EDINBURGH, Scotland — In the land of plaid, the Kilt Wars are raging.
Hanging in front of Gordon Nicolson Kiltmakers shop is a mannequin wearing a competitor's kilt with a sign posted on it: "THIS IS NOT A REAL KILT."
"I'm not on a crusade, but kilts are part of Scottish heritage and history," says Nicolson, who said his genuine kilts have 7.6 meters of fabric, are hand-stitched in Scotland and are the standard for what a Scottish kilt should be — and cost about $700.
He charges that skimpy kilts sold next door at Prestige Scotland and other gift shops in Edinburgh for about $50 are made in Pakistan, don't have enough material to close correctly and are giving Scottish kilts a bad name.
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"They aren't proper kilts," he says. In fact, the only two fine kiltmakers left in Edinburgh are his shop and Geoffrey Tailor, he adds.
Meanwhile, next door at Prestige Scotland, managing director Sam Singh has retaliated. He put up his own sign on the $50 acrylic kilts hanging in front of his store, advertising "unreal kilts at unreal prices."
He says a kilt is a kilt is a kilt.
"Once upon a time, kilts were only supposed to be Scottish. Now they are worn all over the world. What we are doing is a budget kilt, a disposable kilt. It's still a kilt," he says. "If you buy a pair of Armani jeans, then buy jeans at Walmart, you still call them jeans."
Singh, who like Nicolson is a Scotland native, says his kilts aren't meant to be for weddings or fine occasions. "They are meant for stag parties, football matches, protests," he says. "A foreign tourist will not buy a real kilt. They will buy by price."
That's what worries Nicolson, who has sent one of the cheap kilts out for lab testing to see if dyes used in them violate Scottish safety standards. He also says some "tartan tat" stores (what people in Edinburgh call the budget tourist shops that line the streets) also have violated copyrighted tartan patterns.
Singh says cheap kilts are here to stay. Although he also carries a line of more expensive Scottish-made kilts, in August, he says, he sold 200 real kilts and 1,000 budget kilts.
But what will happen to traditional Scottish kiltmakers if budget kilts take over?
"What is going to happen is the ones who call themselves real kiltmakers will have to cut their prices. They mark them up 500 percent," Singh says.
Nicolson, for his part, plans to keep his controversial mannequin outside. It attracts a lot of attention from tourists and should make people stop and think about the authenticity of kilts they see in Scotland, he says.