From queens to kilts: Highland dancing attire shares 70th Jubilee with monarch

A dress fit for a Queen may have been dominating the headlines recently but what about a dress fit for a Highland dancer?

By Dawn Renton
Wednesday, 22nd June 2022, 7:46 am
Updated Wednesday, 22nd June 2022, 7:46 am
This year mark the 70th anniversary of the Aboyne dress. (Pic: Moyra Gray)
This year mark the 70th anniversary of the Aboyne dress. (Pic: Moyra Gray)

In 1952 the Aboyne Highland Games committee threw out the much-loved female dancers’ kilt in favour of a new design inspired by Scottish women’s wear typical of the late 18th century Highland gatherings.

At the Games of that year, before an expectant crowd of 20,000 onlookers, fifteen-year-old dancers Olive Kane from Dyce and Lila Thomson from Pitfodels, unveiled the ‘Aboyne dress’, which would go on to become standard attire for female Highland dancers around the world.

At 2:30pm on August 6 this year, the special Highland Reel will be performed as the Lord Lieutenant enters the arena to mark the 70th anniversary of the Aboyne dress.

Dancers will perform in the prescribed attire, as Chairman of Aboyne Highland Games, Alistair Grant, explains: “We’re delighted to be celebrating seventy years of the world famous Aboyne dress at this year’s Games.

"There are two versions of the attire, but it generally consists of a dark bodice or waistcoat, decorative blouse, and full tartan skirt often with a sash or apron and was designed to be completely different from the male dancer's kilts.

"It’s said to have been a controversial decision at the time as some of the female dancers preferred the kilts, but it seems the decision of the 1952 committee was final, and to this day, the wearing of the Aboyne by female dancers is strongly preferred at the Games.

“Preparations for this year’s event are well and truly underway, and thanks to huge support from the local community, we’re thrilled to be offering a packed programme of events for all the family, with over 95 events on the field, 80 plus trade stands, as well as the usual pipers, dancers, fiddlers, light event athletes, mass pipe bands and hill races.

"This year’s Games will be especially significant given the hiatus of the past two years, and we look forward to welcoming thousands of visitors to the green in Aboyne this summer.”

This year the Earl of Aboyne, Alistair Aboyne, will attend as Deputy Chieftain in place of his father Granville Huntly, who is unable to attend as Chieftain.

Tickets are available on the day for £13 or in advance via www.eventbrite.co.uk.

Founded in 1867, Aboyne Highland Games is a traditional Scottish Highland Games held annually on the first Saturday in August.

The Aberdeenshire event, held under the patronage of Granville Gordon, the 13th Marquis of Huntly, attracts crowds of up to 10,000 people each year.

Featuring a programme of traditional highland games events, including highland dancing, tossing the caber, piping and fiddle competitions, the event on the town’s green attracts visitors from around the world and makes an important contribution to the local Deeside economy.

Further information on Aboyne Highland Games can be found at www.aboynegames.com.