The word kilt is of Scandinavian origin. Middle English (as a verb in the sense ‘tuck up around the body’): Danish kilte (op) ‘tuck (up)’ and Old Norse kilting ‘a skirt.’ The noun dates from the mid 18th century.
The kilt made its first appearance in the 16th century, but it was very different from the modern version. Now referred to as the great kilt or belted plaid, it was a full-body garment that covered both upper and lower halves. The upper half of the kilt could be draped over the shoulder like a cloak or worn over the head like a hood. This was the only type of kilt used for a couple hundred years.
Sometime during the early 18th century, Englishman Thomas Rawlinson decided that the standard kilt was too cumbersome to wear while working, so he came up with the small kilt. It was just the lower half of the great kilt and resembled the kilt we all know today. He went into business with Scottish chief Ian MacDonell, who liked Rawlinson’s idea and also started wearing the small kilt. Because they were influential, all of their employees started wearing it the small kilt and its popularity spread throughout Scotland.