A Celtic Prince

The Graduation Guide for Men's Highland Day Dress


Maurice Alexander | Sun, 8 Mar 2020


In June, the rays of the sun will be streaming through the chestnut trees bordering High Street, the spires of Kings Collage will stand silhouetted against the blue Summer sky and hundreds of people in shrouded in black gowns in all their neo-medieval splendour on the grounds of Elphinstone Lawn; Monday the 15th to Friday 19th of June will be the time hundreds of graduates celebrate in their academic success culminating after four years of hard work, effort and perseverance. However, beneath the coloured in the fabric of midnight, what do they wear? For a Scottish man, I make and appeal on why you should choose highland day dress with shimmering cufflinks and adorned in a crown of botanicals, as though you have emerged fresh from within the mystic otherworld.

Highland Day Dress

Outlined by the university’s website, principal emphasis is placed upon all graduates ordering a gown, robes, the hood appropriate to their school, and a trencher hat from Ede and Ravenscroft, with failure to obtain them consequentially resulting in the denial of graduation rites. After this, a list of approved men’s dresswear is provided from suits to military regalia to full highland day dress. For most, attending formal events is a rarity and there is ignorance regarding such terms, so I will explain them in simple terms. Evening wear is for ‘black tie’ events, a highly formal dress code of black suit jackets, shirt studs, trousers with each leg embellished with a satin strip with the hallmark of a silk bowtie. Day dress still commands formal attire, but permits great freedom of colour and accessories, with a traditional long tie in place of the bowtie.

Being in Scotland, the highland dress should really be the primary choice for men. Timeless, colourful, exuding majesty and the feel of heritage; all reasons why they should be chosen over the conventional suit, which you can wear regularly at work. Adorning yourself in ancestral clothing shows to all the other attendees you recognise the importance of the event and the additional effort for self-presentation it commands. Formal suits can be only three colours, black, charcoal and navy; all muted and common to see throughout life. At graduations, and similar events of heightened formality, the highland dress is appropriate, allowing you to present yourself in any colour from the spectrum, from the brightest reds to the deepest blues to the most serene greens to the most regal purples to provide a much greater amount of visual interest.

Highland day dress is typically rented for graduations, but an entire outfit can be tailored for you to purchase at kilt shops across the country for considerable, for most unaffordable, price. It is for these cost reasons highland day dress is typically rented for graduations. A popular, family-run, Aberdeen supplier is Millsom and Main Ltd of 41 by Union Terrace Gardens, who were so kind to spend an afternoon with me showcasing what they have to offer to the students of this university. Full highland day dress can be rented from them for a four-day period for the cost of £79.95, which supplies you with everything with the exclusion of skin-contact clothing articles like the shirt and socks which can be purchased alongside the rental.

Highland day dress is composed of a tweed jacket with a cord adorning its shoulders and three dark tortoiseshell buttons embellishing both the pockets and lower arms. These are paired with matching tweed vest with five tortoiseshell buttons, with the colours of these two articles of clothing complement the colours within the tartan fabric composing your kilt and tie. Tartan is referred to by their titles, which I find is terribly unhelpful as it fails to elaborate on their appearance. It is for this reason I have taken it upon myself to put into words their woven beauty.

Buchannan Blue

a songful arrangement of rich blues and indigoes contrasting well against darker blues and browns, with a thin white light weaving through it the cerulean pattern. Pairs well with the Midnight Navy tweed jacket.

Rose of Aberdeen

panels of slate grey and jet black punctuated by an interlocking magenta thread. Pairs with the Pheasant tweed jacket, a strong pink jacket that will herald your masculinity.

Grey Crombie

An absorbing palette of greys and blacks with subtle highlighting provided by threads with the colour of mist. Pairs with the Grandholm Grey tweed jacket and the Charcoal Tweed Jacket.

Dark Lochnagar

Another darker tartan of with black being the dominant colour, segmented with columns of granite silver, trickled with threads of muted heather. Pairs with the Charcoal Tweed jacket or the Grandholm Grey jacket. 

Rubislaw

Bands of vermillion, white and grey provide a bright contrast against the panels of black heavily featuring in this tartan. Pairs with the Red Pheasant tweed jacket or the Charcoal tweed jacket. 

Scotland the Brave

An intricate lattice of forest green, serene teal, soft lilac; a fabric capture of the morning sun shimmering on lake water during the natural flourish of Spring. Pairs with the Mallard Green tweed jacket.

