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Bagpiper in Highland dress
A Horsehair sporran

The sporran (/ˈspɒrən/; Scottish Gaelic for "purse"), a traditional part of male Scottish Highland dress, is a pouch that performs the same function as pockets on the pocketless kilt. Made of leather or fur, the ornamentation of the sporran is chosen to complement the formality of dress worn with it. The sporran is worn on a leather strap or chain, conventionally positioned in front of the groin of the wearer.

Since the traditional kilt does not have pockets, the sporran serves as a wallet and container for any other necessary personal items. It is essentially a survival of the common European medieval belt-pouch, superseded elsewhere as clothing came to have pockets, but continuing in the Scottish Highlands because of the lack of these accessories in traditional dress. The sporran hangs below the belt buckle; and much effort is made to match their style and design. The kilt belt buckle can be very ornate, and contain similar motifs to the sporran cantle and the Sgian Dubh. Early sporrans would have been worn suspended from the belt on one or other of the hips, rather than hung from a separate strap in front of the wearer.

When driving a car, dancing, playing drums, or engaging in any activity where a heavy pouch might encumber the wearer, the sporran can be turned around the waist to let it hang on the hip in a more casual position.[1][2]

Sporran types[edit]

A man wearing tartan, including a large sporran (Russell) NLW3363120

Day sporrans[edit]

Day sporrans are usually brown leather shovel pouches with simple adornment. These "day" sporrans often have three or more leather tassels and frequently Celtic knot designs carved or embossed into the leather.

Dress sporrans[edit]

Dress sporrans can be larger than the day variety, and are often highly ornate. Victorian examples were usually quite ostentatious, and much more elaborate than the simple leather pouch of the 17th or 18th centuries. They can have sterling or silver-plated cantles trimming the top of the pouch and a fur-covered face with fur or hair tassels. The cantle may contain intricate filigree or etchings of Celtic knots. The top of the cantle may have a set stone, jewel, or emblems such as Saint Andrew, a thistle, Clan, or Masonic symbols.

Semi-dress sporrans[edit]

Semi-dress sporrans are in the same shape and design as the day-wear sporran, but feature a fur covering to the body of the sporran as well as fur tassels. They are often decorated by metal stud work or highly ornate metal castings on the tab.

Animal mask sporrans[edit]

Animal mask sporrans are made from the pelts of mammals such as the badger, otter, fox, kangaroo mouse, pine marten, or other small animals, with the head forming a flap that folds over the front and closes the opening at the top of the sporran.

Horsehair sporrans[edit]

Horsehair sporrans are most often worn as a part of regimental attire. Pipers will often wear the most flamboyant sporrans with long horsehair that swishes from side to side as the piper marches.

Sporran materials and the law[edit]

As sporrans are made of animal skin, their production, ownership and transportation across borders can be regulated by legislation set to control the trade of protected and endangered species. A 2007 BBC report on legislation introduced by the Scottish Executive stated that sporran owners may need licences to prove that the animals used in construction of their pouch conformed to these regulations.[3]

In 2009, European politicians voted to ban the sale of seal products putting an end to the use of seal in sporran production. [4]

However several of the species listed in the BBC article are not covered by the Habitats Directives of the legislation, and of the over 100 different animals listed by the legislation only a few, such as otter, have ever been associated with sporran construction. Most common sporran skins are not controlled or regulated animals in regards to this legislation.[5]


  1. ^ "Kilts & Tartan Made Easy". Retrieved 2007-12-29. 
  2. ^ "Formal Pipe Band Dress Instruction" (PDF). Retrieved 2006-11-23. 
  3. ^ "Sporran wearers may need licence". BBC News. 2007-06-24. Retrieved 2007-06-25. 
  4. ^ "End of traditional sealskin sporran under EU ban". The Telegraph. 2009-05-06. Retrieved ~~~~~.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  5. ^ "The Truth Behind The Myths Of The Sporran Licence". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-07-23. 

External links[edit]