B. Gabriel Helou
Truly, One Hell of a Guy
I first became aware of the kilt when I was about eight years old. I saw someone wearing one on TV and thought he looked cool. At that point in my life, a low-level desire to own a kilt was born. Within a year, my father was traveling to Edinburgh and I begged him to bring back a kilt. I was crestfallen when he didn't, but he did bring back a plaid duffel bag, so I know he wasn't simply ignoring my quite unreasonable request.
The desire lurked for years, resurfacing whenever a pipe band would appear in a parade or the chance to attend highland games would comes along. Nothing much was done about this for several decades. Periodically, one acquaintance or another of Scottish ancestry to talk about how comfortable kilts where and that they looked forward to any excuse to wear one. They'd also point out how stunningly expensive they were.
One fateful summer, I was at the St. Andrew's Society of Detroit's annual highland games when someone was demonstrating how to take several yards of fabric, lay it out on the ground, form pleats with it, and use a belt to wrap the whole thing around ones waist. It was the most ancient and traditional of kilts, the Great Kilt. He went on to demonstrate different adjustments that affected how it was worn. It was obvious to me -- buying a few yards of fabric was much cheaper than a real kilt and it was fairly easy to fold and wear. I could do this!
Shortly thereafter, I acquired my fabric and was wearing my first kilt to renaissance festivals and other occasional events. Once or twice or maybe three times a year, I'd go through the effort, but it was somewhat time consuming and ... well ... a little too "rustic" for things like weddings.
Wanting a ready-to-strap-on kilt is one thing; deciding to spend the several hundred dollars on one is another. It seemed I was doomed to pleating and belting a lot of cloth every time I wanted to "kilt up." Just when I'd been ready to resign myself to this fate, Utilikilts happened.
In 2000, articles started showing up on various web sites talking about these new "utilitarian kilts." There were made from rugged fabric, they had external pockets (much like cargo pants), and they were significantly cheaper than a formal kilt. I bought one. I wore a few times. It was very comfortable. I wore it more. Soon, it was obvious that this was the most comfortable thing I could wear while working in the garden, moving equipment for my band, or doing remodeling jobs around the house. And it only took a few seconds to put on.
Once I had a Utilikilt, I too looked for excuses to wear it. When I lost a little weight, I bought a second one. Later one, a third. They looked good with t-shirts; they looked good with a tweed jacket. I was beginning to like this.
I no longer recall what I was doing the night before one fateful day, but I'd worn a kilt that night. The following day would be hot and muggy and ... and ... I was just going to wear a kilt to work that day and that was that! I did it again the next day, too. And the day after that. This continued until November of that year. (2006, I think.) Since then, when the weather warms up, I put away my jeans and pull out the kilts.
At this point, I've got something like 15 or so; I should probably inventory them, but I might be better off not knowing. The kilts come from Utilikilts (my personal favorite), Amerikilt, Sportkilt, Kilt Mart, and Stillwater Kilts. Possibly another maker who's slipped my mind. And I'm giving serious consideration to getting one from Alt.Kilt soon.