Now a decorative part of Highland dress, it was originally an everyday practical item. Made of leather or fur, it usually has more or less elaborate silver or other ornamentation, especially on the clasp or hanger. It is worn on a chain or belt around the waist, allowing the sporran to lie below the waist of the person wearing a kilt.
Since the traditional kilt does not have pockets, the sporran serves as a wallet and container for any other necessary personal items (such as a hip-flask). It is essentially a survival of the common European medieval belt-pouch, superseded elsewhere as clothing came to have pockets, but continuing in the Scottish Highlands because of the lack of these accessories in traditional dress.
The sporran also protects a person's decency. This was originally because the ancient 'great plaid' (Gaelic breacan an fhèilidh), formed of a long draped cloth, had a gap at the front, and in more modern times because the kilt is traditionally worn without undergarments. Historically, the sporran was used to carry a day's rations. Some believe it served as armour for the groin.
The sporran hangs just below the belt buckle; and much effort is made to match their style and design. The kilt belt buckle can be very ornate, and contain similar motifs to the sporran cantle and the Sgian Dubh. When driving a car, dancing, playing drums, or engaging in any activity where a heavy pouch might encumber the wearer, the sporran can be turned around the waist to let it hang on the hip in a more casual position.
As sporrans are made of animal skin, their production, ownership and transportation across borders can be regulated by legislation set to control the trade of protected and endangered species. A 2007 BBC report on legislation introduced by the Scottish Executive stated that sporran owners may need licences to prove that the animals used in construction of their pouch conformed to these regulations.
However several of the species listed in the BBC article are not covered by the Habitants Directives of the legislation, and of the over a hundred different animals listed by the legislation only a few, such as Otter, have ever been associated with sporran construction. Most common sporran skins are not controlled or regulated animals in regards to this legislation.
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