The Repeal of the Act of Proscription: 239 Years of Undoing Harm
“no man or boy, within that part of Great Britain called Scotland…will wear or put on the clothes commonly called Highland Clothes (that is to say) the plaid, philibeg, or little kilt, trowse, shoulder belts, or any part whatsoever of what peculiarly belongs to the highland garb; and that no tartan, or party-coloured plaid or stuff shall be used for great coats, or for upper coats…”
The 1st of July is a very significant day in the Scottish Highlands, yet some may say a silent significance. We do not take the day off work, we do not decorate our houses, or pour a special dram (well, we like doing that on any day right…)
Yet this day, 239 years ago, saw the repealing of an Act of British legislation that rendered the wearing of Highland dress a crime punishable by six months in prison, and a second offence causing unwilful transportation to one of the King’s overseas plantations… for 7 years.
This was the Act of Proscription, which was part of the British Government’s endeavour to disarm the Highlands, and forcibly assimilate its people to the culture of the newly formed United Kingdom.
The Act outlawed specific ways of dressing the body, but it was not an attack on cultural attire alone, but more so what those garments and the tartan from which they were made represented - a Highland way of life that was deemed alien, rogue and threatening.
These kinds of words have been used repeatedly throughout history to describe this culture. But these were not words that the people themselves related to. To them this was simply life, and sadly that came under attack in a way that has had long-lasting impacts.
The inability to protect one’s family saw many men join the British military and leave their homeland. Innocent farmers and crofters wearing plaids and kilts to work out on the hills suddenly found their work wear no longer allowed. Also, within a generation, specific dying and weaving techniques were completely lost – some likely erased forever.
Yet it was this day, in 1782 that this Act which had brought devastation to the Highland way of life was repealed, mostly due to the efforts of the Highland Society of London.
“Listen Men. This is bringing before all the Sons of the Gael, the King and Parliament of Britain have forever abolished the act against the Highland Dress; which came down to the Clans from the beginning of the world to the year 1746. This must bring great joy to every Highland Heart.”
The centuries that followed have been filled with efforts of revival and restoration, but it has been a long journey. We at Prickly Thistle are a direct result of this powerful shift. We would not be here, doing what we are doing, without it. We feel it in our bones. Our brand is built around cultural restoration, artisan craft revival, rural liberation…. and in this contemporary world, fiercely fighting for environmental and social justice.
To ‘repeal’ is to undo harm, which happened when Highlanders could dress their bodies in association with their culture and heritage again without punishment, and we believe this translates well to our modern-day efforts to undo harmful fashion overconsumption. Some will say that our battle today is a very different fight, but we see the similarities with the past…. Same s***, different century.
Even if the world has changed in so many ways, the zealous tenacity and resilience of our people certainly has not. We look back on our ancestors with pride, and we hope our descendants in 200 years will be able to do the same.
Love Clare and the team