Say the word kilt and many people instantly get a mental picture of plaid. Plaid skirts worn by men with long white socks and bagpipes in their hands. We can even hear the bagpipes playing in our minds.
This mental image is understandable because the people who most often wear kilts today are those Scottish soldiers and loyalists who sport the colors of their clan in the weave of their kilts. And there’s usually a bagpipe or two in the near vicinity.
But kilt Native American style means something else entirely. Something with no bagpipes attached.
There was a time when the wearing of a kilt Native American style was a rather widespread practice. Most men and many women wore only loincloths (also called breechclouts) during the warmest time of the year. Loincloths were cool, allowed plenty of freedom of movement, and were, no doubt, as comfortable as they were functional for everyday wear.
When cooler seasons came, however, a little more cover was in order. Some Native Americans would strap on leggings to their loincloths for warmth. The leggings also served as protection against thorns, brambles, rocks, and other harsh elements likely to cause injury when the person was doing something dangerous.
Still others wore garments that look quite like the kilts we know today. They resembled skirts of varying length that were worn for warmth, protection, and ceremony, just as we wear the clothing we do today.
To make a kilt Native American people had leather available. They also wove fabric from the fibers pulled from certain barks, too. These garments would have been decorated in similar manner as their other clothing – rather plain and functional for everyday use but ornately decorated for ceremonial wear.
Try this experiment. The next time you hear the word kilt, erase from your mind the vision of Tartan plaid and the sound of bagpipes. Conjure up instead the smell of expertly tooled leather, the gentle beating of drums in the distance, and the sound of a wooden flute lilting through the air.