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History, Tradition, Heritage As related to the subjects of piping, drumming and pipe bands.

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Old 05-02-2020, 04:15 PM   #1
Dakota Lewis
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Default Perceptions on horse hair

I've always been under the impression that civilians can wear horse hair sporrans, but since they're so frequently associated with military dress I'd like to confirm that there's no sentiment others are aware of, based in fact or imagination, that those sporrans are inappropriate for civilian use. The last thing I want is to be accused of 'stolen valor' by some utilikilter.
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Old 05-02-2020, 09:03 PM   #2
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Default Re: perceptions on horse hair

It's because most people nowadays don't know how Highland Dress evolved, that they think long hair sporrans are particularly military.

In the early 19th century the original small purse-like sporran, worn in the 18th century, for some unknown reason started getting bigger and hairier.

By around 1840 the sporran had evolved to its full length, goat-hair originally, then horsehair overlaid upon the goat-hair underneath to get even more length.

Throughout the Victorian period long hair sporrans were worn in all modes of Highland dress:

-Highland civilian 'day dress' or 'outdoor dress' (tweed jackets)

-Highland civilian 'evening dress' (generally, black jackets with silver buttons)

-Highland military dress (soldiers were only issued one sporran, long hair, that served for all forms of military dress)

Here is a typical gent in Victorian civilian Highland 'day dress'. There are a number of typical Victorian features including the brown-grey hair sporran (it was usually white for evening dress) the all-matching-tweed outfit, and the Glengarry in ordinary civilian use.

No other forms of sporran were worn because there were no others, except for animal mask sporrans. In the Victorian period small Pine Marten sporrans were fairly popular.

Here's a c1860 gent with badger sporran and spats. Spats, like glengarries and long hair sporrans, had absolutely no specifically military associations. (Note also the multitudinous pockets, another typical Victorian feature.)

Here are two groups of civilian pipers in mixed 'day' and 'evening' dress, most with long hair sporrans, the upper photo from c1870 and the lower photo towards the end of the 19th century.

Highland dress, for no apparent reason, after nearly a century of Victorian stability, underwent a near-total transformation around the Great War period.

The long hair sporrans, worn in all modes of civilian Highland Dress c1840-c1920, were suddenly and entirely replaced by an entirely new suite of sporrans. My theory is that these were inspired by the small brown leather pocket-shaped sporrans introduced in the British army for Officers (and less often Other Ranks) in WWI.

Here, in a catalogue from the 1930s. Brown leather pocket-shaped (complete with flap) sporrans were for Day Dress, seal-skin sporrans with silver top for Evening Dress.

The new civilian Highland Dress was simple and sleek. Nearly all the accessories worn in Victorian Highland Dress (sword belt, dirk belt, sword, dirk, pair of steel pistols, powder-horn, etc) were done away with. Here is the new civilian Highland costume c1930

The contrast with full Victorian Highland Evening Dress is quite astounding

And, the Highland Dress seen in the 1930s has remained largely unchanged until today.

But yes, from the post-WWII era until now long hair sporrans have been mostly the provenance of the military, and civilian pipe bands choosing to wear military-style kit.

Because up through the 1970s civilian pipe bands generally wore either military-style Full Dress (feather bonnets etc) or civilian Evening Dress (Montrose jackets, tartan hose, buckled shoes, etc).

The City of Dundee Pipe Band in civilian Evening Dress

1980, non-Army pipe bands still wearing Full Dress in competition

proud Mountaineer from the Highlands of West Virginia; Son of the Revolution and Civil War; first European settlers on the Guyandotte

Last edited by pancelticpiper; 05-02-2020 at 09:40 PM.
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Old 05-03-2020, 12:38 AM   #3
Dakota Lewis
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Default Re: perceptions on horse hair

wow seriously thank you, I have like no historical knowledge so this is all new information to me. I really appreciate the inclusion of pictures as well it's very helpful, I feel not only justified but inspired. The Victorian Highland Evening Dress is next level, it's like ultimate gentleman warrior I love it!
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Old 05-03-2020, 05:02 AM   #4
Adam Sanderson
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Default Re: perceptions on horse hair

Fascinating photos from pancelticpiper, but of course we are looking at the high end of fashion. There are many remnants of sporrans in Scottish museums that are plain, simple leather bags, dating from the late 1600's These are well used, tatty, and often not suitable for display because of this. Two fairly well preserved examples have still some of their contents inside, oatmeal and broken bits of oatcake. So, early evidence suggests that sporrans were used to carry foodstuffs among the poorer highlanders.
I'm not working at the moment due to Covid 19 restraints, but when I do, I am looking at this fellah everyday.
It's a good example of what's not often discussed, only the less well off used sporrans, the wealthy had a retinue of doofers to carry their belongings for them. Mungo Murray has no sporran, but his servant does, a plain leather bag.
The peak of the Victorian "Celtic Romantic" period, in which Highlanders were simultaneously romanticised while being ethnically cleansed, was 1852 to 1885. It was around this time that the sporran became a fashion accessory for the fashionistas of the day, usually without any highland connections, and that which was previously a utilitarian foodstuff container for the travelling clansman, became not only a purse, but also a hot fashion accessory for the followers of trends. The biggest sporran maker of the time was not located in Scotland, but in Knightsbridge, London, not far from Buckingham Palace. A photography studio specialising in "Highland Portraiture" was located in Kensington, London.
The growing size of the sporran has been much commented on as being similar to the development of the codpiece, originally a simple flap of cloth worn by the poor, then taken up by the wealthy in the late 1400s and much enlarged and decorated as a phallic symbol, (it was also known as the "bragger", for obvious reasons).
The uniforms worn by the Highland regiments of the British army at this time have been described as parodies of actual Highland wear, much in the same way that the sequin and rhinestone bedecked country and western singer bears little resemblance to the actual 18th century frontier cowboy. However, due to the vast global influence of the British empire, it became accepted as Highland dress and much imitated.
In present day Scotland, it's really very rare to see a horsehair sporran outside of the military. From my own memory, I'd say the decline started in the 1970's, when Number one uniform also started to decline among civilian bands. To surmise, horsehair sporrans are a fashion accessory, (many have no pockets, and are basically dummies). They are not considered exclusively for military use, but they are rarely seen outside of the military. 40 or 50 years ago, it would have been different.
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Old 05-03-2020, 07:16 AM   #5
K Sanger
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Default Re: perceptions on horse hair

