I believe it is most important that your bagpiper looks the part, as well as sounding it. I wear the No.1 Full Highland Dress and I refuse to wear any kilt wear and uniform accessories which are not of the finest quality. I am confident that there are very few pipers outwith the military who have such fine uniform and know how to wear it.
If you see a better dressed bagpiper, please let me know!
The piper’s “No.1 Full Highland Dress” I most commonly wear was originally worn by pipers of the historic Highland regiments. “No.1s” were then adopted first by the Govan Police, and when pipe bands took off in the early 20th century, by numerous other police, colliery and civilian pipe bands. Indeed, the No.1 Full Highland Dress was worn by virtually all Scottish pipers and pipe bands until the 1980s when the Strathclyde Police Pipe Band adopted “Day Dress” as their competition-wear due to the No.1 dress being so heavy, impractical, and not to mention very expensive to purchase and maintain.
However, as practical as Day Dress is, it provides nowhere near the visual spectacle as a piper dressed properly in No.1 Full Highland Dress. This is why bagpipers wearing No.1 dress are highly sought after to play at prestigious events.
I wear two No.1 Dress uniforms. One is the “Mackenzie of Seaforth” tartan as worn by the Seaforth Highlanders and Highland Light Infantry regiments. The other is the “Cameron of Loch Erracht” as worn by the Queens Own Cameron Highlanders and then by the pipe band of the Queens Own Highlanders following the merger of the Seaforths and the Camerons. The Cameron of Loch Erracht is today worn by the Pipes and Drums of 4 SCOTS of the Royal Regiment of Scotland.
I always wear Full No.1 Highland Dress to play for a wedding. See your Wedding Piper for more information.
Mackenzie of Seaforth tartan
Both kilts I wear for No.1 dress are army-issue and have “box pleats” at the rear, unlike civilian “knife-pleated” kilts. Military-weight kilts are very heavy, weighing in at 21 ounces per yard as opposed to 16 ounces for a regular heavy-weight kilt. My Cameron of Erracht kilt is an original Queens Own Cameron Highlanders kilt from prior to their 1961 amalgamation with the Seaforth Highlanders.
I have recently acquired a second Seaforth Highlanders kilt made in 1948. This is very different to a modern kilt. It is made for somebody of my height, but unlike modern kilts which sit just above the waist, this one sits high up the chest. Such was the style then!
Cameron of Erracht tartan
Mackenzie of Seaforth Piper’s Plaid
The Piper’s Plaid is modelled on the “féileadh-mór” or “Great Kilt” which was was worn by highlanders until the early 18th century. The plaid is always the same tartan as that of the the kilt being worn. It is 3.5 or 4 yards long, wrapped tightly around the body, knotted and secured with a Plaid Brooch. This takes some skill to do properly, so the brooch sits proud and the plaid does not hang too high or too low. Unfortunately you will see many pipers nowadays who cannot do this. As a result they look a mess due to flattened pleats and a poorly tied knot.
Cameron of Erracht Piper’s Plaid
The Feather Bonnet, made from ostrich, was originally worn by Scottish infantry soldiers until the outbreak of World War 1. It is now only worn by pipers and drummers. My feather bonnet is made by a UK-based military supplier. It is of noticeably higher quality and looks far better than cheap ones made abroad, which are worn by many pipers.
A proper feather bonnet like this has five tails and a coloured “hackle”. The badge worn on the left hand side of the bonnet is at least 140 years old and is actually a piper’s plaid brooch of the Inverness-shire Militia. I have added the Thistle and Crown of the Cameron Highlanders to it.
The quality of uniform accessories worn is almost important as the quality of the kilt, plaid and feather bonnet. There are many metal parts – belt buckles, the sporran cantle, the dirk, feather bonnet badge and the plaid brooch. They all contribute to the spectacle of a bagpiper wearing No.1 Dress. Good quality items are made from a white metal like nickel and look classy. Modern “stay-bright” buckles and brooches look like what they are – cheap and tacky.
When I win the lottery I will go one step further and you will see me wearing sterling silver!
Items such as the crossbelt, waistbelt and brooches are not purely for decoration. They’re essential to keep the plaid in place.
The diagonal “Crossbelt” is from the Gordon Highlanders and above the buckle features the stag emblem and Gaelic motto “Cuidich ‘n Righ” (Aid the King) of the Seaforth Highlanders. The Waistbelt is also Gordon Highlanders. Both are made of nickel.
Everybody asks about these! These brass collar dogs featuring elephants, were worn by the Seaforth Highlanders and commemorate the Battle of Assaye in 1803, in which the regiment fought.
This Plaid Brooch is Victorian with a “Cairngorm Stone”. I am unsure if it is regimental. It does feature very similar thistle embossing as my Gordon Highlanders Crossbelt and Waistbelt and matches these nicely.
This is a 1950s Piper’s Dirk of the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders. The ’79’ on the sheath and the pommel denotes the “79th of Foot” which was the name of the regiment prior to 1881.
The “Swinging Six” sporran is a design unique to the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. My sporran is stamped on the rear as being made in 1939. It is horse hair with a brass cantle.