Sometime in the late 17th or early 18th century the fèileadh beag (the small kilt), or filibeg, or philabeg, using a single width of cloth worn hanging down below the belt came into use, becoming popular throughout the Highlands and northern Lowlands by 1746, although the great kilt or belted plaid continued to be worn. The small kilt or philibeg is a development of the great kilt, being essentially the bottom half of the great kilt.
A letter written by Ivan Baillie in 1768 and published in the Edinburgh Magazine in March 1785 states that the garment people would recognize as a kilt today was invented in the 1720s by Thomas Rawlinson, a Quaker from Lancashire. After the Jacobite campaign of 1715 the government opened the Highlands to outside exploitation, and Rawlinson went into partnership with Ian MacDonnell, chief of the MacDonnells of Glengarry to manufacture charcoal from the forests near Inverness and smelt iron ore there. The belted plaid worn by the Highlanders he employed was too “cumbrous and unwieldy” for this work, so, together with the tailor of the regiment stationed at Inverness, Rawlinson produced a kilt which consisted of the lower half of the belted plaid worn as a “distinct garment with pleats already sewn”. He wore it himself, as did his business partner, whose clansmen then followed suit.
It has been suggested that there is evidence of Highlanders wearing only the bottom part of the belted plaid before this, possibly as early as the 1690s, but Rawlinson’s is the earliest documented example with sewn-in pleats, a distinctive feature of the kilt worn today.
The tailored kilt was adopted by the Highland regiments of the British Army, and the military kilt and its formalised accessories passed into civilian usage during the early 19th century and has remained popular ever since.
The earliest extant example of a tailored kilt is from 1792 (currently in the possession of the Scottish Tartans Authority).