28 May History of: The Sporran
‘Is he wearing a skirt?’
Technically yes but the proper name for it is a kilt. For someone like me, born and bred in Scotland, it’s a vital piece of clothing that comes in many forms of tartan such as Campbell, Graham and McLean, to name a few.
On the kilt, you may notice a “wee pouch,” and that is called the Sporran. You may ask yourself where did it come from, and why do people use it? Let’s take you on a trip to the Scottish Highlands, and we’ll discover it together.
Say hello to twelfth-century Highland warriors. Their attire at the time was “bare-legged, with shaggy cloaks and a small bag.” A small bag could have a better name for it, but along came the word Sporran, which is Gaelic for the word purse. It’s a traditional part of the male’s Highland Dress and is very functional as well as decorative. Unlike other garments of clothing (trousers), the kilt didn’t have pockets, and so the Sporran was born out of necessity. When wearing kilts, sporrans are used instead of pockets, and they can be extremely handy to keep prized possessions in.
Let’s talk about design. A sporran has changed over time to become more practical; initially extremely simple in design, and gathered at the top by basic drawstrings. This feature has stayed consistent in the design of a sporran, and that is the tassels at the front. It has been told that they were featured initially to hit flies away from the food supplies that were kept inside the Sporran. When sporrans were first made, materials that were used were either leather or skin. A real trend for sporrans was deerskin and calfskin, which proved particularly popular. Simple in design, The Highlanders of the Western Isles often wore cloth pouches known as trews.
Sporrans from the fourteenth century and onwards are on show at many Scottish museums. Capture an authentic piece of Scottish heritage by admiring the history and evolution of the Sporran.
Travel back to the late seventeenth century and early eighteenth century. Sporrans at that time came with metal clasps, usually made from brass, or for clan chiefs. These types of sporrans often had flap-tops and large tassels, and they featured a variety of furs and hair such as fox and horse.
A great thing about wearing a kilt is the freedom to move. We’ve all heard stories about whether the person wearing one is a ‘True Scotsman’ or not, a sporran is worn at the front of your kilt and should sit centre to your waistcoat. It should be sitting just underneath your waistcoat, but not touching. The chain straps should always match the finish on your cantle – typically polished or matt pewter, and occasionally gold. The leather straps at the end of the chain strap fasten together at the back and are put through the kilt straps. Chain straps should always sit at the top of the belt buckles to ensure the Sporran does not fall.
Whether you’ve worn one before or if you’re interested to see what one is like on, wear it with pride and don’t be afraid to release your inner Scotsman.