The sporran (/ˈspɒrən/; Scottish Gaelic for "purse"), a traditional part of male Scottish Highland dress to accompany a Scotsman’s kilt, is a pouch that performs the same function as pockets on the pocketless kilt. Made of leather or fur, the ornamentation of the sporran is chosen to complement the formality of dress worn with it. The sporran is worn on a leather strap or chain, conventionally positioned in front of the groin of the wearer.

Due to the lack of pocket on the traditional kilt, the sporran serves as a wallet for any other necessary personal items. It is essentially a survival of the common European medieval belt-pouch, superseded elsewhere as clothing came to have pockets, but continuing in the Scottish Highlands because of the lack of these accessories in traditional dress. The sporran hangs below the belt buckle; and much.

In the beginning of the twelfth century, Highland warriors were described as being “bare-legged, with shaggy cloaks and a scrip …” Such dress was, used at that time, confined to the Highlands, as Scottish Lowlanders considered such apparel as barbarous, referring with contempt to their Highland kilts men as “redshanks”!

Kilts in the twelfth century were very basic garments that were not tailored and comprised a single piece of tartan cloth some two yards in width by four or six yards in length. This was commonly called a Breacan, the Feileadh Bhreacain and the Feileadh Mor – or as the English called it The Big Kilt. Its length was down to knees and was secured over the left shoulder with a pin and a tight belt gathered it all around the waist.

Such dress was ideally suited to the climate and for the people who wear tartan kilts of the Highlands. It allowed freedom of movement, the tightly woven woolen cloth was warm and waterproof, unwrapped it was very good against the weather and very comfortable overnight blanket, it dried out quickly and was much better than trousers. But unlike trousers, the kilt could not provide pockets and so the sporran was born out of necessity. Survival of the medieval purse, the sporran was the Highlander’s pocket they didn’t have.

Early sporrans were made of from leather or animals skin, both deerskin and calfskin proved very popular. They were simple in design and usually gathered up by basic bags or by thongs with small tassels. The Western Highlanders of the Isles often wore cloth pouches known as trews.

Original sporrans in the fourteenth century can be viewed at many Scottish museums. The history and evolution of the sporran can also be traced through early British military paintings and portraits of Highland soldiers, and then later on sporrans start to show more elaborate decoration.

From the late 17th century and early 18th century sporrans were normally fitted with metal clasps, made from brass, or for clan chiefs, occasionally silver. The elaborate metal workings of some of these clasps are indeed miniature works of art. The goat-haired, sporran mulch or hairy sporran was introduced by the British military in the 18th century. These sporrans almost had flap-tops and large tassels and featured a variety of furs and hair such as fox and horse, or occasionally sealskin, all look like a badger’s head.

The modern sporrans, or sporran – Gaelic, has evolved a long way from the doeskin bag containing different daily routine things and has many features like stainless steel and even plastics! Despite modern enhancements, however, sporrans retain their basic design, principles and carry everything from car keys to mobile phones.


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