In the mid 18th Century
most women in Scotland wore what women in the lowlands, England and the
rest of Western Europe were wearing. Often the only difference in
their dress was the occasional use of tartan for head scarfs, modesty
cloths, or petticoats.
Women wore a simple white shift (also known by the names chemise or sark,)
covered by striped, solid, (or less commonly) tartan or printed petticoats
(skirts.) Be very careful with prints as few are historically accurate.
Petticoats and aprons were not made with drawstring waists, they were
fitted and sewn to a tape. Women did not wear kilts/belted plaids.
Shifts did not have draw string necks and did not hang off the shoulders.
Over her shift a women wore a set of stays or jumps/jupps covered by a
sleeved garment like a day jacket, bed gown, casaquin, or short gown (depending
upon class.) A shift is also a nightgown and stays are a foundation
garment, both are underwear. In public a sleeved garment is necessary
over underwear. A modesty cloth, sometimes held closed by a broach,
was often worn around the shoulders and over (or tucked in at) the bosom.
Aprons were commonly worn, also sewn to a tape. Aprons sometimes
pinned up to cover the front of the jacket or gown as well. Pockets
(flat cloth bags on a string) were tied around a women’s waist and
worn under her petticoats or apron. Pockets are accessed through the slits
The so-called English or French “bodices” are ersatz stays.
Although often seen at some levels of living history events, the “bodice”
is not an authentic garment as designed, nor was it worn in this time
period. Do not wear these in public. A vaguely similar
item might have been used by very old women or nursing mothers as lightly-boned
stays, or was quilted and worn under the other clothes for warmth.
Even then it must be covered by a coat, jacket or gown in public.
Some classes of women wore sack gowns, mantuas or other full gowns.
A few women from western isles Clans (looked upon as Gaelic and behind
the times) may still have wrapped their entire ensembles, head to toe,
in a white tartan arisaid (an outer garment which could completely cover
all other clothes.)
Appropriate head covering is needed for all but young, unmarried girls.
Many kinds of white linen (or cotton) caps and kertches were worn. Hats
or shawls were worn over a cap. Women did not wear men’s Highland
bonnets. Typical 18th Century women’s straw hats were not
seen regularly on Highland women, and they did not wear their hair with
bangs. There was little time to fard, and make-up was rare outside
certain classes or professions.
Shoes for Highland women were either leather or wooden, and usually worn
with long stockings and garters. Many women went barefoot in all
but winter, or wore open gillies with or without socks. Better quality
shoes tied or had buckles. Like with men, shoes varied greatly with
class. Many women only wore shoes in church, putting them on at
Jewelry was not common to most Highland women. Broaches were usually
plain, round, and worn for function (clothing closure and attachment)
not fashion. Women did not wear decorative daggers protruding from
their bosom. Large numbers of necklaces, bracelets, and rings, were
The clothing of upper
class women was of much better quality, more varied, and the form followed
the function (riding habits to ride, bed gowns for your chambers, ball
gowns for parties.) Middle class women tried to keep up with style,
poor women wore what was most easily made. Girls also wore clothing of
a style appropriate to their social status.
Clothing was often an indicator of a woman’s place in society. Out
of her own home or yard a woman kept her stays and shift (underwear) covered
all the time. If you are portraying a prostitute, slattern or hoyden,
you might well dress for the part in uncovered stays. Recognize
that, by the standard of the day, you will be treated and addressed like
the 18th Century woman that you portray. Girls as young as 13 also
worked in camp, and all of these guidelines apply to them as well.
Parents, please think about how your daughters dress and what message
it sends about their avocation. Women, like men, should be appropriately
dressed when presented to His Royal Highness, or admitted to Royal functions.
Small children, boys and girls, wore shifts and not small versions
of adult clothes. [Think about the uncommonality of diapers, the lack
of indoor plumbing, the amount of time spent outdoors, no safety pins,
and the infrequency of doing laundry]. Many pictures show even the wealthiest
boys and girls dressed in shifts and/or gowns. Children were barefoot
most of the time. Older children wore clothing like their parents,
often handed down and taken-in. Small children often wore ‘puddin
or “bump” caps like a stuffed cloth version of a real early