Male Unbifurcated Garments – What Are They?

M.U.G.s – Male Unbifurcated Garments

Unbifurcated garments – including cassocks, albs, rochet, kilts, robes – are traditionally male clothing that have been worn by men throughout history. They have been worn by all the men in the Bible, by Roman gladiators, Vikings, and Scottish Highlanders. They are still worn frequently by men in Scotland, throughout Africa, the Middle East, parts of Asia, and the Pacific islands, to name just a few examples.  This is credited in large measure to the Highland missionary zeal of a bygone day when the Biblical fashion was carried into all the world and the British Empire painted schoolroom world maps red!  Unbifurcated garments are far more comfortable and suitable to the male anatomy than trousers, because they don’t confine the legs or cramp the male genitals the way that trousers do.

Although there was a relatively brief period in history when manhood was symbolized by the wearing of trousers, this is no longer the case. Today trousers have become unisexgarments that women wear most of the time. In North America, for example, a guy wearing blue jeans will find himself dressed the same as perhaps 90 per cent of the girls. If a man wishes to distinguish his masculinity through clothing, he would do much better by strapping on a cassock or alb or perhaps a real Scottish kilt.

Male unbifurcated garments (we’ll call them M.U.G.s for short) come in several forms. By far the most famous and well accepted is the kilt – especially the familiar Scottish variety, made of tartan wool and worn with knee sox and a pouch in front called a sporran.

This is perhaps the most ecumenical style.  The sporran provides a convenient place where the devout cleric may keep his Breviary and Rosary through the week.

Men’s kilts may also come in a variety of styles – solid colours, lighter weights, alternative fabrics – and may be worn with or without the traditional Scottish accoutrements.

The Clergy tartan has been described as the only occupational tartan. It is seen in a few variations, including a blue and a green version.  Why the different tartans? Do they represent different types of clergy? Let’s look at what we know.

There is a tradition that Highland clergy wore Highland clothing, but were instructed not to wear bright colours. Allegiance to Orders was primary over fidelity to hearth and the tartan worn would remind the cleric of a higher calling.  The first evidence we have of a tartan for clerics is from the records of the weaving firm Wilsons of Bannockburn, c. 1830.  They called their tartan of black, lavender, and light blue “Priest.”  Why they called it that is a subject of great ecclesiastical debate. Most likely they thought “Priest” was a suitable name for a tartan in muted colours that nobody else wanted to wear.

Tartan researcher James Logan next illustrated the design inThe Scottish Gael, published in 1831, under the more ecumenical name “Clergy.”  He changed the light blue and lavender of the Wilsons’ design to white and grey, and one pivot was different.  The tartan is next seen in The Authenticated Tartans of the Clans and Families of Scotland, published in 1850 by William and Andrew Smith. They attempted to reproduce the tartan as given by Logan, but with Wilsons’ colouration. However, there were problems with the production methods.  Sometimes lavender was mistakenly used for stripes that should have been black. And the light blue in some copies of the book turned out a green-grey. Variations occurred from one edition to the next, and sometimes between copies of the same edition.  If anyone wonders why there are often different versions of the same tartan in circulation, this sort of occurrence is usually to blame!

By 1850, and the publication of the Smiths’ work, the tradition had already been established that this was the tartan early worn by clerics.  They write, “Down till a very recent period, this pattern was generally used by the Clergy in the Highlands for their week-day habiliments; and even now the secular mantle or plaid of the priesthood in the North is not infrequently made of this, or similar kinds of stuff.”

The “Clergy” tartan was next illustrated by James Grant in 1886, in The Tartans of the Clans and Septs of Scotland. He used blue in place of lavender, including for two lines that should have been black, (apparently copying the error from one of the Smiths’ books). In his text, however, he says that the tartan was white, black and grey. This would indicate that he intended to illustrate the tartan from Logan’s work, but the publisher substituted a different illustration. In later editions of his book, the text described the tartan as dark blue, light blue, and black, but in the illustration this time light blue was rendered as green!

Lastly, in the first edition of The Setts of the Scottish Tartans, D. C. Stewart attempted to make a compromise between Wilsons’ and Logan’s settings.  This had the undesired effect of creating yet another variation.  In later editions this was amended.

Where does the Clark family tartan come into all this? Both “clergy” and “clark” – “clerk” –  have the same root in Latin – clericus.  The Clergy tartan seems to have been used by the Clark family for that reason.  In fact, in some nineteenth century records, the tartan is identified by both names.  The practice today that many tartan weavers follow of rendering the Clergy tartan in more muted tones than the Clark tartan is a convention adopted to allow for distinction between those wearing the tartan for family connections, and those wearing it because they are ordained ministers.

There is no such thing as a “right” or “entitlement” to wear a tartan.  However, when you wear a named tartan, you are identifying yourself with whatever that tartan represents.  As the “Clergy” tartan is widely recognized as representing the ministry, just ask yourself if you would feel comfortable wearing a Clerical collar, or a monk’s robes (another unbifurcated garment)!

The “Clergy” tartan does not represent any particular sect or denomination.  While it is perhaps most popularly used by ministers of the Church of Scotland (Presbyterians), there is no evidence to suggest that its use was ever limited to one group.  Keep in mind that until the Reformation of the sixteenth century, all of Scotland was Catholic.  Even after that time, the Highlands of Scotland remained Catholic much longer than the Lowlands. And while Presbyterians are most common among Protestants, you also have the Church of England, the Scottish Episcopal Church, and many other denominations in more recent times.  Yet the Clergy tartan was never mentioned in association with one particular sect.  It was always simply said to be used by “Highland Clergy.”

Any “Clergy” tartan can be worn by any cleric of any stripe. Many ministers and priests who wear their clan tartans, and a solid black kilt would look stunning with clerical dress.

In the case of the “Clergy” tartan, wearing this will imply to people that you are involved in ministry. Out of respect for those who actually are ordained clergy, most people would consider it very inappropriate for a non-minister to wear this tartan.

But for those in the ministry, any “Clergy” tartan will do. Just wear the one you like the best (though you will find that if you want anything other than the blue Clergy tartan, you may have to have the cloth woven – much like Henry Ford’s oft-quoted comment of the Model ‘T’, where you could get it in whatever colour you liked, as long as it was black).

Some hold that certain variations of the Clergy tartan are for Catholics and others are for Protestants. This is unfounded. The Clergy tartan has never been restricted for members of one particular sect or denomination. Of course the two main religious bodies in Scotland are the Presbyterians (Church of Scotland), and Catholics, followed third by Anglicans (Church of England).

The “Clergy” tartan can be worn by any man of the cloth! Not that members of the clergy have to wear “Clergy” tartan. Many ministers and priests wear their clan tartans. And a solid black kilt looks stunning with clerical dress. And one “Dark Douglas” kilt (Lochcarron’s black on black version of House of Edgar’s “Dark Isle” tartan) is worn by an Anglican priest, who wanted a solid black kilt, but also wanted a tartan.

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