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Martin Martin's Description of Hebridean Men's Clothing

by Sharon L. Krossa

©1997-2000 by Sharon L. Krossa. All rights reserved

Last updated 1 Jan 2000

This description of the clothing worn by the men in the Western Isles of Scotland is part of an account of a trip Martin Martin made to the Hebrides circa 1695, which was first published in 1703.

Note that Martin says the lèine cròch was abandoned "about a hundred years ago" -- that is, about 1600 -- and that only the last paragraph quoted here is refering to the "belted plaid" (often modernly called a "great kilt").

Martin, Martin, "A Description of the Western Islands of Scotland," in A Description of the Western Islands of Scotland Circa 1695, ed. Donald J. Macleod (Edinburgh: Birlinn, 1994). (1 Jan 2000 )

"The first habit wore by persons of distinction in the islands was the leni-croich, from the Irish word leni, which signifies a shirt, and a croach saffron, because their shirt was dyed with that herb. The ordinary number of ells used toake this robe was twenty-four. It was the uppper garb, reaching below the knees, and was tied with a belt round the middle; but the islanders have laid it aside about a hundred years ago.

"They now generally use coat, waistcoat, and breeches, as elsewhere; and on their heads wear bonnets made of thick cloth -- some blue, some black, and some grey.

"Many of the people wear trews. Some have them very fine woven like stockings of those made of cloth. Some are coloured, and others striped. The latter are as well shaped as the former, lying close to the body from the middle downwards, and tied round with a belt above the haunches. There is a square piece of cloth which hangs down before. The measure for shaping the trews is a stick of wood, whose length is a cubit, and that divided into the length of a finger and a half a finger, so that it requires more skill to make it than the ordinary habit.

"The shoes anciently wore were a piece of the hide of a deer, cow, or horse, with the hair on, being tied behind and before with a point of leather. The generality now wear shoes, having one thin sole only, and shaped after the right and left foot so that what is for one foot will not serve the other.

"But persons of distinction wear the garb in fashion in the south of Scotland.

"The plaid wore only by the men is made of fine wool, the thread as fine as can be made of that kind. It consists of divers colours; and there is a great deal of ingenuity required in sorting the colours so as to be agreeable to the nicest fancy. For this reason the women are at great pains, first to give an exact pattern of the plaid upon a piece of wood, having the number of every thread of the stripe on it. The length of it is commonly seven double ells. The one end hangs by the middle over the left arm, the other going round the body, hangs by the end over the left arm also -- the right hand above it is to be at liberty to do anything upon occasion. Every isle differs from each other in their fancy of making plaids as to the stripes in breadth and colours. This humour is as different through the mainland of the Highlands, in so far that they who have seen those places are able at first view of a man's plaid to guess the place of his residence.

"When they travel on foot the plaid is tied on the breast with a bodkin of bone or wood (just as the spina wore by the Germans, according to the description of C. Tacitus). The plaid is tied round the middle with a leather belt. It is plaited from the belt to the knee very nicely. This dress for footmen is found much easier and lighter than breeches or trews." (pp. 245-247)

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