Part I: Journey of a vintage Kilt jacket

Hello dear readers!

This post will try to chronicle the exciting journey of a vintage Kilt jacket and waitcoat from Scotland, it’s origins, interim stops and ultimate destination (well, for the foreseeable future at least).

The Kilt jacket and vest, along with epaulets, a dagger and sporran (purse) have been in our family for many decades – perhaps since the mid 1980s, but the exact age of the kilt is unknown. It could be from the turn of the century. Since my parents loved to collect antiques, especially English antiques, it had ventured to us via a friend who was based in Norwich, UK, and brought many unique items to our house in continental Europe. Amongst his treasures, was this Kilt with accessories. He had also brought a dress mannequin from the 1950s – a beaming, smiling man who was almost creepy – and for a long time he stood in one of our mansion’s rooms, dressed like a Scotsman in the Kilt.

Here you can see some images of the jacket and vest. Mind you, my phone camera made sure to pick up every speckle of dust which even the naked eye can’t see. The buttons are beautiful embossed metal, it is fully lined and has functioning pockets.

Below you can see a photo of the mannequin, when we did a fashion photo shoot in 2004. He was Ken and I was impersonating Barbie and the shoot was part of a series of photographs which I did from my MA at Central Saint Martins. The green dress is a vintage Ungaro piece. Perhaps this Barbie project deserves a post of its own?

Can you feel the creepy smile in the close-up below? Imagine sleeping in a bedroom with this man looking at you from the corner all night long!

But back to the vintage Kilt which has a R.W. Forsyth label.

Some internet research reveals, that “The Forsyth Building was the vision of R.W Forsyth born in the Lothians, Forsyth came to Glasgow as a nineteen-year old and gained experience of clothing retailing with several city firms.

In 1872 he set up in business as hosier, glover and shirtmaker in Renfield Street. Success led to expansion, and he gradually acquired all the properties around the corner of Renfield Street and Gordon Street. These buildings were demolished and a new department store was built on the site in 1897.

Forsyth’s department store was designed by J J Burnet and built at a cost of £25,000. Heating and lighting were state of the art, while a wide staircase and new electric lifts permitted the efficient movement of goods and people around the six floors.

The staircase was particularly admired, sweeping upwards centrally from each floor with handsomely carved balustrades. Further expansion followed, with the opening of a large store on a prime site on Princes Street in Edinburgh in 1907.” (The Forsyth Building, n.d.)


So this is the origin of the vintage Kilt. Its exact age is unknown but it is in a remarkably good condition, with just a few little holes – legacy of moths. You can see clearly the R.W. Forsyth Edinburgh & Glasgow label on the inside in the image below.

Since “Ken” the mannequin man has long been lost during moves in London (he traveled from continental Europe to London and lived with me for a while), only his clothing is left. From time to time, once I became a fashion lecturer, I would take the kilt and vest to bring it along for my students. In fashion class, we would study the construction and cut of this remarkable outfit. But what I would really love is to make it accessible to many more students and also make sure that someone takes care of this sartorial in a loving way.

In comes the Westminster Menswear Archive

The Menswear Archive is a unique place, a gem and encourages a public discourse on menswear fashion by making it visible and accessible to everyone, preserving examples of designer menswear from the last 100 years.

“The Westminster Menswear Archive was founded to establish and maintain a collection of garments and related artefacts to encourage and develop the study of menswear design from a technical and functional point of view; to advance the general knowledge of menswear as a design discipline, and to serve as a resource tool to inform contemporary menswear design.

The archive will strive to inform, encourage and inspire a diverse range of students, industry professionals, researchers and other users in order to support their creativity, learning and research in fashion and related fields.  It will also highlight the importance and relevance of the Westminster Menswear Archive within contemporary fashion, fashion education, research and scholarship and fashion practice, as well as with the general public.”

A few years ago, in 2019, it held the Invisible Men exhibition at the Marylebone / Bakerstreet campus site of the University of Westminster in London, showcasing its incredible vault of menswear items to the world. Menswear is notoriously underrepresented in the fashion world which makes this archive so unique and important.

Thus the choice was made to donate the kilt to the museum. It will be formally handed over in a few weeks time and be available to the students on campus but equally to the public who can access the archive. Hopefully, it will offer historical knowledge of garment construction (just look at the quilted inside and perfectly set armhole and lining!), understanding of textiles (wool outer) and colour (beautiful malachite green) as well as social context (kilts and Scotland are very unique in terms of their history and significance)!

In the next post, I will update you on the actual hand-over of the kilt and vest and share images of the menswear archive!

Does your family or you own an antique piece of clothing? Have you stored it in a designated place or would you consider donating it to a museum or archive? Please comment below and share your story with us!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s