Trews comes from the Gaelic triubhas and is defined in the Dictionaries of the Scots Language (DSL) as:
“A close-fitting pair of trousers, generally of a tartan pattern, with the legs extended to cover the feet, worn formerly by Highlanders … also, in more recent usage, applied to the modern form of tartan trousers worn by certain Scottish regiments, and to short tartan trunks worn under the kilt; trousers generally”.
The term goes back a long way, appearing in the Treasurer Accounts of 1509:
“The secund day of Aprile, for ane pair of trevis for the kings cursour...”. A cursour could have been a forest ranger or a courier.
If the trews are specifically tartan then that is usually stated in the context, as in the following example from Rabbie Burns’ Sherramuir (1789):
“But had you seen the philabegs, And skyrin tartan trews, man”.
With reference to the tartan trunks element of the definition, G F Collie, in Highland Dress (1948), helpfully explained:
“Boys and younger men often wear abbreviated under-trews of light-weight tartan”.
Tartan trews have become trendy too. There is an example in DSL from a fashion piece in the Herald of April 1994:
“... stay cool with this Nehru jacket and tight trews from Betty Barclay...”.
A more recent amusing example of the word comes from The Dundee Courier of February 2022:
“... I would not try to explain to any Scotsman going about his business in a kilt that he has surrendered a jot of his masculinity by casting off his trews”. Quite.
This Scots Word of the Week was written by Pauline Cairns Speitel. Visit DSL Online at https://dsl.ac.uk.