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Are you man enough to bare your knees? If this year's Robbie Burns celebration is an all-out affair, or you have an upcoming wedding in the Highlands, consider a kilt instead of a suit. Here's what you need to know to pull it off.

Find your tartan

If you're of Scottish or Irish descent, your tartan represents your clan affiliation. Other options include district tartans, associated with particular regions of Scotland; The Queen's personal tartan, the Royal Stewart, which all her subjects may wear; or my personal favourite, the Rod Stewart-any red tartan paired with spiky, frosted-tip hair.

Check the length

A kilt should fall to the top or middle of the knee, and barely graze the floor when you kneel. "The most common fault is to see kilts 'hingin' doon' below the knees," claims the Scottish Tartans Authority, a plaid-promoting agency. "A good bit of flesh should be visible between hose top and kilt bottom."

Cover your tatties

The Scottish Tartans Authority condemns going commando for the inevitable upshot of strong breezes, enthusiastic dancing, and co-ed events. "Every time you wear a kilt, some person of the female gender is going to lift it up to see what you've got," says Richard Meldrum, an associate professor at the School of Occupational & Public Health at Ryerson University, who moved from Strathaven, Scotland, to Bradford, Ont., four months ago. Not to mention, wearing underwear is also more hygienic. "In quite a lot of places in the U.K. you can rent kilts, and you don't want to have things flapping underneath," he says.

Wrap it up

Many modern kilts are surprisingly easy to put on - without the folding, pleating, and horizontal floor manoeuvres required by the historical "great kilt." A formal kilt is worn with a simple dress shirt, tie and waist-length jacket. Made of at least eight yards of worsted wool, it wraps around the lower body only, and may be fastened with a few simple buckles.

Dr. Meldrum's dress kilt is a little more complicated. "It will go round my waist a couple of times before you actually make the final attachment," he says. "It's a kind of three-hand job, so I usually end up dropping it at some point."


Woollen socks or hose are worn with garters bearing small strips of your kilt tartan, called flashes. You can lace up a pair of authentic ghillie brogues, but any dress shoes will do. And don't forget the sporran, a leather bag that hangs from the waist at the front of the kilt, and is absolutely not a purse. It just happens to be a convenient place to hold small items. Like tissues and lip balm.

Reveal your weapons

"The tradition is that if you're going to someone's house, you take your knife from wherever it is concealed and put it in the top of your sock to show you're a friend. 'Here's my weapon; I'm not going to attack you,'" Dr. Meldrum explains.

Known as the skean dhu (sgian-dubh in Scottish Gaelic), this decorative but very real dagger is tucked into a sheath worn in the right sock - unless you're a southpaw, in which case it's tucked into your left sock.

And don't do this: Wear the pleats at the front instead of the back. That's a skirt, man.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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