The sgian dubh is one of the small details which give even more historical significance to the whole kilt outfit. Tucked into the top of the kilt hose, a sgian dubh is the small, single edged knife worn with the top of the hilt visible against your calf. Its origins are far from clear, and though it has become purely ornamental, it’s still one of the essential parts of all types of kilt outfits. The origins of the sgian dubh are by no means straightforward, with many details being debated and disagreed upon.
Sgian means ‘knife’ or ‘dagger’, while dubh means ‘black’. The sgian dubh could have evolved from the sgian achlais, the concealed armpit dagger of the 17th and 18th centuries. However, the sgian dubh could also have had a practical origin, and may have evolved from a type of small skinning knife. The sgian dubh was first seen in a recognisable form in the early to mid 18th century, and continues to be part of the traditional kilt outfit.
The formal sgian dubh is based on the military, Victorian style. There are also hunting versions of the knife which are based on the more historical sgian dubhs of the 18th century. To wear a sgian dubh, first you need to make sure your kilt hose are folded down so the top edge is just below the knee. With the crest of the knife facing outwards, the sgian dubh is then slotted between the kilt hose and your calf on the right side of your body. Only half the handle should be visible, but you can adjust this for your own comfort. The sgian dubh is an historical and ornamental part of your kilt outfit, adding an extra touch of authenticity to an already iconic national dress.