Le Repas du Chat, Paris, 1815
Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day
Today's Musings, History & Folklore
"I see London
I see France
I see someone's underpants!"
~ Traditional (Schoolyard)
The question of whether or not anything is worn under the kilt was of such great interest amongst the French populace when Scottish battalions were quartered in Paris there after the battle of Waterloo, that this eternal question was a set forth in a series of humourous sketches from 1815. It is unknown exactly why the practice of wearing no undergarments under the kilt began, but many sources indicate it originated with the Scottish military uniform in the 18th century, leading to the invention of such expressions as "go regimental" or "military practice" for the wearing no underwear. For civilians, the term "True Scotsman" is used humorously for the same practice. The history of underwear (or lack of it) provides a fascinating sociological study spanning ancient times to this day, with styles and individual garments changing to reflecting social status, health concerns, sexual or subversive signaling, and up to the minute fashion.
Today is Underwear Day! From the loincloth to lingerie, underwear has a deep fascinating cultural history with diverse influences.
Kilts have been traditionally worn without undergarments since their use as part of Scottish military uniform, leading to the invention of such expressions as "going regimental" or "military practice" or "True Scotsman" for wearing no underwear.
Historically, attempts to verify a "True Scotsman" exist in humorous French prints which proliferated during the encampment of the Highland Regiments in the Bois de Boulogne while Paris was occupied after the Battle of Waterloo, the short kilts of the soldiers capturing the imagination of local artists.
The most well known of these illustrations, Le Prétexte, was done when the Scottish regiments bivouacked in 1815 in the Champs Élysées. Their kilts caused a sensation among Parisian women. In the illustration, two Highlanders stoop over the fruit displayed on the ground by a young peasant girl (right) seated on her basket. One bargains; she holds up two fingers. He wears a sergeant's stripes with a flag and crossed swords. Both wear large feathered bonnet, short kilt, and tartan socks. Two comely and well-dressed Parisiennes seated on chairs under a tree (left), make pretexts to stoop and thus see under the Highlanders' kilts: one rolls a ball for a small child; the other stoops over the cross-gartering of her shoe.
Le Repas du Chat ou Honi soit qui mal y pense ("The cat's meal or Shame on whosoever would think badly of it") shown above is another satirical illustration showing a Highland soldier holding up his kilt to hold the chestnuts that he is buying from a French street vendor while a cat jumps up under his kilt (September 1815).
Les Éccossais à Paris ou La Curiosité des Femmes shows the continued fascination of Highland Dress amongst the ladies of Paris. Of this time period, Sir Walter Scott wrote: “The singular dress of our Highlanders makes them particular objects of attention to the French.” An account of the occupation of Paris recounts that the Emperor of Russia requested a sergeant, a piper, and a private of each of the Highland regiments to parade before him in the Elysée Palace. He was particularly interested in Sergeant Thomas Campbell’s hose, gaiters and legs. After pinching the sergeant’s skin, ‘thinking I wore something under my kilt,’ Campbell lifted his kilt ‘so that he might not be deceived.'”
For more on the Scots Guards during the Napoleonic wars, click the famous "Le Pretexte", showing the ladies of Paris attempting to verify the age old question.