Despite the colourful descriptions provided above, the best way to decide on tartan and jacket for you is to pay a visit to the shop so you can fully inspect and appreciate the design and shades of colour. Upon entering, kilts using the tartan fabric and their complementing jackets will be hanging up on the right side of the shop. You will be attended to by one of the staff who possesses a wealth of knowledge regarding highland dress, so I recommend surrendering yourself to their expertise. An important point to note is that Millsom and Main urge all interested persons to inquire and place a reservation as soon as possible, as you will undergo an initial fitting when you first book and a later fitting closer to the time of graduation to ensure a perfect fit. Also, the graduation period occurs at their biggest time of the year, wedding season, so you must book now if you want to have full availability of the tartans and jackets on offer.

Sporrans

Multiple booths line the left side of the shop displaying highland dress accessories and luxury sporrans. Sporrans are a traditional Scottish wallet that is laid over the front of the kilt, typically made of leather and fur. Sporrans of a simpler design are included with the rental package, but Millsom and Main do offer gorgeous sporrans for purchase. Purchasing full highland dress for permanent ownership typically costs well about £1000, but you can give a personal touch to your rented outfit by purchasing a sporran, which can be of seal pelt priced around £100, to red fox and raccoon priced around £250. It may seem like an unnecessary indulgence, but as Scotsmen, with our whole lives ahead of us and all the formal events we will have to attend, why would we not want to distinguish ourselves from the other attendees clad in a highland dress? A unique sporran of exemplary craftsmanship with its thick clouds of fur, shining silver tassels, bordered with fine leather embellished with traditional Celtic knotwork gives a sense of ownership to a temporary item and will be an admired addition to the rented highland dress.

Cufflinks

Graduation is a true right of passage and should be ushered in with an appropriate cultural artefact. In our everyday lives, we are accustomed to shirts with button cuffs, but for your graduation, I urge you to opt for a double-cuff shirt. Shirts with double cuffs are now reserved for formal events and add a touch sophistication to your outfit and contribute to the overall sense of occasion. These shirts have an elongated cuff that is folded back onto itself and is without buttons, being clasped between a cufflink.

Cufflinks are clasps with the duty of holding together your cuffs of double-cuff shirts and have been used an avenue of personal expression for men. Cufflinks come in many different forms; some very simple of coloured glass or polished stone, but they have been typically used to demote something important to the life of the wearer. Relevant to students, I think this would be a prime opportunity to treat oneself and get cufflinks whose morphology is related to the degree that will now shape their rest of their professional lives and of which they have an undying interest. Irrespective of their design, all cufflinks should ultimately be composed of the precious metal as it is unable to corrode or tarnish, they should be the only choice. Consider wearing cheaper, non-precious cufflinks; there could be nothing worse than spilling a drink onto the cufflinks and them corroding to marry your cuff with an enormous grey-green splodge, at which point you would have to leave the event.

One craftsman that provides a variety of tasteful, cufflinks of precious metal and varied, tasteful design is Simon Kemp. Kemp has been operating for over three decades supplying cufflinks with a huge range of realistic designs, all with crisp rendition. Graduating from the zoological sciences? Kemps offers an array of different species to capture your area of specialisation. Graduating from medicine? Why not embellish your cuffs with Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Vitruvian Man’? Cufflinks of the profile of Julius Caesar would be a perfect match for a history student with a passion for Ancient Rome. Have you spent a great deal of the last four years in the highlands hunting gamebirds amongst the lilac heathers? Simon Kemp has created beautiful grouse cufflinks to allow you to reminisce about your memories of this wonderful chapter of your life. These examples do not begin to touch upon all the different designs Kemp has to offer on his website, www.simonkempjewellers.com, at which you can easily purchase any cufflink of your choice in pure sterling silver, gold-plated silver or white gold and have it delivered to your address. Prices vary for each individual piece and your choice of precious metal, but it has never been so easy to add a touch of personal luxury to this special day and to capture your university experiences in a way you can take with your onward after graduation.

Flower Crowns

Living in a flourishing economy and with the newfound appreciation for the natural world, it is only fitting to enwreathe yourself with a botanical crown. A crown of flowers or foliage was common decoration throughout the ancient world, and with dressed in the ancestral costume of Scotland, it is only fitting to add to the authenticity with a crown of leaves and/or flowers.

Visiting ‘Flower Vogue’ of 34 Schoolhill by the Bon Accord shopping centre, the florists informed me that they supply a flower crown for a fee of £30. You do not have to know what leaves and/or flowers you would like to feature in the crown, as the florists will work with you to create a head-wreath of botanicals that will complement the colours of your outfit. The crowns can be as simple or complex as you wish and can be designed fully wrap around your head or terminate at the forehead similar to a Greek laurel wreath. 

Visit the florist and place an order a week or two in advance of the graduation date. If your floral crown is mainly composed of leaves, you can take it home the day before graduation and store it in a cool-temperature room to preserve its composition. If your crown is mainly flowers or you would prefer collect on the morning of graduation, they are ready for collection from 9am onwards or if you promise to collect them at 8am onwards they will open early especially for you.

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