Not to drop into the maudlin sentimentality of The Sound of Music, but I guess that we all have some favorite things that stick with us from childhood. I’m talking about the things that we are drawn to, as artifacts or images or playthings, which eventually become totemic or symbolic or just habitual. For me, there have a been a few that stick out and have endured. Motorcycle sidecars. Deep-sea divers. Sawed-off shotguns. Airships and autogyros.
I don’t recall having any kilted toy soldiers as a boy, but I would have loved some. I do remember some old movies - Gunga Din and The Devil’s Brigade among them - in which kilted soldiers made for dramatic images. I had an inspirational story of Robert the Bruce in some collection that I read and re-read, and generally encountered kilts in popular culture about as much as the next kid in the sixties. Nevertheless, although I have no Scots ancestry at all, I resonated with kilts and liked the look and their unconventionality. I can remember deciding long ago that I wanted to obtain a kilt for myself someday.
Back in the day, this would have meant getting some sort of tartan kit, either a dress version - with the short black jacket and bow tie, sort of like a tuxedo - or a more casual outfit, usually with a cable-knit turtleneck. Formals shops often rented these out for weddings, or they could be purchased through specialty dealers, but they were awfully expensive. Over they years, I always managed to have better things to do with my money, so although I did get a necktie with the official Washington State tartan about twenty-five years ago, I never did get a highland kilt, and never even wore one for the first twenty years of my adult life.
Then, around the close of the last century, I ran across Utilikilts. This art-project-turned-enterprise, based in Seattle, made up-to-date, not-tartan, almost-affordable kilts, suitable for wearing in everyday life, not just at the Highland Games. Of course I had to get one - and I did. I think I picked up my khaki neo-traditional kilt at their Interbay store in Spring 2000, and wore it to The Folklife Festival and later to a party I attended while I was in town. It was great - I was finally wearing a kilt, and it looked good and felt good. It being Seattle, of course I was met with much coolness in both public venues to which I wore it.
I wasn’t so confident that the reception would be the same back in Vancouver, Washington, where I was living at the time, and I didn’t wear the kilt much at all for a few years, and certainly not at work. When I did break it out, though, it was big time. The first public occasion was my appearance as class speaker at the graduation ceremony for Leadership Clark County, a conservative, business-based community service program. Just a few months later, I wore the kilt as part of my dress uniform for my last day at work as Director of Security for Clark College. Besides these two occasions, though, I was mostly found in pants or shorts.
In Fall of 2002, I left Vancouver for a late-life transition to graduate school, and brought both my kilts with me (I had acquired an olive drab neo-trad along with the original khaki). Notwithstanding its nature as a free-thinking institute of higher education, EWU is still in the heart of Eastern Washington, and things looked dicey for unconventional types there. The kilts mostly stayed in the closet.
Upon my return to Seattle in Fall 2003, I began wearing and acquiring kilts regularly, though still not at work. More and more often, when going out for an evening or relaxing on the weekend, I began choosing the kilt over pants. I stopped replacing my pants when they wore out, and acquired three more Utilikilts of different weights and fabrics. I knew that a threshold had been crossed when more than one new friend mentioned after knowing me a year or so that they had never seen me in pants. I think it was in summer of 2005 that I started wearing kilts to teach class, and about Fall 2005 when I moved almost exclusively to kilts.
In Seattle, that is. This progressive town is pretty accepting of this sort of thing, but I moderated my choices when traveling to Spokane or back east.
That was the state of affairs until recently. I pretty much wore kilts all the time, became know as the “guy in the kilt,” named my first blog for kilts, and accepted the role of full-time representative of alternative men’s fashion every time I went out. Then, this summer, after spring quarter ended, I just pretty much stopped cold. I have been wearing what I call Thai shorts or biking shorts - mid-calf length trousers - just about every day.
Why? I’m not 100% sure, but I’ll have some ideas next time.