Clan MacColin is an organization designed to teach and inform its membership and the public about the daily lives of Irish and Highland people through the medium of living history impressions. This booklet is offered as a guide to our membership and as a reference to others. We do not use “costumes” as such, but attempt actual clothing, forsaking modern conveniences such as zippers, “Velcro”, and synthetic fibers in our quest to learn more about how it felt and how it worked in the sixteenth century.
I wish to thank the many individuals and groups whose interest, curiosity and research over the years have made this guide necessary and possible. I also would like to thank (posthumously) the first-person observers, diarists, artists, spies, etc., who by their sins of omission, ignorance, and ethnocentric racism made this work so damnably difficult and challenging.
Steven Gillan, Chief of Clan MacColin; July 2017.
At various times through history, civil and religious bodies in different societies have laid down “sumptuary laws,” which are essentially limitations on the amount of material goods any class of society may own or use. Conquering peoples have used this device to make all the good stuff theirs after a conquest, decreeing that the losers must forfeit everything over a certain amount. Often it’s the church that sets a limit on conspicuous consumption, either for the good of its flock’s souls or the fattening of its own purse. Sumptuary laws can be used to try to stop inflation and waste during a time of rapid economic growth, or to keep the newly wealthy merchant class from trying to out-dress and outlive the king and his court. This can result in interesting social developments (which are adequately covered in a number of large, heavy books without pictures or conversations).
Our historical concern for sumptuary laws rests on the fact that these laws, as applied by the English on Ireland, give us some of our best ideas of what Irish life was like in the 16th century. The English were quite comprehensive in their descriptions of what was not allowed, which of course meant that’s what people were doing. Without these details, we would have much less information about period costume, for instance.
Steven Gillan, Chief of Clan MacColin, has updated a great deal of the Clan costume information, and updated the sumptuary laws for our own dress. These rules are based partly on historical considerations and partly on the Chief’s preference for certain things; the overall impact of these guidelines will be a more “related” appearance of our group.
The following are the “Clan MacColin Sumptuary Laws,” as published by the Chief:
All those within the sound of my voice witness that I,
Stiofan A Giollain Maccolin,
Ceann Cinnidh na Clana Maccaolinn,
An Baran Gleannadoire,
do hereby declare and decree on this day,
July 1, 2017, these laws.
Wool, and blends with a high percentage of wool, are the best choices for all outer garments. The weight and texture must be suitable to the type of garment and to the station of the wearer. If the garment is a Highland one of tartan plaid, that plaid may not be a modern one associated or registered with any family, regiment or association. Highland items need not be of tartan plaid at all but may be striped, herringbone, checked, or of irregular sett. Most tweeds are also acceptable for these uses as well. Solid colored wools, in appropriate shades and textures are also desirable for garments both Irish and Highland. Medium-to-heavy-weight linen, in solid colors, is an alternative fabric for some outer garments. Other fabrics options require individual approval.
No piled fabrics, i.e. corduroy, velour, velvet, or velveteen, are acceptable, period.
Linen is the first choice for all shirts, sarks, leines, kirches, stocks, etc. Medium weight, plain-weave linen is generally usable by all members. The finer grades of shirting will be permitted to the duine uasail . Other fabrics options require individual approval. As always, consult first with swatch in hand.
Color selections are based on historical information, theatrical considerations, and the personal preferences of the Chief. With this in mind . . .
All body linen will be “white.” By white, I mean natural color, bleached or unbleached (not blindingly white) or various shades of “saffron” yellow. Please note: the use of this color requires individual approval.
All outerwear colors must stay within the non-aniline dye ranges that resemble well-worn, often laundered, natural dyes. This rule is subject to one of the controlling considerations above. There shall be no purple. True red, i.e. Crimson or scarlet, are restricted by status, as the dyestuff is a New World product. Black will be limited, and should be “sad” black or charcoal. This does not preclude the existence of these colors in tweed type fabrics. Be safe: don’t assume, ask.
Decoration, Trim, Embroidery, Etc. The extent, material, and volume of decoration on one's raiment defines social and economic placement. History tells us that the "foreigner" saw this as abuse in Ireland, and vigorously legislated against what was seen as an excess of Irishness and a damned foolish squandering of resources by these savages. Therefore, they limited and reserved to each, according to his station, his portion of the frou-frou. The ancient "Brehon" codes did the same sort of apportioning. In the spirit of these traditions, I will attempt to do likewise.
1. Persons of this family who hold a position in the duine uasail, i.e. officers and gentlefolk, may decorate their garments with two colors. In the case of officers, this rule extends to their spouses, should those persons not be "gentle" in their own right. The patterns for these decorations, should l more than a horizontal, diagonal, or vertical band, must be individually approved. These trims may be applied with a thread of another color altogether. It is preferred that all trims be hand-applied. If they can be hand-produced, all the better. 3. With regard to insignia, badges, etc.: All Clansmen may wear a sprig of oak, and use its leaves and fruit (acorns) as a decorative motif on their goods. Also, all may wear the principal colors of green, white and brown in a rosette on their bonnet or clothing. Badges of office, or occupation, where officially designated, i.e. Medical, Artillery, may be worn on bonnets, hats, or sleeves. They may not, however, wear the Selkie or the Oak Tree, as these are my badges as Chief.
2. No person other than a "tacksman," shall have more than one base color to their individual outer garments, nor use any embroidery on them. This does not prevent the use of the various blanket stitch or overcast embroidery to decorate seams, nor does it prevent the use of these same seam closures on body linen. Shirts, sarks, leines, etc. may also be decorated in embroidery about the collars, cuffs, and sleeve openings. (The design and colors used in these decorations require attention to economy of scale.) There are some general exceptions. Men of any rank, after one year of satisfactory service, may wear a one-color cord, tape, or fringed design on the sleeves and body of their ionar. (See costume designs for this, then consult with Wardrobe Director.) A woman of any station, after one season of similar satisfactory service, may wear a single horizontal band above the hem of her overskirt. . Those Clansmen who wear the brat may wear a collar of sheepskin or dense yarn fringe; it may also be selffringed at neck and hem. All other furs are reserved.
3. With regard to insignia, badges, etc.: All Clansmen may wear a sprig of oak, and use its leaves and fruit (acorns) as a decorative motif on their goods. Also, all may wear the principal colors of green, white and brown in a rosette on their bonnet or clothing. Badges of office, or occupation, where officially designated, i.e. Medical, Artillery, may be worn on bonnets, hats, or sleeves. They may not, however, wear the Selkie or the Oak Tree, as these are my badges as Chief.
4. Persons of my immediate family, that is the Tanista, and her family, and the Daughters of the Household, will wear what I approve for them. I will wear what I approve for myself, and what I can get them to make for me.
5. Feathers are worn only by the duine uasail of the clan. Vertical feathers denote officers, and horizontal ones indicate the gentlefolk. Deer hair hackles denote non- commissioned officers, and may only be worn by them.
6. With regard to the various accessories: All jewelry and accessories must be individually approved for the wearer by the Historical Clothing Coordinator. All weapons and arms are to be approved by the ‘An Marshall Teig, or his Designate. All lavish inventions of persona must be approved by Jeanne Roberts. And all of their decisions are overseen by the Chief.