Highland suit

Photograph from memorial album, Justinian William Andria Laczkovic, 1883
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The eight-year-old boy in the photograph pictured was named Justin Laczkovic.

Photographs can help us gain an insight into historical clothing, showing us the clothes that people were wearing and how they were wearing them. In the photograph – a studio portrait – Justin is wearing one of the most popular fashions for boys at that time, a ‘Scotch’ or Highland suit. A boy’s Highland suit usually consisted of a kilt, waistcoat, jacket, plaid, sporran and cap, although the suit could also include socks, buckled shoes, Cairngorm brooches, tartan capes and sprays of heather.

In sharp contrast to the sober appearance of men’s clothing in the 19th century, clothing for younger boys was at times more reminiscent of fancy dress. Sailor suits, military jackets, agricultural smocks, and historic styles such as the Fauntleroy suit were all popular with parents, if not their sons. Despite the protests of clothes reformers such as Ada Ballin, these outfits continued to be popular into the 1920s.

Between 1746 and 1782 Highland dress was banned in the UK by an Act of Parliament, due to the Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and 1745. When the law was changed, Highland styles and fabrics had quickly become fashionable again. Queen Victoria, for example, was an ardent enthusiast – her sons wore kilts in Scotland, as well as for more formal occasions such as the opening of the Great Exhibition in 1851. Her third son, Arthur, even had an all-black mourning version of Highland costume when Prince Albert died in 1861.