True Scotsman is a humorous term used in Scotland for a man wearing a kilt without undergarments. Though the tradition originated in the military, it has entered Scottish lore as a rite, an expression of light-hearted curiosity about the custom, even as a subversive gesture.
However in 2010, the Director of the Scottish Tartans Authority, Brian Wilton, described the tradition of not wearing undergarments as "childish and unhygienic". In response, racing driver David Coulthard and some kilt manufacturers spoke in favour of the tradition, while MSP Jamie McGrigor and Wimbledon champion Andy Murray admitted to wearing underwear under their kilts.
Kilts have been traditionally worn without undergarments since their use as part of Scottish military uniform, leading to the invention of such expressions as "go regimental" or "military practice" for wearing no underwear. On the Western Front during the First World War, some Sergeants Major reportedly had mirrors tied to the end of golf clubs or walking sticks to inspect up and under the kilt at parade inspection. However, in 1940 the kilt was retired from combat due to the vulnerability of bare skin to chemical agents, although it was retained as the formal dress uniform of the regiments. In the 1950s, kilted soldiers on parade would be checked by the Sergeant Major using a mirror on the barracks floor. In 1997, a Black Watch soldier received wide press exposure, because of windy conditions during a military ceremony in Hong Kong.
However, Highland dancers and athletes are bound by the nature of their competitions to appropriately and modestly clothe themselves. In Highland Dance competitions and exhibitions, the regulations of the Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing (SOBHD) state regarding underwear: "dark or toning with the kilt should be worn but not white.". Highland athletes are also required to wear shorts of some type during competitions.
The kilt wearer is asked if he is a True Scotsman. He responds in the affirmative or negative. If affirmative, proof may be demanded, the nature of which can vary depending on the person and situation. If negative, confiscation of the offending undergarments may be demanded.
Given the popularity of kilts in the fantasy and reenactment communities, kilt inspections are common at large costumed events. Like "grape-diving", these inspections have a formalised "ritual", as performing a kilt inspection without consent could be considered a sexual assault.
In popular culture
- Non-Scots and those unfamiliar with kilts seeking to determine the truth of the "True Scotsman" tradition can leave themselves open to innuendo and double entendre, as innocent queries can be turned on the questioner; as with the question "Is there anything worn under the kilt?" being answered with examples such as "No, nothing is worn, everything is in perfect working order!" or "Yes, socks, shoes, and talcum powder," and "Yes, socks, shoes, and two shades of lipstick." Humorous "Kilt Inspector" and "Official Kilt Inspector" T-shirts can be purchased in Scottish tourist shops and online.
- In the film On Her Majesty's Secret Service, James Bond removes his kilt to seduce Ruby Bartlett. As it falls to the floor, she laughs and cries out, "It's true!".
- The plot of the sixteenth Carry On... film, Carry On Up the Khyber, revolves around the mishaps of a fictional Scottish regiment following the discovery that one of them, Private Widdle, is not a True Scotsman.
- In the Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch, "Ideal Loon Exhibition", one of the more popular attractions at the exhibition is the "Scotsman With Nae Trews Exhibit, Sponsored by Natural Gas". It features John Cleese, in full Highlander garb, standing solemnly on a pedestal whilst a line of old ladies come up one by one and take a look under his kilt.
- In the film Wrongfully Accused, Leslie Nielsen at one point dresses in a kilt to infiltrate a Pipe Band. He steps over a sewer grate blowing air a la Marilyn Monroe in the film Seven Year Itch, and noise similar to air being blown over an open bottle is heard.
- In the 1949 film, The Hasty Heart, Yank, played by Ronald Reagan, refuses to believe that nothing is worn under a kilt and during the film, there are several times where the soldiers try to look under the kilt of Richard Todd's character. In the end, someone looks under his kilt and everyone starts laughing, presumably Todd was indeed wearing nothing.
- http://www.neil-simpson.com/books.htm "He was singing on stage in Scotland and inadvertently proving he was a true Scotsman with nothing on underneath his kilt". Neil Simpson, excerpt from Lorraine Kelly: The Biography: The True Story of Lorraine Kelly, TV's Best Loved Presenter, May 31, 2007, Accessed May 12, 2008
- Royle, Trevor (January 14, 2001). "When a blue moon has more to do with the wind-chill factor". The Sunday Herald.
- "A kilt needs underwear". UK: The Telegraph. 2010-11-22. Retrieved 2012-08-21.
- http://gordonhighlanders1914-18.co.uk/uniform.html "He told her the battalion never wore them. She didn’t believe him, so before he returned she made him a pair – but on his first spell in the trenches they were done away with, and his mother’s work had gone for nothing."
- Naughton, Philippe (August 2, 2004). "Scots tradition hit by cover-up ruling". London: The Times. Retrieved 2008-05-12.
- http://gordonhighlanders1914-18.co.uk/uniform.html "Since most Highland soldiers had nothing but their bare skin under the kilt, they felt particularly exposed to attack by mustard gas."
- "Army's wartime bloomers revealed". BBC News. August 28, 2002.
- "Dress code" (PDF). Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing. Retrieved 2008-05-13.
- Hugo Rifkind (December 3, 2002). "Nice bit of skirts, lads". London: The Times. Retrieved 2008-05-12.
- "Dying Garry weds his bride Katie Campling". The Huddersfield Daily Examiner. February 11, 2008. Retrieved 2008-05-12.
- "How to assemble your OWN kilt-lifting kit". Retrieved 2008-05-15.
- "Have you ever given or received a kilt check?". Ren fair Quiz. Retrieved 2008-05-15.
- "All kilt wearers have experience of being attacked by wild females desperate to know what's underneath.". The Sunday Post. 7th Mar 2004.
- Monty Python's Flying Circus, episode 37, series 3