Firstly, and most anciently, is the arisaid. This garment is more or less the female equivalent of the gentleman’s Great Kilt, simply a long length of wool tartan fabric which the wearer pleats and arranges herself each time it is worn. This belted plaid is normally worn longer in length than the men’s version, and usually features a linen shift or tunic worn underneath for modesty, as the skirt joins at the front rather than overlapping as does a man’s kilt. It can be worn in a variety of ways, using the upper portion of the fabric as extra skirt material, a cape, hood, or sash. The airsaid is most commonly seen at Renaissance fairs, re-enactment groups, and some Highland Games nowadays – but this garment has also inspired designs for more modern garments as well.
Another very traditional style is the ladies outfit known as Aboyne Dress. This particular style has been adopted by female Highland dancers for certain dances, and a civilian version can also still be seen at ceilidhs, Burns Suppers, and other traditional gatherings. The dancers version features a traditional kilted (meaning pleated at the back only) skirt, very similar to the male version, white blouse, velvet embroidered waistcoat, and tartan sash. Dancer’s Fancy tartans are popular for these outfits; these are tartans, often clan or family ones, which have been redesigned to suit female dancers, with bright colours and white backgrounds to ensure they stand out on stage when being judged competitively. The casual version of this outfit is almost the same, but will probably feature a longer, softer kilted skirt, more suitable for country dancing and socialising.
These outfits however, though very attractive and historical, may not suit the majority of modern women. Many ladies prefer instead to simply add a touch of their or their husband’s clan tartan in the form of a traditional accessory. These can take many forms, but most popular of all, is surely the tartan sash, as worn in the Aboyne Dress outfit detailed above. The tartan sash has a nuanced style of wear for such a simple item, with different pinning arrangements conferring information about the wearer. Following extensive research, the Lord Lyon King of Arms has authorised several methods as being particularly meaningful, and although these do not have legal standing, adherence to tradition is appreciated. The first method is used by female clan members, either unmarried ladies, or ladies who have married in and adopted the clan tartan. It involves gathering the sash from left to right diagonally across your chest, and pinning it at your right shoulder. The second method is the same but from right to left, and is used by the wives of clan chiefs, or the wives of Scottish Regimental Colonels. The third main style is to wear the sash draped over your right shoulder, then pull it over and pin it, or tie it in a large bow, at your left hip. Traditionally this approach is reserved for married ladies who have decided to retain the use of their own clan tartan, but it is quite a popular look in general. Dancers also have their own method of wearing this accessory, pinning the sash on the right as normal, but flicking both loose ends to their back and tucking them into the waistband of their skirts, or a special belt, to ensure the sash does not interfere with their dancing. Members of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society wear their sashes on the left by dispensation from Queen Elizabeth II, in recognition of their special status among Scottish dancers, and are the only dancing group permitted to do so.