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Ghillie Brogues - A Brief History And How To Tie Correctly

Chris Spencer

Chris Spencer

Highlandwear Sales Advisor
25/06/17 - 6 Minute Read

Our Scottish roots have provided us with an incredibly rich history, our ancestors occupying our lands for centuries, often being at odds with those who found our beloved Scotland as beautiful as we do. Much of our past includes violence, that being the way of times long gone, when we had to defend our territory against those who also coveted it.

Enter the “ghillie”, a boy or young man who was an attendant to a Highland Chief. It fell to the ghillie to carry all manner of weapons, equipment and even some small comforts belonging to the chief. Loaded down as he inevitably was, he slogged through bogs and hiked up the sides of mountains, his being a noble profession and one to be proud of, though for many it was a short-lived way of life as their feet bore the brunt of this punishing existence.

Enter the “brogue”, which was actually named for the process by which decorative perforations and serration along each piece of leather were used to construct the footwear; that process was called “broguing”. At first quite rudimentary, the ghillie brogues were crafted while sitting around campfires when soldiers came to rest. They were crafted by hand with untanned animal hide and little amount of imagination. The primary purpose in their construction was to allow water to drain from the shoe and to keep the laces out of the muck, an innovative solution to the problem plaguing the ghillies’ profession.

Functional, and for the most part comfortable, the shoes or boots had no tongue; they were decorated with perforated designs, though the most important aspect was not decoration, but drainage. The ghillie brogue had long laces that held the shoe in place around the foot, encircling the leg above the ankle and then tying below the calf. We’ve come a long way from those first ancient designs, today’s ghillie brogues are more commonly purchased as a component to traditional Highland wear and worn primarily for social occasions and celebrations.

In fact, what the ghillies of the past considered “habit”, tying the ghillie brogue laces, takes anyone putting on ghillie brogues for the first time (or the second or third), quite a bit of time to perfect. So, the next time you are grumbling over tying the laces and getting the tassels (toggles) just right, remember your ancestors and give a small nod in their direction. Give thanks for their contribution and, more than anything be thankful that you are not yourself trekking through the bogs, but enjoying your forefathers’ traditions in relative comfort.

It’s true that some people know how to tie their Ghillie Brogues without even thinking about it.

But…it is just as true that there are many out there who need some help and direction to tie their brogues. We’d like to make it simple. It is time to stop thinking about it and just do it.


Just follow this step-by-step tutorial on how to tie your Ghillie Brogues.

Before you get started, you should have proper kilt hose and flashes on, ensuring they are pulled up properly, with no wrinkles around the ankle and with the flashes positioned under the cuff of your kilt socks and comfortably buckled on the side of the calf. So, let’s get started:


1. Ensure the laces through the eyelets are pulled comfortably tight and are not twisted, and that the first knot will result in a snug fit.

2. Make the first tie as you normally would when putting on regular shoes by crossing them, one around the other, and then pulling them tight. This is actually called a single half-hitch knot.

3. Twist the two laces over and under each other, making a total of 5 or 6 twists, this act creating a 1-inch length of twisted laces (a vertical thong); a secure starting place for the next step.

4. Now, simply cross the laces behind the back of the ankle before bringing both laces back to the front.

5. Finally, you will tie the laces in a normal bow, leaving the remaining laces and tassels to dangle freely.

You can double-tie the bow if you wish, ensuring the bow doesn’t come undone. One common mistake is to tie the laces too far up on the leg. The wrap should be no more than a couple of inches above the ankle bone. It is much better to tie it too low than too high. There is no set rule for where the final bow is tied; it is just a matter of preference.

Some will tie the bow at the front, this being a more symmetrical option and putting the bow in line with the original 1-inch thong. Others prefer the bow at the side, directly under the flash, the more traditional way of finishing the tying of the Ghillie Brogues. If you find that you have too much lace leftover, you can either make an additional wrap around the ankles, or you can cut the laces, reattaching the tassels, For the perfectionist: You can ensure that one side of the laces is 3 to 4-inches longer than the other at the beginning.

This will ensure the bow ends and the tassels are closer to the same length once the final bow is completed. The good news here is that you only have to figure out the exact length difference for the laces one time. Once you’ve got the right formula, it is done; your bows and tassels will always look just right. We hope this has helped

Chris Spencer

Chris Spencer

Highlandwear Sales Advisor
25/06/17
Filed under:

Buyers Guide: Brouges

Alexander Scott founded his company in 1925, opening his shop in Aberdeen, Scotland. Today Alex Scott & Co is one of the oldest and most recognised retailers in Aberdeen.

Like any continuously successful business they have adapted to change in both their product range and the technology used to bring it to the customer. kiltmakers.co.uk is the online representation of a long established family business which puts quality and customer service first as a key to its success.

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