At Scottish Christmas Walk in Alexandria, mixed reviews on underwear under kilts

By Annie Gowen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 4, 2010; 8:22 PM

For the kilt-wearing hordes who descend each year on Old Town for its Scottish Christmas Walk and Parade, the bawdy joke has always been: boxers, briefs . . . or nothing at all? A true Scot never wears anything under his kilt, the saying goes.

Until now.

Last month, the Scottish Tartans Authority, the governing body that sets the world standard for Highland dress, called for an end to the age-old custom, saying the practice is "unhygienic" and "offensive."

"If you are out and about in a kilt, then remember to show some decorum," said Brian Wilton, director of the Tartans Authority.

News of the stunning reversal got mixed reviews by many revelers at Saturday's parade in Alexandria, a holiday tradition that has grown in 40 years to become one of the largest such parades on the East Coast.

The tougher Scots in evidence vowed defiance.

"A man's a man," said William Oscar Fleming, 39, a District resident who works for a local nonprofit. "A Highlander doesn't need underwear."

He reached for his silver flask and took a stiff shot of single-malt whiskey.

"If we did wear underwear, it would be made of, like, twigs," he said.

Others expressed relief that they could now wimp out with impunity. The practice is called "going regimental" - a nod to the Scottish military regiments that have have long embraced it.

"Our biggest challenge is always the cold, 10-mile-an-hour wind that always blows off the Potomac in December," said Doug McClelland, 63, an engineer from Crownsville.

The Scottish government was a co-sponsor of the weekend's events, which included a Scotch tasting and greens sale and benefited the Campagna Center, an Alexandria nonprofit that provides Head Start and other assistance for low-income families.

Robin Naysmith, head of the Scottish Affairs Office at the British Embassy, colored slightly when asked about the game-changing undergarment news coming out of his home country in the past two weeks.

"Achhhhhhh," he said slowly. "I wouldn't take that too seriously. Each to his own, we say."

So, on that note, the parade began. Bagpipes wailed. A crowd of more than 20,000 lined the streets. Representatives from more than 100 Scottish clans threw candy through air. Costumed terriers - who had obviously not gotten the underwear memo - trotted along au natural under their tiny kilts.

It was chilly at first, but the sun was warm. Nice day for a parade - no matter what you are wearing.

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