The suit of Highland dress acquired from Gordon Nicolson Kiltmakers, Edinburgh, captures the company’s distinct approach to Highland wear for hire. The hire package centres on the ‘John Muir Way’ tartan, a pattern designed by and available exclusively through Gordon Nicolson Kiltmakers. The pattern commemorates the opening of a 134-mile coast to coast walking and cycling path from Dunbar to Helensburgh in 2014, named after conservationist John Muir. The colours chosen to create the tartan are an ode to the coastline of East Lothian, echoing its red stone cliffs, bright blue seas and skies, and the greens and browns of the surrounding countryside.
The advent of the hire industry in the late 20th century made quality Highland wear accessible to more people than ever before. By renting an outfit, consumers could enjoy wearing Highland dress for a special occasion without committing themselves to a purchase. Today, hire packages represent the most common Highland wear experience in Scotland. To stand out within a competitive marketplace, many retailers now offer exclusive tartan designs which communicate specific cultural or personal themes or reflect the fashions of the moment. The organic colourway of the ‘John Muir Way’ tartan, for example, speaks to a marked preference for muted, natural tones within contemporary Highland wear.
In 2021, kiltmaking was placed on the Heritage Crafts Association’s Red List of Endangered Crafts. The kilt in this outfit was made by Victoria Brady, a recent graduate of the Edinburgh Kiltmakers Academy. Established in 2016 by Gordon Nicolson Kiltmakers, the Academy offers tuition in traditional handsewn kilts, with the aim of creating an industry standard and encouraging the next generation of craftspeople to enter the trade.
Semi-formal day sporran by W.E. Scott, Edinburgh, retailed as part of a Highland dress hire outfit by Gordon Nicolson Kiltmakers, Edinburgh, 2023
Sgian dubh of African blackwood and Damascus steel, made by Kilberry Bagpipes, Edinburgh, 2023
Pair of brown ghillie day brogues from Thistle Shoes, Glenrothes, retailed as part of a Highland dress hire outfit by Gordon Nicolson Kiltmakers, Edinburgh, 2023
Stag head kilt pin by Norman Milne, Livingston, on a kilt of ‘John Muir Way’ tartan designed by Gordon Nicolson Kiltmakers, Edinburgh, 2023
‘Nicolson’ tweed by Lovat Mill, Hawick, used in a day wear Highland dress jacket retailed by Gordon Nicolson Kiltmakers, Edinburgh, 2023
Highland dress hire outfit, retailed by Gordon Nicolson Kiltmakers, Edinburgh, 2023