrase that applies to a man leaving nothing to the imagination to what lies beneath. Truly, a devil in a skirt, but how did that particular description of a Scotsman came about?

The two most commonly attributed phrases "devils in skirts" or "ladies from hell" appeared to have been applied to the 51st Highland Division during the First World War and both expressions appear to be interchangeable. It was German intelligence, which like the British kept a record of those enemy divisions that were opposite them in the line. Some divisions fought harder than others, with the 51st joining the top of the German list, after the clearing of the Y Ravine in the autumn of 1916. The two expressions became popular around this time amongst the German soldiers, who were as fond of nicknames as the British Tommy. With time, it has become applied to all Scottish regiments that wear the kilt, whether in battle or on the parade ground.

The kilt is one of the few items of male attire men can actually wear without being labelled a transvestite or latent homosexual, or both. Real men wear the kilt from gruff Scottish actors, such as Peter Mullan, to black US movie stars like Samuel L Jackson. Fashion houses such as Burberry have also spotted a trend that has, in reality, never gone away. Very few men would dare doubt a man's heterosexual status for wearing the kilt, unless they happened to be an ill-informed US tele-evangelist.

Jean-Paul Gaultier, the camp London-based French fashion designer, has been dogged in his persistence to popularise a modern version of the kilt; without much success it has to be said. Could it be that his designs were too obviously homoerotic? Yet it is from strange that Gaultier should be enamoured of the kilt, as there is a long, and friendly, association between France and Scotland, as opposed to those south of the Anglo-Scottish border.

No Englishman would ever be brave/stupid enough to go up to a big, hairy Scotsman and insinuate that his friend from north of the border was less than one hundred percent pure heterosexual? Unless, of course, he was inordinately fond of hospital food, that is.

As Edward Lucie-Smith explains in his introduction to Jack Fritscher's American Men: 'It tells us nothing of the sexuality of the subject, but much about the image-maker's own reactions to the world which surrounds him - the things he is attuned to, and it likely to notice and record.' To cut a long theory short, beauty is in the eye of the viewfinder. As George Mazzei, former managing editor of the American version of GQ Magazine from 1968-75, has explained, the erotic charge of the kilt is the nudity underneath its pleats; or rather the assumption of nakedness.

One photograph, in American Men, entitled 'Actual Prison Guard, American Kilt, 1990' captures perfectly the erotic charge of the kilt, an athlete is engaged in throwing the hammer at a Highland Games. The shorts he wears beneath his kilt add a sensual frisson, rather than detracting from such a magnificent sight, as the referee, also kilted, watches on.

Though, dear reader, one need not have to search far for further images of men in kilts, as the cyber highway is crowded with a plethora of photographic evidence of those fellows who rebel against the trouser tyranny of the modern Western society. One e-group, based on Yahoo, called rather unimaginatively it has to be said, men-in-kilts, boasts a huge number of virile young bucks clad in plaid. And, there are more than I could possibly mention in such a short article as this, but take it from me, there are plenty more. The kilt still remains an icon of style, despite the vagaries of fashion, although over the years it has been touch and go.

Of course, not every man is a suitable candidate for wearing the kilt. David Duchovny of X-Files fame made a bad fashion mistake when he wore one. Others with offensive knees, or sticks for legs, should also be heavily dissuaded from donning it.

The origin of the modern short kilt, or philibeg, however, is still a subject of heated debate in some quarters. Thomas Rawlinson was an Englishman who adopted Highland dress, whilst working as the ironmaster at the Glengarry works in the eighteenth century, is considered to be the prime originator of the kilt as now know it.

There is no available evidence to suggest that the kilt, in its present form, existed before the early 1700's. This has failed to stifle the controversy, which, if truth were told, has all this to do with the fact that the first man to wear it was far from being a favoured son of Caledonia but a damnable Sassenach.

However, if you, dear reader, do decide to take to the kilt, do not forget the sporran. Which is very useful for keeping your small change and keys, as well as anchoring it down in a stiff breeze. Also, it is much more aesthetically pleasing than those dire bum-bags that have infiltrated the high street from the ski slopes in recent years. As well as that, forget the fact that sporran is Scots Gaelic for purse!

(c) Howard Watson 2001


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