Going in Style

Dressing for the Highland Games can be almost as much fun as attending them. That’s because the Games offer visitors a chance to wear their Celtic hearts on their sleeves–and elsewhere. Melanie Furlong talks to some games-goers about their sartorial favourites.


Lisa Risley loves attending the Highland Games around her Nova Scotia home. “We have a ball at Games,” the owner of the Plaid Place in Halifax, Nova Scotia’s capital city, told Celtic Life International. “They are such a great celebration of our heritage.”

Risley’s favourite Games outfit is a tartan kiltie, T-shirt and flip flops. “I live in it all summer,” she said. “If it’s raining, it’s a kiltie and rubber boots. But I’ve learned my lesson and now wear shorts underneath. You know, the kilties are only 20 inches long.”

While kilties are popular with the younger ladies, you may see other Games attendees in everything from traditional kilts to full ancient dress or clan-crested T-shirts. Wearing clan-crested jewellery is a traditional way to proclaim your Scottish heritage. Some use clan-crested badges to pin a square of tartan wool to their jackets while other ladies pin their sashes with them.


Innis Campbell always wears a kilt to the Games, but how it’s worn depends on what he’s doing. “If I’m piping, I wear an Argyle outfit with my kilt: Argyle jacket; sporran; belt buckle; hose and ghillie brogues,” said Campbell, who owns the The Scottish Lion store in Halifax. “If I’m doing other activities I like to wear a golf shirt with my kilt, but everything is the same from the waist down. It could be a regular golf shirt or have our company name or Scottish tartan crest of some kind.”

Men who don’t have a kilt in their closet often wear clan T-shirts, golf shirts or sweatshirts and many wear tartan ties. “If it’s cloudy, they might bring a tartan umbrella along,” said Campbell.

On cool days, a wooly tartan blanket is essential and classic fishermen’s knit sweaters worn with a gentleman’s kilt make for great casual wear. Tartan scarves made with worsted wool or lambs’ wool can be stylish and cozy any time of year. These are quite easy to find in all the main clan tartans.

Fun items you may see popping up around the Games include Jimmy hats – the tartan hats with red hair on the sides. “Some people might show up with those on as a gag,” said Campbell. “Another item that’s very popular is the Instakilt, which is a towel that looks like a kilt. It can be worn as a towel when the Games are close to a beach, or they are worn just for fun.

“Most people are going to the Highland Games because they want to celebrate their Scottish heritage,” Campbell added. “A lot of people will wear something that represents their clan like a clan crest, or an emblem on their hat or shirt. The gentlemen sometimes like to wear their Glengarry or Balmoral hats with a clan badge.”


Small children are often seen wearing adorable tiny kilts, tartan tam o’shanters or Celtic-themed T-shirts. Highland dancer Emma Townsend, 13, from Halifax, usually attends the Games ready to compete and loves to use a beautiful brooch she inherited from her great-grandmother to pin the scarf on her aboyne dress. “I like to wear it because it’s a pretty brooch, but also for sentimental reasons. It makes me feel like she is watching me dance.”

But when she’s not competing, Townsend would rather be seen in a custom-made tartan top from popular Nova Scotia designer Veronica MacIsaac. “I like the style of her shirts even if they weren’t tartan,” Townsend said. “But if I’m at the Games, I like to show some spirit.”