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If you’ve paid attention to any celebrity fashion trends in the past few years, kilts for men continuously rank incredibly popular among red carpet looks time and time again. Sure, it’s not like you’re going to see somebody rock a plaid-coated kilt at every celebrity escapade, but more often than not we’ll spot a male celebrity stepping on the scene in the old Scottish “skirt” made for men, reminding us that the trend isn’t a dying one in the slightest.
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Many male celebrities with Scottish heritage or not have been spotted sporting the classic kilt. Well-known names such as Vin Diesel, Lenny Kravitz and most recently, Travis Barker (alongside his new wife Kourtney Kardashian at the 2022 Met Gala) have dipped their toes down into kilt culture in the past couple of years.
As male celebrities begin to ditch normalities in men’s fashion more frequently, we’re sure the list of kilt-wearing men is sure to grow in the coming years.
But, this got us thinking: who the hell is the person making all of these celebrity-ready kilts? Is it all the same guy?
And, the answer is, for the most part, yeah. It is. It’s time for us to introduce to you all Howie Nicholsby: the creator of 21st Century Kilts and Hollywood’s kiltmaker to the stars.
While Nicholsby didn’t actually create Travis Barker’s kilt featured above, he has in fact designed a number of kilts for a plethora of celebrities you might’ve heard of once or twice. Folks such as Ozzy Osborne, Adam Lambert, Al Roker and the aforementioned Lenny Kravitz and Vin Diesel make up a few. In addition, Nicholsby has also kilted royalty including Prince Albert and Princess Charlene of Monaco. So, yeah, Nicholsby is sort of a big deal.
Recently, we simply became all too curious. How in the world does one become a kilt maker to the stars? What goes into the craft itself? And, most importantly, we needed to know the truth: do folks really go commando underneath their kilts? We had the chance to talk to celebrity kilt designer Howie Nicholsby of 21st Century Kilts himself to get all of the information we needed in the world of kiltmaking.
After an acid psychosis in 1996 at the age of 18-years-old, Howie had just found himself freshly out of rehab without much information on where to take his life next. Because he grew up around his family’s kiltmaking business and his parents had quite literally saved his life by helping him get the help he needed, he decided to do a small apprenticeship in kiltmaking. He was taught firsthand under the guidance of his parents’ head kiltmaker and went on his way to follow suit and join the family business.
After a period of time and complete boredom of tartan (the classic woolen, plaid cloth you’re used to seeing in the world of kilts), Nicholsby had an idea. Why not make a kilt without tartan? So, by taking inspiration from the club scene at the time, Nicholsby created a kilt made from silver snakeskin PVC, a material that hadn’t really been seen yet in the world of kilts.
“This was the birth of 21st Century Kilts,” he tells us.
Because little did we know, it isn’t the fabric that makes a kilt a kilt. Instead, it’s the pleating in the back. “There needs to be a food amount of fabric in a kilt,” Nicholsby tells us. “I used a minimum of 6 meters in a man’s kilt [and] usually 8 yards is standard for a tartan kilt to recreate the pattern in the pleats at the back.”
In some cases, the use of specific tartans is a total no-go due to the fact that specific patterns hold special connections to Scottish clans.
“I experienced ‘cultural appropriation’ when I was 15,” Nicholsby admits while recalling a trip to a Scottish festival in Atlanta, Georgia back in 1993. “An American lad came up to me, ‘hey man, are you a Cameron?’ I replied, ‘No mate, I just like the tartan, it’s also a military tartan and it goes with my school uniform.’ He was not happy; ‘You shouldn’t be wearing my tartan dude!’ From then, I’ve always chosen generic.”
That got us thinking: is it actually cultural appropriation to wear a kilt if you aren’t even Scottish? And the answer is no, thankfully, it’s not. It’s just tartan-specific. If a specific tartan is specific to a family, that’s all you have to watch out for. You don’t want to place yourself in the same situation Nicholsby did back in the 90s.
That said, kilts don’t even have to be made in Scotland, which came as quite a surprise. A kilt can be made in your mother’s den in New Jersey and still be allowed to get that kilt name. But, that actually isn’t the parameters Nicholsby follows.
“I tried for years to get a ‘PGI’ for Kiltmaking; a Protected Geographical Indicator,” Nicholsby explains. But, alas, “it could only be done for food.” Going forward after the loss, Nicholsby only refers to traditional kilts as ones that are made in Scotland, made from pure wool and hand-sewn. Anything else? Just a skirt.
When asking about what it has been like designing kilts for celebrities, Nicholsby kept it completely real with us. Essentially, it just seems like he couldn’t be bothered — the non-celebrities are his biggest priority and number one cheerleaders. He’d seemingly much rather create kilts for “real guys with open minds who want an alternative to trousers,” more or less alluding to the fact that he isn’t the kind of person making kilts because famous people wear them. Nicholsby makes kilts because he loves making kilts. That’s it.
But, we simply needed a little more information. We’re celebrity-obsessed, sorry. With one more celebrity-focused question in hopes of a detailed response, we asked Nicholsby about what details make a red carpet kilt different than a regular kilt. You know, thinking there would be a huge difference.
“Nothing bro, any kilt, any time…”
He really meant it when he said it. He’s for the people, not the celebs.
As we wrapped up the interview, we had one last question. Essentially, it was the most important question of them all — so we figured we’d settle the debate once and for all.
Is it true you don’t wear underwear with kilts? If so, why?
“I wear underwear, I’m a married man with two kids 12 and 15, it’s just not that appropriate in this day and age to have your junk swinging about. Up-skirting is now illegal and this applies to men in kilts too.
If you are not wearing underwear and a young child is running about at a wedding or party and accidentally ends up uplifting or getting under a kilt, it can get a bit awkward. Safer to wear a funky pair of boxers.
I wear Bawbags, a Scottish company and the underwear is very breathable.
One tip, if your reader chooses to go commando, I do recommend Vaseline at the top of the thighs, etc. [Vaseline] stops chafing and if someone does put their hand up, they ain’t getting off scot-free…”
So, there you have it: undies are a modern-day must in the kilted world. Finally, we can sleep at night.
Curious to get a kilt from 21st Century Kilts yourself? See Nicholsby’s entire store below.
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