I should talk about the kilt thing.
But what I want to talk about is working the kilt both, so let’s do a short version of ‘why kilts’. Or maybe not so short, this one seems to be getting longer and longer. Either way if you’re not interested in kilts, go back to google and search for some ugly pants.
I think of myself as Scottish, when I’m not thinking of myself as American. And thinking of myself as American is harder than ever these days. When I was a kid, the Vietnam war was on and Nixon was in the white house, and I’d plan for how I’d grow up to have to avoid the draft, and dream about becoming a revolutionary and personally taking down the corrupt government. Not since then has it been so hard to feel good about being American.
So the point (down, politics, down) is, I think of myself as Scottish. I’m just as much French or English, Irish, German, Dutch. I could even claim some American Indian blood, my grampa did. We all think he was lying, but that’s what he claimed, since he was, as he said ‘Born on the Rez’, and I guess to him that was close enough. My family came over, some of them, as far back as the Jamestown settlement, so I’ve got the full cocktail of western Europe in my bloodstream. So it comes down to what I identify as, and that, for some reason, is Scotland. It could be the name, but it could be something else. I don’t know. Maybe having a tartan made me happy when I was a kid, when I found a book of clan badges and tartans that my folks had bought in some used bookstore. I don’t have any idea why this part of the ethnic brew grabbed be so much more than the others.
So for years – since I was a teenager – I wanted a kilt. I figured there was no cooler garment.
I nearly bought one in Scotland when I was there in ’83. I stood on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh and looked a kilt makers shop, one with my name on it (Duncan MacRae, kilt-makers, ltd.) And I was talking myself into the idea, after seeing men on the street wearing kilts. But I got talked out of it because of the price, but more, with the argument “When could you wear it?”.
And I regretted that for years. I knew at the time I should have gotten one. I knew I wanted one. And I knew I’d wear one.
Several years later, I had a company party to go to. I worked for Sun Microsystems at the time. This one was semi-formal, suits or tuxes I didn’t own a good suit at the time (And have not in fact in years), so I was faced with renting another tux. Now, I like tuxes, but rented ones never really fit right and are always sorta the least-fashionable available. I wanted something cooler. So I found a place that rented kilts in San Francisco.
It felt funny, putting on a kilt. They hang weird, higher than I wear pants. They’re heavy, and wooly. But then I looked at the things that went with it, the short ‘Prince Charlie’ jacket, the sporran (The little man-purse you wear since kilts have no pockets), and the knee socks, and the little knife that goes on the sock (The Sgian Dubh). And it was all so cool. And damn, I looked good. And every woman I talked to at the party agreed. Women, I learned, almost universally, love a man in a kilt.
I had to have one. And started shopping.
They’re expensive. Kilts today range up over $900. At the time, it was hard to find a kilt cheaper than $500. And they were mostly made in the UK. Eventually though I found J Higgins, a kilt maker out of Kansas City who used imported Scottish materials and hand made kilts here in the US. So I didn’t face the exchange rate, and didn’t face the difficulty of shipping back overseas if there was a fit problem; and being a small shop they were able to do things for a fair price, something a little over $300 at the time I think.
I had a big fancy dress event coming up, and thought about renting another kilt, but eventually just said, hell with it, I need my own. So I ordered it; a Prince Charlie jacket, with gauntlet sleeves, a big wide kilt belt with clan crest buckle (Clan MacRae, of course), a sporran, and a hand-made kilt in MacRae Modern Hunting.
The kilt was ready too late for the event for which I’d ordered it. But that didn’t matter. Because now, I have it. And I feel like a warrior every time I wear it.
I love my kilt. I need another in a lighter color, like the Red MacRae for daytime. But there’s a problem with kilts; they’re heavy. They’re hot in the summer. And they’re dry-clean only and you have to find a dry-cleaner who knows how to deal with a kilt. So while I wore it often, I didn’t wear it as often as I wanted to.
Enter the Utilikilt.
I found these by accident. I was thinking a kilt would be a great gift for my friend Kenny, so I was trying to find a place I’d heard of that made leather-look fashion kilts. I didn’t find those, at the time, but I did, quit accidently stumble on Utilikilts site.
There, I thought, is a great idea.
A kilt for every day. A kilt with pockets. A kilt you can machine wash. A kilt you can wash a car in, or work on a motorcycle in, or build a house in. A kilt that goes with tee-shirts and leather jackets and boots. A kilt made by the kind of people I know and love, the kind of people I hang out with. A company in Seattle, Washington. This was the brainchild of Stephen Villegas, a man who seems to be full of great ideas, and to say the least, has hit on a product people are passionate about. I could write a lot more about him, but go to the Utiilikilts site and read it there.
So I stared at this site. At the kilts. At the people wearing them. And the people who made them. And I realized I wasn’t thinking ‘kilt for Kenny anymore. I was thinking kilt for Karl. And the question came up again. Where would I wear it? Everywhere, was the answer. Why not?
I waffled for a while. Which kilt? How to get the right fit? But I was lucky. When I was at the hight of my ‘what to do, what to do,, March or so of 2002, Stephen and some of the rest of the Utlikilts crew came down to San Francisco for an open ‘kilt party’. They’d brought down a load of then-new Black Workman’s Kilts.
I met Stephen and his partner Megan. I talked kilts with them, found I liked them immensely, and found that, dammit, these were just about the coolest garments ever. I found my fit (Not what I’d have ordered, so it was a good choice to have them fit me).
