The Editor writes……For our poll on the current attitudes to Highland dress we asked the following question: ‘Is it time for our solo pipers to smarten up?’
You can see from that that there is a significant amount of concern out there.
Those who were more non-committal clearly want contest promoters to apply their dress code with more vigour.
Those on the trouser side of the argument are in a clear minority though with more than 25% of all votes cast you could be forgiven for taking the view that there is some momentum with the dressing down brigade – and they may have received a boost by the recent appearance of an adjudicator at a major event here in Scotland dressed just so, in casual trousers, open neck shirt.
As far as singling out lady pipers for special treatment as was suggested in the earlier article by Brian Mulhearn, very few seem to have an appetite for this. In my view ladies are free to dress as they please – though my preference is for them not to compete in menswear.
I think the Northern Meeting’s dress code for competitors is one other promoters could adopt. Here it is:
‘Male competitors must wear Highland Dress including jacket, tie, bonnet or Glengarry and appropriate shoes. Female competitors must wear suitable Highland dress including tartan skirt and appropriately cut jacket.
‘Competitors will not be allowed to compete unless dressed to the satisfaction of the committee. Shirt sleeve order is not permitted while competing. Pipe bags must be complete with covers. The wearing of formal dress is encouraged.’
Now what is wrong with that? At the Argyllshire Gathering and many other contests they allow shirt sleeve order. Oban’s reasoning is that it gets very warm in late August in some of the rooms. This is true, but I have to say it never bothered pipers in my day.
Tweed was dropped, linings adjusted and you just got on with it. And as Brian rightly points out, if pipers find it difficult competing in a jacket then they should do more practice with it on in the house. I know Donald MacPherson used to.
The trouble with shirtsleeve order is that it quickly degenerates into short sleeve order; tie undone order; sweat stain order; open collar order; untucked waistline order.
If shirt sleeve order meant that pipers paraded as the bands do with smart waistcoats (vests) and cufflinks, ties properly knotted, top buttons buttoned, then I could see higher levels of audience approval.
Promoters who do not want to follow the example of the Northern Meeting could rewrite their rules to make it clear that those not wearing jackets must be attired as per the preceding paragraph.
I don’t think that is asking too much. These are professional musicians after all, playing for big prizes and a place in posterity.
The public’s perception of piping matters. We all want parity of esteem for our music and we will not get that unless competitors look the part.
Pipers in the Victorian and Edwardian eras get a lot of stick for their starchy manners and showy dress but isn’t there something to be said for the smartness of that bygone era? There was pride in the medals won and pride….well they were just proud to be pipers playing for the top awards and dressed themselves accordingly.
And we don’t have to go back that far to discover this pride in appearance…..
Piping and pipers deserve respect, but that needs to be earned. Our dress should reflect the importance of the music, the occasion, and our concern that those watching and listening are not turned off by how we look.
The audience is paying good money after all. What they want is a John Burgess, pipes gleaming, picture perfect, or a Pipe Major Angus (pictured top) commanding the boards visually and musically. Sadly these two giants are no longer around to set an example.
Perhaps we need more Dress & Deportment prizes. They used to have them at Inverness for the seniors not so long ago when the late Bill Blacklaw was the judge.