Box Pleated Kilts
The original tailored kilt. Made from approximately four yards of cloth and box pleated.
The original form of the kilt was an untailored length of cloth that was simply gathered into folds and belted at the waist (see the History of the Kilt). The first tailored kilts, with pleats sewn into place from waist to hip, appeared towards the end of the eighteenth century. The oldest surviving tailored kilt is a regimental kilt from the Gordon Highlanders from 1796. It contains just over three yards of cloth and was box pleated to stripe. Civilian kilts were originally pleated to no pattern at all, but soon (c.1815-1820) adopted the military fashion of pleating to stripe.
This was the epitome of the kilt as clothing; made from approximately four yards of good heavy weight wool, box pleated to the stripe. It was comfortable, economic, and was the daily clothing of the Highland Gaelic male. It is this style that our box pleated kilts are modelled after.
The four yard box pleated kilt went out of fashion in the latter half of the nineteenth century. In the 1870s and 1880s it was more common for box pleated kilts to be made from five or six yards of cloth, but knife pleated kilts were also becoming popular. By the end of the nineteenth century, the box pleated kilt was only being used by certain few military regiments.
The original four yard box pleated kilt was revived in 1982 by kiltmaker and kilt historian Bob Martin. Living in South Carolina, Martin was having a hard time convincing his clients in the warm American southeast that heavy weight worsted wool was a superior kilt cloth to the light weight stuff they were demanding to "beat the heat." His friend, Scottish anthropologist and historian Dr. Michiel MacDonald, suggested that if people wanted a lighter weight kilt without sacrificing the quality of good heavy weight worsted wool, they should return to the style of the early box pleated kilt. Using only four yards, it contains but half the cloth of a typical modern kilt.
Bob Martin added the four yard box pleated kilt to his line, and taught a few other kilt makers how to make this forgotten style. I had become friends with Bob through the Scottish Tartans Museum, and in 2004 he offered to teach me how to make traditional box pleated kilts.
Originally I learned simply so that I could make kilts for myself, but found that I enjoyed making them so much that I began offering my services to others. By 2012 I have made over 500 kilts, the great majority of them in the traditional box pleated style.
Bob Martin has since retired from professional kiltmaking, and I am now one of the few kiltmakers available today that offers this historic style of pleating. For an average sized man, four yards of cloth is sufficient for a traditional box pleated kilt. Following the style of the original box pleated kilts in their heyday, most box pleated kilts I make will be pleated to the stripe (as seen in the photo above). This creates a much different effect than does pleating to the stripe in a modern eight yard kilt, because of the width of the traditional box pleats. Occasionally it does work out better to pleat the kilt to a different pattern, either alternate stipes, to the sett (as shown below), or a created pattern; this is generally done only if the repeat of the tartan is smaller or larger than normal. I'll be glad to answer any questions you may have about pleating when you order your kilt.
Scottish Tartans Authority