Talk of the devil as the saying goes. This item, unfortunately without the very good scan of the actual document which was used for illustration, comes from the latest 'Retour', the newsletter of the Scottish Records Association. It would seem here that the 'purse' was optional

Highland Dress in the 1680s

Earlier this year Glasgow Museums purchased a portrait of Lord Mungo Murray (1668-1700), painted in 1683 by the artist John Michael Wright (1617-94), which was widely reported in the media, for example on the BBC news: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotla...-west-51378661 Keith Sanger noted the similarity in the highland dress worn by Lord Murray and that ordered by Dugald Campbell in 1685. Purchases of highland clothing, especially plaids and shoes, feature regularly among the accounts and receipts among the family papers in the collections of National Records of Scotland. What is unusual in this group of payments from the papers of the Campbell family, Earls of Breadalbane (Breadalbane Muniments), listed for 15 July 1685 is that what might be termed a full highland dress was apparently being bought together. The only thing lacking being a gun, though a powderhorn was included. Dugald Campbell, the person for whom they were being bought was probably the same man of that name who was the Breadalbane Chamberlain at that period. The fact that he was apparently going to wear the cloths in London may, it has been suggested by Hugh Cheape, be connected to the coronation of James VII.

Detail from Duncan Campbell’s instructions crop, 1685, listing Dugald Campbell’s Highland dress (Breadalbane Muniments, National Records of Scotland, GD112/15/39A/1) Transcription courtesy of Keith Sanger

Mor for a highland plaid to Dugall Campbell at London 12 : 00 : 00
Mor for 10 quarters blew Cloth for a short Coat 03 : 06 : 08
Mor for 3 ells 1 quarter fyne tartan to ye trews & hoss 02 : 14 : 00
Mor for fynes gartes 00 : 13 : 04
Mor for a durk knyfe & sheath to it 03 : 00 : 00
Mor for a poutherhorn & belt 04 : 16 : 00
Mor for a bonet & 9 ells ribban to ye plaid & coat 02 : 18 : 00
Mor for 1 belt & purse 01 : 16 : 00
Mor for Lorn broges being 2 pr Cut out 02 : 18 : 00
Mor for a targe 06 : 00 : 00
Mor for a broad sword 09 : 00 : 00
The prices were in £-shillings and pence Scots money.

In the early piping competitions a 'sporran mollach' or hairy sporran was used as one of the prizes. That was in the days when a bagpipe was given as first prize, a pistol for second and the sporran for third. That might have been a factor in it's general adoption by pipers.

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Old 05-03-2020, 07:30 AM   #6
Mac an t-Sealgair
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Default Re: perceptions on horse hair

That was interesting, thanks!
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Old 05-03-2020, 07:50 AM   #7
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Default Re: perceptions on horse hair

Fantastic Keith, thank you. A strong link to the clothes being bought to impress the Londoners. The painting has been on display on loan for a long time, naturally I'm delighted it's now museum property.

Visitors often ask "But weren't these clothes impractical for the highlands?".

Perhaps with this information the answer might be yes, but they were great for strutting around St James Park.
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Old 05-04-2020, 07:10 AM   #8
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Default Re: perceptions on horse hair

From observations, posts, and responses on Kilt forums, including those groups proclaiming they are strictly "traditional"....

It seem you can pretty much wear the tartan and accessories you want to wear as you see fit to wear them. I've even seen crocs with kilts. :-(

While my preferences for Highland Wear are much more conservative (not a cargo or utili-kilt fan),

I am surprised at the many comments from non-USA folks who are very vocal about the preference for "anything goes".

But then, there is this:

"Now you will come across individuals in Scotland and the States who can be likened to barrack-room lawyers who seem to know everything about what you should and shouldn't wear and how you should do it. They want to preserve the old fashioned image of Highland dress and will regale you with their 'regulations' at the drop of a hat. Listen politely but don't be intimidated. Highland dress isn't preserved in aspic, it's a living, evolving fashion and adding one's own distinctive touches to it prevents us all becoming homogenised. . . . as long as the touches don't belittle the dress that you're wearing and cause offence to others who hold their heritage dear."

Anyways - Dakota Lewis, if you are indeed brave enough to daily wear a kilt, then just rock the outfit as you see fit.
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Old 05-04-2020, 08:59 AM   #9
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Default Re: perceptions on horse hair

I usually just tell the Barrack-room Lawyers that the Tartan Police do not have jurisdiction in our Commonwealth.
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Old 05-04-2020, 10:18 AM   #10
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Default Re: perceptions on horse hair

Originally Posted by Klondike Waldo View Post
I usually just tell the Barrack-room Lawyers that the Tartan Police do not have jurisdiction in our Commonwealth.
..and on that note,..sort of,..ever notice how some of the royals play dress up..Prince et al....sometimes look like they dressed in a dark closet grabbing whatever the first thing their hand touched,..over done,mismatched, memorabilia or bits’nbobs... like the Batman might have been on a tea break.
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