Highland Dance Costumes: All You Need to Know

Highland Dance Costume Guide

If you’re new to the world of Highland dance, navigating the costume situation can be intimidating. Luckily, we know all about costumes – from the vests versus jackets to what the heck a dickie is, we’ve seen it all. 

All of what you’ll read below is from guidelines by the Royal Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing. In order to compete in RSOBHD sanctioned events, you’ll need to be consistent with these guidelines in order to not be docked points on stage!

Plus, at the end we’ll cover where to get this stuff.

In Highland dance, there are four categories of costumes which are used for specific dances. 

  • Highland costume: worn for Highland Fling, Sword, Seann Triubhas, Reels, Wilt Thou Go To The Barracks, Johnny, and the Highland Laddie.
  • National costume: worn for Scottish Lilt, Flora McDonald’s Fancy, Village Maid, Blue Bonnets, Scotch Measure, and Earl of Errol.
  • Hornpipe costume: worn only for the Sailor’s Hornpipe.
  • Jig costume: worn only for the Irish Jig. 

Let’s get into the details of each of the costumes!

Highland Outfit

This outfit is easily the most recognisable – when people think “Scotland”, they think “kilts”!

There are different requirements for male-identifying dancers and female-identifying dancers, so let’s talk about the differences. 

Image via @int.tattoohighlanddanceteam
Highland Costume for Male-Identifying Dancers

The components of the Highland costume for male-identifying dancers are:

  • The balmoral: a hat which is optional for Pre-Premier dancers.
  • Jacket: with any recognised style of doublet, and is optional for Pre-Premier dancers.
  • Waistcoat: optional for Pre-Premier dancers
  • Kilt and Sporran: the kilt should reach the top of the knee. Note that underwear should be dark or toning with the kilt.
  • Jabot
  • Competition Number: pinned toward the bottom left of the kilt’s front.
  • Tartan hose or military diced hose with garter flashes: the hose should come to the bottom of the knee. Garter flashes are optional. Pre-Premier dancers have the option to wear white or plain coloured knee socks to match the kilt. 
  • Black ghillies
  • Option only for the Seann Triubhas: tartan trews. 
  • Additional options include sleeve ruffles, cummerbunds, plaid and waist belt. Always check with your teacher and RSOBHD requirements.

Check out the details in the graphics below!


Highland Costume for Female-Identifying Dancers
  • Jacket: Black or coloured velvet to match the kilt.
  • Kilt: any clan, family, or district tartan is acceptable. Kilt should reach the top of the knee. Note that underwear should be dark or in toning with the kilt.
  • Full clan tartan hose to match the kilt. Pre-Premier dancers have the option to wear white or plain coloured knee socks to match. the kilt.
  • Dickie: white lace cover to under the collarbone.  
  • Black ghillies
  • Competition number: pinned to the left or middle of the kilt
  • Option to replace jacket with white blouse and black or coloured vest to match the kilt. 

National Costume

Just like the Highland costume, the National costume varies for male-identifying versus female-identifying dancers.

National Costume for Female-Identifying Dancers

There are two options for female-identifying dancers. The first is called the aboyne.

  • Plaid: (usually referred to as a “plaidie”) square or rectangle pleated. Should be fastened to the right shoulder with a brooch and then attached to the waist at the back.
  • Vest: black or coloured velvet to match the aboyne, scalloped or petal design around the bottom.
  • White blouse: full sleeves to the elbow with no frills.
  • Skirt: tartan gathered skirt (not circular) with length to the knee.
  • Underskirt: white cotton “slip” skirt underneath the tartan skirt. Note that underwear should be white.
  • Socks: white without frill, ankle or knee height. OR skin toned tights.
  • Black Ghillies
  • Competition number to be pinned to the left on the petals.
The second option is typically referred to as a “lilt dress”. A lot of the components are the same as the aboyne requirements.
  • Plaid
  • White dress: knee length
  • Underskirt
  • Socks
  • Black ghillies
National Costume for Male-Identifying Dancers

For the National dances, male dancers wear the same costumes as they would for Highland dances. This time, dancers have the option to wear the Tartan Trews for ALL national dances.

Hornpipe Costume

For the Sailor’s Hornpipe, all dancers wear the same costumes, regardless of their gender. 

  • Cap: regulation white hat with circular crown. No name brand.
  • Collar: navy or blue denim with three white stripes.
  • Jumper: to be navy blue or white, shaped to the body, with set in sleeves. V-neck front opening with double-thickness collar. The bottom of the jumper to be in line with the top of the thigh, and the sleeves to reach the wrist. The sleeves may be buttoned, but no stripes are permitted.
  • Socks: long, plain white or navy.
  • Trousers: to be the same colour and material as the jumper. The circumference of the ankle to be 2 or 3 inches wider than at the knee, giving a bell-bottomed style.
  • Shoes: black ghillies.
  • Competition number: to the left of centre, in line with the bottom of the jumper.
  • Hair: no visible adornments.

There is an exception to this costume. Dancers currently serving in HM Naval Forces and equivalent Overseas Naval Military Forces and Subsidiary Naval Organisations may wear their uniforms, provided they are in regulation dress. Medals may not be worn.

Jig Costume

The Jig costume varies for male-identifying and female-identifying dancers. Where the other costumes have colour or small style options, the Jig costume offers so many options that there is basically just as many costumes as there are dancers! 

Jig Costume for Female-Identifying Dancers
  • Hair: a plain ribbon may be worn.
  • Skirt or dress: dancers may wear a white, red, or green dress with a waistcoat type bodice, with no more than 2 very small red or green bows on each sleeve. Or, may wear a red or green skirt with waistcoat type bodice OR with white blouse and cummerbund.
  • Apron: A small, white apron is worn with any dress/skirt option. A small shamrock is permitted.
  • Competition number: to be pinned to the left of centre on the cummerbund.
  • White blouse: to be worn if dress is sleeveless, or with a skirt. No more than 2 very small red or green bows on each sleeve.
  • Cummerbund: red or green may be worn with red or green dress/skirt.
  • Underskirt: white cotton “slip skirt” underneath the skirt or dress. Not lifted with the dress or skirt while dancing. Note that underwear should be white.
  • Socks: white ankle socks without frill or skin toned tights.
  • Jig shoes: may be black, red, or green.
Jig Costume for Male-Identifying Dancers
  • Paddy hat: traditional Irish Country Hat
  • Tail coat: in red or green
  • Shillelagh: size determined by height and weight of the dancer.
  • Muffler: red or green neckerchief.
  • Waistcoat: red or green in opposite to the tail coat.
  • Trousers: knee breeches in brown, khaki or whipcord. Slack below the knees. 
  • Competition number: to the left of centre on the waistcoat.
  • Socks: red or green, long.
  • Shoes: black, red, or green jig shoes.

Where to Find Highland Dance Costumes

Highland dance costumes can be purchased new or used. We recommend taking advantage of used outfits to save some money – particularly when dancers are young. They’re usually very well taken care of! New outfits are great when you’re looking for that perfect fit, and/or for a specific look, colour, or style.

Used costume sources
  • “Highland Dance Gear for Sale in Canada and the US” Facebook Page
  • Heart of the Highlands Too
  • Our studio has some second hand outfits available! Contact us to see if we have what you need.
New costume sources
  • MacIsaac Kiltmakers
  • Tartantown
  • Highland in Style

Among others!

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