In recent years, a number of different types of kilts have made their appearance at Highland Games gatherings. These new styles of kilt differ from the traditional Scottish kilt in several respects, including the materials from which they are made, the fact that many do not exhibit the characteristic plaid patterns of the traditional garment, and, in some cases, significant differences in construction techniques are employed.
Among the manufacturers of such contemporary kilts is the NeoKilt™ company of Olympia, Washington whose proprietor, Josh Amos, agreed to sit for an interview at the 2006 Pacific Northwest Highland Games at which his company maintained a vendor's booth. Further information about the NeoKilt can be found on their website which is located at http://www.neokilt.com.
Highland Games: To begin with, is the NeoKilt a kilt? It doesn't necessarily have a plaid pattern, might not be made of wool, and there are other differences by comparison to a traditional kilt, so what makes the Neokilt a kilt?
Josh Amos: Well, if you notice, what makes a kilt a kilt is the fact that it has a double wrap apron front and is fully pleated across the back. Historically, as an example, what the Zulus, the African warriors, wore, were considered kilts, because they had pleated leather backs and wrap fronts. So that's what makes the NeoKilt a kilt, is its double wrap apron front plus a full pleating across the back.
Highland Games: I can remember a time when such garments would not have been called kilts. For example, a girl's plaid pleated skirt, even if it had that wrap-around apron front, some years back that would never have been called a kilt, but by your definition, it is a kilt, or could be called so?
Josh Amos: Well, I honestly don't know the semantics, but I think it is a kilt because of the flat apron front and the fact that it is not pleated across the front, but it is pleated distinctly around the back. We base our patterns on the traditional kilt style - not the great kilt, but the smaller kilt. So if we were to turn around and use the same exact pattern and construction, using tartan fabric, it would be considered a kilt anyway.
Highland Games: Well, it is also true that the usage of the term has changed over the years even with respect to the Scottish kilt which, for example, used to be box pleated. But you say it is patterned in the same way as a traditional kilt? Meaning what?
Josh Amos: I had a traditional kilt made, ordered from Scotland, and that is the pattern that I used for the Neokilt. Namely, the full pleats - knife edge pleats, or some call them the military edge pleats - across the back, and one pleat per inch. If you picture the human body as a circle, 180 degrees of the circumference is pleated around the back, and the flat aprons are wrapped right under, left over across the front.
Highland Games: If it is patterned like the traditional Scottish kilt, that means that you would take measurements at the waist, the hip, and the length. Is that right?
Josh Amos: Correct.
Highland Games: And would the Neokilt be sewn down through the fell from the hip to the waist?
Josh Amos: Yes. The only thing we did do different, and this is because I'm using a lighter, non-wool fabric, is I edge stitch the pleats down fully from from the fell all the way to the hem. And it is hemmed at the bottom.
Highland Games: When you are using something other than a plaid pattern fabric, the question of taking up a full sett in each pleat doesn't apply, because there is no sett?
Josh Amos: Correct.
Highland Games: So how do you determine where the pleats go? And how much fabric do you use?
Josh Amos: We use approximately 7 inches of fabric per pleat, and we are still going for that one-inch pleat across the back, just like the traditional kilts. That, and the size of the person, is what determines the amount of fabric we use.
Highland Games: What types of fabric are your kilts made out of?
Josh Amos: (showing an example): This is a polyviscous kilt. It's a non-wool tartan. Made in the same mills over in the United Kingdom as the regular wool tartans.
Highland Games: Is the pattern repeating and reversing?
Josh Amos: Right. this is a repeating sett. It's the Clan Bailey International. We've run afoul of the non-repeating setts. . . much more fabric needed for that type.
We started off with the 50/50 poly/cotton blend, same as your GaBDUs, and then we also moved into the 10 ounce duck-cloth canvas. So it's like carhart. And we've experimented with some other stuff, like we've done ultra-suede. And then we've done a kilt with a leather apron front, so it's a two tone almost like the old French cavalry trousers. And now we're doing tartan plaids and the polyviscous tartans.
Highland Games: And what is your price range?
Josh Amos: The standard kilt is $150 and the tartan kilt is based on a formula - the cost of the material, and the size of the person, and the effort its takes to make the kilt. Because you're going to get some tartan on wholesale like the Black Watch tartan you can actually get pretty cheaply if its the right weight, etc, etc. Then there's something like the Marquis de Huntley red. The cost can be up to $100 per yard. That cost is going to be transferred off to the customer. Fair is fair.
Highland Games: These less expensive tartans - that would be one reason, I suppose, that many people buy them. What would be other reasons for purchasing one of these kilts instead of the traditional variety?