They had to shorten the kilt for me so they took it away to UK headquarters in Seattle; I got it in the mail two weeks later. And man, was I happy to have it. I love this garment. It’s one of the best garment purchases I’ve ever made. One of the best garments I’ve ever owned. And it gave me exactly what I needed, a kilt for every day that was almost indestructible.
And then, a bit later – June of 2002 – they called me up. Danielle, Stephen’s sister and one of the principles involved in the UK company was coming down to work a booth at the San Francisco Pride festival. She wanted to know if I would be interested in working at the booth, helping to sell kilts. I think I didn’t say yes, I said “Hell Yes.”
That’s how it got started. And I’ve worked the kilt both every chance I have gotten since then. I get paid in barter, hours worked in exchange for credit. Sometimes t-shirts, sometimes toward kilts. It depends on the company and the fair and who’s working. But that wasn’t why I do it.
Why do I do it? That’s what this entry is about — up to here it’s just about how I got into wearing kilts.
So first, we need to talk about ‘Gay Space’. No, this isn’t a Sci-fi man-on-man porno. Though that almost certainly exists, and if it doesn’t, it should. But I’m talking about times and places where being gay is considered to be 100% normal and average. Places and situations where you’re assumed to be gay unless you show you’re not.
I’m generally what you’d call a heterosexual. I hate the word ‘straight’ because of what it implies (…and narrow). And you know, in fact, I guess you could call me sexually (ahem) flexible.
However, I have felt, for most of my life, very at home in gay space. I get along naturally and easily with gay and bisexual crowds. I can fit in with a gang of big leather daddies or nellie queens, with lipstick lesbians or big bull dykes. I’ve been called an honorary faggot, and honorary dyke, and I’ve got a list of gay women who lament that I’m male, a list of gay men who wish I swung more their way.
So the pride festival, and some other fairs I’ve worked, like Folsom, are decidedly gay space. Not all the fairs are this way. Some are Sottish Highland Games, so very not gay space. But the fairs I like best are the gay ones. This doesn’t mean everyone there is gay — it means everyone there might be, and you can safely assume if you meet someone, they’re going to be at least bisexual.
I love this space. As a heterosexual male, it’s not common to encounter pure, shameless sexual attention. Women get this all the time. When I’m with gay men, I get treated as a sex object. This is a refreshingly direct, open thing, and it’s deeply flattering. It makes me feel butch, handsome, and generally desirable. It’s also a place where you can be sexually direct; a place that understands power dynamics, and a place where role-play is known and understood. So when I assume a role of big butch daddy top, people understand it and know they can choose to say “fine, we’re both big butch daddy tops”, “Yes Sir”, or “No, I’m toppier than you are”. It’s a dynamic that’s clear and simple.
People at these fairs are always very free with the usual kilt question; “what are you wearing under there?” I get it all day. You can look up lists of answers, people have compiled some very funny lists. But the part that’s entertaining is watching who asks (Surprisingly, in straight space, it’s the men who ask most), and how they ask. I get it from kids, from grannies, from gay men who really, really want to know, from straight women who are flirting. And watching the reaction when I wink, or suggest that they find out, or ask them ‘What do you think I’m wearing?’. At the booth, my usual answer is “You have to buy a kilt to find out.”
And yes, if you want to know, ask. [wink wink]
At these fairs, I’m one of two things. One is a shill directing people into the kilt booth. Because it’s an easy sale with these things; once someone has one on, dollars to donuts they’re buying it. The product is wonderful. So my role is to cut the likely prey out of the herd, make contact, get their attention pointed toward the booth. It gets easier as you do it to see who’s going to be ‘the right type’ and who’s not, and I’ve gotten pretty good at it, knowing what to say to someone, about why they’d want a kilt.
The other thing I do is to work in the booth, helping people find the fit and then helping the ones who are not sure about it feel good about how good they look. And it’s easy, because these things look good on everyone, from the huge to the tiny. They are about as flattering a garment as I’ve ever seen anywhere. So I get to play several roles; fashion consultant, tailor with my measuring tape around my neck, salesman. But at the gay events, I’m also playing top with the butch daddies and the slave boys/girls, finding who’s the wallet and who’s the one who wants the kilt. I’m flirting; the boys, but sometimes the girls. It’s that kind of an environment.
It is, simply put, fun. And we sell a lot of kilts. We sell a product I care about and believe in to some really cool people who are going to be glad, almost to a one, that they came in a tried on a kilt.
It’s work. I’m not saying it isn’t. I come home worn out, and usually sunburned. But the people involved, the UK employees and owners like Danielle and Stephen and Nate, and the other volunteers like Greg and Chicago Steve and all the others whose names slip my mind at the moment; they’re great people. People I’d hang out with. People who have standing invitations to come to my house and hang out (Danielle? You listening?). People who are fun to work with. It’s fun to work with a whole crew of people who are all in kilts. Fun to see pants sneered at.
There are few things I do in my daily life that come close, satisfaction-wise, to watching someone who came to the booth a little unsure about the idea of a kilt, or someone who came hoping to find up, who tries on a kilt for the first time, finds the fit, and leaves without pants. The look at self-satisfaction, and the walk – because to a one, they walk in but strut out. It’s pure joy. Teenagers, old men, hippies, leather queens, dykes and businessmen, they all walk away, if they walk away kilted, happier, prouder and taking bigger steps.
I don’t know why this whole kilt thing has struck such a chord. It’s a fashion statement, but it’s also just a really comfortable, practical garment. For some people it’s a political or social statement. It’s not that for me though; for me, part of it is just about fashion and attention, part of it’s just knowing I look good when I’m in a kilt, and part of it is simply comfort.