Highlander wearing the Philamhor belted plaid.
Only in the last few years has written evidence come to light to prove what
historians suspected had to be the case, and that is that loops were sewn into
the philamhor through which the belt (or if they were on the inside, a cord)
would be threaded and the philamhor hung on a peg for the night. Donning the
garment was then no problem and the lack of precisely folded pleats would not
have bothered the Highlander one jot. Were he higher up the social scale then
evidence suggests that his pleats would have been permanently sewn into the
Out in his natural environment of hill and moor, the Highlander’s philamhor
was the Johnnie a’thing of outdoor clothing. Just by folding and tucking he
could engineer pockets galore that would hold game birds or rabbits, tools or
weapons and any other essential items. In hot weather the top could hang down
off the shoulders and be tucked into the belt; in inclement weather the spare
fabric formed the forerunner of today’s ‘hoodie’ and sheltered the wearer from
wind, rain and snow.
The Highlanders were the hardiest of individuals and sleeping outdoors in all
weathers and seasons was frequently the norm. Cocooned in his trusty philamhor,
the Highlander could be as cosy as if wrapped up in a modern 15 tog duvet.
Unlike a duvet user, if there was an icy wind blowing or snow in the air or on
the ground, the Highlander would immerse his philamhor in a stream or lochan,
whereupon the wool fibres would swell and form a near impenetrable barrier to
the elements. It’s also reported that in sub zero conditions he would do the
same which would result in the formation of a protective skin of ice on the
outside of the philamhor whilst he, with his warm, moist breath, would remain
Colonel Stewart of Garth in his zippily titled 1822 work Sketches of the
Character, Manners and Present State of the Highlanders of Scotland tells
that in the historical novel Memoirs of a Cavalier, Daniel Defoe (of
Robinson Crusoe fame) wrote of the Scots army in 1640:
"I observed that these parties had always some foot with them, and yet if
the horses galloped or pushed on ever so forward, the foot were as forward as
they, which was, an extraordinary advantage. These were those they call
Highlanders; they would run on foot with all their arms and all their
accoutrements, and kept very good order too, and kept pace with the horses, let
them go at what rate they would."
Garth then went on to say: “This almost incredible swiftness with which
these people moved, in consequence of their light dress, and unshackled limbs,
formed the military advantage of the garb, but, in the opinion of the Lord
President Forbes, it possessed others, which he stated in a letter, objecting to
its abolition (in 1747), and addressed to the Laird of Brodie, at that time Lord
Lyon for Scotland.
‘And it is to be considered, that, as the Highlanders are circumstanced at
present, it is, at least it seems to me to be, an utter impossibility, without
the advantage of this dress, for the inhabitants to tend their cattle, and go
through the other parts of their business, without which they could not subsist,
not to speak of paying rents to their landlords.’"