Josh Amos: One of the biggest reasons is, and one of the goals of my company is, it gives people an opportunity to try going kilted, to enter the Celtic world, to sample some of the kilt stuff. It's kind of like some people who go fishing, they might start off with your little Zefco, which you might buy at K-Mart, and the next thing you know they're down in the Florida keys, or they decide they don't like it and that's as far as they want to go. It's investing around $150 instead of investing up to $800 in a kilt. Not everybody can afford that initial leap.
Highland Games: I see a lot of Scottish athletes using either your kilts or other non-traditional kilts. What do they see in these kilts?
Josh Amos: Durability and expense are the two big factors. There are two or three fellows and two or three lady athletes, that all have my kilts and have worn them for at least two years in the Highland athletic events. And there is one of the ladies who is a fencer - she teaches basket hilt fencing - and she wears our kilts when she is doing that as well. And they all hold up and they look literally just as good as the day we made them. I'm really proud of that fact.
Highland Games: And the care of these kilts, it depends on what its made of, but they could be just throw it in the washing machine . . .
Josh Amos: Absolutely. With the standard NeoKilt, because we edge sew the pleats down, even if the thing is just sweaty from wear, as long as its not industrial dirty, a cold water dunk in the laundry sink and hang it up overnight, and its good as new for the morning. If it gets really filthy, you can put it with a light detergent and cool, gentle cycle and same thing. Hang it up and wear it the next day. My sweety puts hers in the dryer and she's had hers going on three years. And this kilt that I'm wearing - the polyviscous - I've had for two years and I've taken it to the rifle range, to the machine gun range, fencing. . . I don't do Highland athletics, but it's seen numerous bouts of drinking and so forth and I've had it for two years and it looks just like the day we made it.
Highland Games: You have the same system of straps and buckles as the traditional kilt? Two straps and it takes a belt, just like a regular kilt?
Josh Amos: Um-hum.
Highland Games: Is it worn at the waist, or at the hips?
Josh Amos: How it's worn traditionally versus how most American guys wear it? I don't really know if its our proclivity for wearing blue jeans, but most guys wear it at their comfort level which means push it down around their hips, like their jeans. So again that's a slight departure from tradition for me, because I'd rather have people wear something that's comfortable that they are going to wear all the time. We'll fit it to what I call their comfort line instead of going with the traditional high waist up under the rib cage type fit.
Highland Games: But you could make it however they wanted.
Josh Amos: Absolutely. I've made a kilt for one young fetching young lady with a big plunging, all the way down, showing her belly button type kilt. The girls come up and ask me to make a schoolgirl type mini-skirt for them. I say, yeah, okay. I take no joy in this. I'm suffering for my art here.
Here's another couple of features I'm really proud of. For the everyday wear kilts - the blacks, the greens, the tans, and even the camoflauge and the carharts - we put in a tartan pleat, we call this the kick pleat. So you're going to be wearing your everyday kilt for just a minimum amount of expense and can actually have a piece of your own tartan put in so you're showing your tartan when you're wearing your everyday wear kilt.
Same thing with the custom embroidery on the front apron. On one kilt we did like a fleur de lis. We did this for a Boy Scout master. We did the fleur de lis on the front with the McLaren tartan pleat on the side. On another one we did - this is a County Wexford - it's a Shamrock, but we did it with a County Wexford tartan emboridered onto the kilt so he actually has his own colors embroidered into a shamrock.
Highland Games: In a traditional kilt, the pleats fall straight down from the waist down to the selvedge. They have to, otherwise it messes up the pattern. But on a lot of your kilts, there is no pattern. So would you still have the pleats drop straight down or would you flare them slightly for a woman, say?
Josh Amos: For the ladies we do narrow them at the top to accommodate the waist.
Highland Games: So that is across the fell? But from the waist down it is just straight?
Josh Amos: Yeah. We've done a couple of our non-traditional kilts where we've pleated it from the waist all the way down to their ankles. It's a full length skirt, but its pleated all the way down to their ankles. That one we do tighten it up like that so the pleats go absolutely straight. We have one lady customer who had a leg injury and she didn't like her legs showing because she's got scars on them. But she wanted a kilt and so we did the full length skirt and we even put a full length tartan pleat in for her too so she could have her family colors with her everyday wear kilt as well.
Highland Games: One final question. Is it just possible that you are using the word kilt because you're tying to sell these to guys and they are not going to buy a skirt? So you decided to call it a kilt for marketing purposes?
Josh Amos: No, I really in my heart of hearts consider it a kilt. It's the same thing I wore. And I'll give you a great justification. When I finally get the grizzly old guys who run the Highland Games to say "okay, well I suppose I'll have to give it to you as a kilt not a skirt" and when the old-timers from Scotland say "Ah, that's not a bad wee kilt for an American", then that kind of tells me you've arrived