Underwear manufacturers have had it tough recently. First, there was the study suggesting that bras do not assist women to resist either the depredations of time or the law of gravity. Now a new study, published in the Scottish Medical Journal, suggests that men’s underwear contributes to infertility.
It turns out that those burly, kilt-clad, Scottish hammer throwers may be appealing to women on an instinctual and reproductive level, as well as purely aesthetics. Researchers at Erasmus University in Rotterdam discovered that the wearing of pants, which generally constricts male genitals, decreases sperm production; by contrast, the wearing of a kilt facilitates air movement and lowers testicular temperature, thereby increasing sperm counts.
The kilt, therefore, is the ideal garment for men during their fertile years. The study’s lead researcher, Erwin Kampanje, told the Daily Mail: “Men who regularly wear a kilt during the years in which they wish to procreate will, as a group, have significantly better rates of sperm quality and higher fertility.”
No wonder kilted men swing along confidently! No one could deny that the kilt is an impressive rig-out; it’s indisputably a scenic contribution to social intercourse. On any occasion, however formal, the smartest dress remains the kilt. At a recent wedding reception, I couldn’t help but notice how the few men resplendent in kilts stole the show.
In recent years, some Scottish kilt-for-hire companies have taken to imposing restrictions – specifically, customers are forbidden to (as it’s said) “go regimental,” which means following the ancient custom of wearing nothing under the kilt. One kilt-maker has written a clause into the lease agreement requiring that underwear be worn at all times. Another Edinburgh company requires that the kilt be dry cleaned before its return. Even though kilt-rental companies already dry clean their kilts before renting them out again, this was not enough; at this company, some employees apparently objected to handling a returned kilt even for the limited purpose of sending it to the dry cleaners.
The campaign against “going regimental” is fought under the banner of “hygiene,” a favourite rallying cry of the nanny state. One store manager in Scotland said: “From a personal point of view, I certainly would wear underwear with a hire kilt for my own hygienic reasons, and most hire companies do encourage it.” Perhaps the new medical findings will change his attitude.
The kilt originated as 16th-century battledress. Made of worsted wool, it originally included a cloak draped over the shoulder, as well as the more familiar short (or “walking”) kilt. After the defeat of the Scots fighting for Bonnie Prince Charles at the Battle of Culloden in 1746, and the subsequent pursuit and butchery of Highlanders by a savage Englishman, the Duke of Cumberland, the wearing of tartan or kilt was considered to be a sign of Jacobite sympathy, and it was outlawed. Only gradually, about three decades later, did the hairy knee slowly make its reappearance in the drawing rooms of polite Scottish society.
The tradition of wearing nothing beneath the kilt is also an ancient and honourable one, just the kind that modernists despise. In the First World War, regimental inspections of the Black Watch included walking over a mirror to ensure against cheating; an officer found wearing underwear was fined one bottle of port.
The tale is told (by the “voice of Scotland,” the late Kenneth McKellar) that, as one Highland regiment marched into a Scottish village, a woman watching from the sidelines turned to her neighbour and sweetly asked: “Tell me, is there anything worn under the kilt?” To which a marching soldier, on overhearing her, called out: “Nay, lassie, dinna fret – it’s all in good workin’ order.”
Now that scientific medicine can be recruited in the kilt’s defence, it remains to be seen whether there will be a spike in kilt sales. Any number of recent reports have raised international concern about declining male potency. Is it cheeky to suggest that at least a partial answer may lie beneath the wig, wig, wig, waggle of the kilt?
Ian Hunter is professor emeritus of law at Western University. His most recent book is That Time of Year.