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What does a Lady Piper Wear anyway?

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  • What does a Lady Piper Wear anyway?

    I am relatively new to the piping world, but I will eventually want to play for some formal events. I haven't invested in any formal scottish wear because I am not really sure what a girl piper is supposed to wear. Do I need a kilt? A tartan skirt? Flashes? Do I just dress like all of the guys? What do I do? I would like to go ahead and take the plunge and buy whatever I would be expected to wear when I play an event, but I just need a little help figuring out what all that entails.

    Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    Don't ask my neighbors about my piping skills. They don't know...

  • #2
    The good news is that you have a lot more choice than we do...the bad news is, well, you have a lot more choice than we do :-/

    One option to simply dress as the guys do, and some people do this very successfully. At the same time, I think it's fair to say it doesn't suit everyone. To some extent, there is also the factor that dressing this way can be seen as a statement of purpose, of wanting to be seen as on on a level with the men.

    At the other end of the scale, there is the tartan skirt and blouse approach, which looks professional and if it's good enough for Gold Medal winners, well...! It also has the advantage of being cheaper and more comfortable.

    Occasionally, and I'm hoping others can provide more concrete examples, I've seen in recent years a sort of slightly hybrid approach, with a sort of male outfit but with a feminised cut, lighter fabrics, and so forth. For what it's worth, I think this looks very professional, though it can't come cheap.

    Another style is what I'd categorise as "ladies pipe band" outfit, rare now but common up until the 70s/80s, which was again a sort of feminised evening dress, generally with quite a lot of lace, velvet, and dress tartan. It does look spectacular but a bit over the top for many dress codes nowadays.

    The last category that I can think of is the (frankly) sexualised look (short kilts, high heels, and glengarry struggling to contain hair), which again works in certain times and places but perhaps not on formal occasions or on the competition field. While I don't like telling people how they can or should look, I do think these kinds of outfits can really misrepresent piping in general and perhaps be off-putting to people who might otherwise be interested in learning.
    -- Formerly known as CalumII


    • #3
      Hi Melodie,

      I would encourage you to start looking but hold off on buying anything till you need to. I am not sure of your future plans but if you play in a band, they will likely have a uniform they expect you to wear. Most bands provide at least some of the uniform and you may be expected, for example, to buy shoes, shirts and hose to match.

      Other than that, I am a fan of Calum's third option above. When my wife used to pipe, she wore the band uniform in band, but for solo gigs, she had a custom made pleated skirt (pleated to sett) that was lighter than a kilt and fit women better than most kilts. She also usually passed on wearing the sporran or Glengarry and variably wore either nylons and women's shoes with a low heel, or hose and gillie broques depending on the occasion. A plain white women's blouse and sometimes a tailored vest would round it out. She has also piped in a mid calf length plain navy dress with a tartan fly plaid and broach, (the kind dancer's use, not a No.1 Dress piper's plaid).

      There really aren't a lot of rules unless you are playing for specific organisation that has their own.

      Best regards,
      Last edited by Kevin; 02-01-2021, 10:21 AM.


      • #4
        Melodie it's changed so much over the years! Now there are so many more women in piping, and in pipe bands they wear the same uniform as the men.

        Back in the old days, and this was still around when I started playing, women played in separate pipe bands called "Ladies' Pipe Bands".

        They usually wore outfits like this. The Ladies' pipe bands always seemed to wear those high blocky buckled shoes, which must have been hard to march in.

        Now you're probably saying "what ridiculous frilly outfits!" but back in the day many men's pipe bands dressed like that too. That look was vary popular in the 1940s and 1950s for some reason.

        Also back in the day both mens and womens pipe bands sometimes wore military style Full Dress or Number One Dress, here's a ladies pipe band in the 1940s dressed like that.

        Around the 1970s and 1980s pipe bands abandoned those oldfashioned outfits and began wearing simpler more comfortable outfits like we still wear today.

        Men and women started playing in the same bands, and all started wearing the same uniforms. Look at the front rank of this pipe band, every other piper is female.

        Last edited by pancelticpiper; 02-06-2021, 06:01 AM.
        proud Mountaineer from the Highlands of West Virginia; Son of the Revolution and Civil War; first European settlers on the Guyandotte


        • #5

          Greetings, Melodie... and... Welcome to the Forum!!,

          I am in concurrence with all of the above thoughts and
          observations... and shall add yet another... "Lucky You!!...
          You get to wear... what ever Th' Devil... You May Wish!!"

          As with all else in The Piping Game... simply let your good
          sense... good taste... and cognizance of your surroundings...
          along with sometimes requested advice from others... guide
          you through your many future engagements...

          And... have a roarin' Grand Time of it!!
          (Ain't nothin' like it!!... Ain't nothin' better!!

          Regards and... All the Best!!


          My friends all know,
          With what a brave carouse...


          • #6
            I remember Faye Henderson playing in gold medal events in a long dress. I thought, "Awesome!" More power to her!
            Here's an example:

            Now, if you are getting paid to do an event, you there are certain expectations for the outfit. If I were to show up at graveside wearing a suit and tie—while formal—the family who hired me would likely be disappointed. It's expected that you get a piper who looks the part . . . so beware varying too far from the typical pipe band appearance. Eventually, if you get serious about getting hired out for performances, then you might want to offer your clients a few different attires. Some pipers offer a full #1 outfit, a Prince Charlie outfit, and more pipe band look with either vest or kilt jacket. I suspect most of us don't have nor give a lot of such options.

            Andrew T. Lenz, Jr. • BDF Moderator
   - Reference for Bagpipers


            • #7
              In a band setting you won't have a choice and for other events you will want to "look the part" and dress appropriately for the event. Are you playing at a grave-side? A pub night? A charity marathon? Graduation? A superbowl party? A solo contest?

              Traditional attire comes in a variety of orders of dress as Andrew mentioned above. Personally I would avoid "number one" unless you are in the military or police, or it is a band uniform.

              I have never worn a pleated skirt or ruffles or anything like that (that isn't something I see around here nor am I inclined that way). I don't consider a kilt or jacket etc as male or female. It is just the uniform. You can adjust for the event, but the foundation is the same.

              That said, if a pleated skirt pantyhose, pumps and ruffles are your thing (and the person who hires you doesn't mind) -- go for it. As wonderful as Faye Henderson is, I doubt she would show up to play at a wedding wearing a ballgown.

              This your journey and you will begin to see the options and expectations. Explore which boundaries you can push and which are carved in stone.
              Stephanie Allen


              • #8
                Simply put...whatever she wants, or, whatever is required for solos for her association or her band.
                Laura J. Neville, creator of The Inverness Poncho - raingear that fits in your sporran! And, The Airy Glengarry (TM) - the world's first and only breathable mesh glengarry!
                Available for sale here:


                • #9
                  I'm a lady, I wear "ladies wear" to compete in solos. It consists of a made to measure full pleats, medium weight kilt. It's the same as most gents would wear in terms of weight and length etc. A plain blouse/shirt with a collar and long sleeves which I button when playing piobaireachd (if I remember!!), Tights (pantyhose?) and good quality black leather shoes that are similar to a gents lace up brogue but lighter, the heavier brogue would look too heavy with tights and probably wouldn't fit. I usually have a jacket with me that I can wear if organisers require it, or if it gets cold. I've often been told I have it easy with what I wear but it comes with it's own problems. I don't have a sporran to keep valuables in, or pockets. Tights are delicate and I can't "layer up" with a waistcoat and jacket, I also don't have a glengarry to keep the worst of the rain off my hair which I sometimes end up eating while I'm playing.
                  I have worn the full band uniform when playing with bands but I can't ever see myself wearing it in solos. Should I ever need to though I could pull together the ghillie brogues, socks, flashes, sporran and even a tie. I might just need to raid my husbands wardrobe for some of it.
                  I was once told that judges wouldn't take me seriously if I wore ladies wear, I can't say I've ever felt that the way I'm dressed is an issue, some have even gone out of their way to comment favourably on it.
                  Wear what's comfortable and works for you and as said above, just check with your association because some do require a more band uniform approach, I don't know how set in stone that would be though.


                  • #10
                    All of this information is so helpful. It at least gives me a direction in which to go.

                    The variety of looks and options make choosing a bit difficult indeed. I am hoping that I'll eventually have enough experience to play with our "local" pipe band, and for that, the uniform will of course take care of itself. I expect I will probably just go ahead and invest in a blackwatch or clan neutral kilt and some of the accoutrement just so I can look the part if I do ever get asked to play, and whenever I get to the point of competing. I'll do a bit of research to see if there are any dress requirements for my area.

                    The choice is definitely a blessing and a curse.

                    The next question is...where do I find all of this fun stuffs? Anyone have any recommendations for sites to buy shoes and jackets and such?
                    Don't ask my neighbors about my piping skills. They don't know...


                    • #11
                      You might develop a relationship with your nearby band now. Bands are nearly always looking for new members and sometimes are willing to help new pipers/drummers along. They might even be able to loan you a kilt for a weekend performance, but I'd at least take the step of contacting them and tell them about your hope to join them.

                      Andrew T. Lenz, Jr. • BDF Moderator
             - Reference for Bagpipers


                      • #12
                        Faye Henderson, competing at the highest levels, has chosen not to dress in men's attire.


                        • #13
                          There used to be a ladies' pipe band around here called "The Heather Belles" if I remember correctly. I remember seeing them in some parades I used to march in (stroll, really, Tad Jazz bass tended not to march really) back in the 70's before I was a piper.
                          They wore long tartan skirts and vests similar to what Highland Dancers wear.
                          Slainte Leibh/ Slan Leat, Bob Cameron


                          • #14
                            I like the professional look of a standard kilt, ghillies, piper hose, vest, argyle jacket etc myself (I'm a bass drummer, not a piper). But, women have a little more wiggle room at times.

                            Ann Gray used to wear a sleeveless button front shirt in a complimentary color to her kilt in the summer that looked pretty smart. I'm sure for the big competitions she was more traditional, but for many outdoor solos, it was a smart choice. Bagpipe.News had a 2 part article on Women in Piping (March 8 & 9, 2020), and accompanying photos of various types of outfits.


                            Sarchasm (n): The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.