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Traditional Welsh  Costume

 

 

 

 
 

     

 THE WELSH COSTUME
by DR. ILID ANTHONY - Welsh Folk Museum

 The Welsh National Costume is based on the costumes worn by the rural working population of the late eighteenth century. For women this consisted of a gown and petticoat with neckerchief, white cap and hat. Several reasons combined to cause the literary people of the first quarter of the nineteenth century to consider these clothes common throughout Europe, as the costume peculiar to Wales. Fashion in dress changed in the towns and among the upper classes, but new styles penetrated more slowly into the rural communities. Therefore when other classes of society had moved to the Regency costume, country people still wore the cloth made from their local mills cut into the gown, petticoat and waistcoat. 

The members of the literary societies who studied the Welsh language and customs were anxious to find a costume peculiar to Wales. The artists and students of the Romantic era in literature and art had discovered Wales in the eighteenth century. Many artists painted the people of Wales at their daily work or in their homes. This gave rise to a general feeling in everyone’s mind that everything in Wales from costume, furniture, crafts -including the making of love spoons -and wedding customs were all different and quaint. The newly-born tourist traffic fostered this outlook. Picture postcards and engravings prepared to sell to visitors showed Welsh men and women going to market, coming out of chapels, attending a wedding ceremony or receiving presents. The height of the crown of the hats increased in each successive series of cards produced during the mid-Victorian period. Welsh people began to wear the tall hats in the holiday season and at festivals such as the eisteddfodau.

BEDGOWN AND PETTICOAT (The skirt was originally called a “pais” or petticoat)
The most important part of the dress of Welsh women living in rural communities was the gown and petticoat. These continued to be worn well into the nineteenth century in remote areas. Woollen material woven at the local mill in either one colour or with vertical stripes of black in it or of two contrasting colours, was used. Sometimes the paintings of scenes of Welsh life show the gown with a tailored look at the back, extending down to the hem of the petticoat which is visible in front where the gown has been folded back. Other examples of the gown show it as a shorter garment, with a full skirt at the back as in a riding jacket. The petticoat and gown are of the same colour in some illustrations, but in others they are entirely different. Very poor women wore a gown that was cut as a shapeless coat, which could be pinned back when the wearer was working. Such a garment was called a bedgown in all rural areas in England as well as in Wales. Originally it was a simple garment worn by the elderly. The word passed into the Welsh language and has come to be used for all gowns worn with the Welsh costume.

FICHU
The neckline of the gown was cut low, as in all gowns of the eighteenth century, therefore, the edge of the white chemise could be seen above it. A white linen or muslin fichu was worn round the neck or a small square neckerchief. This could also be checked or striped, but later it could be purchased in the markets held in the Welsh towns and these had a paisley or another pattern printed on them.

 THE HAT AND WHITE CAP
The hat developed to be the most characteristic feature of the Welsh lady’s costume when the height of the crown was extended upwards. In all illustrations of the Welsh lady of the eighteenth century, the beaver hat had a wide brim, but the crown was no higher than that of a man’s top hat. It was the desire to emphasise the distinctive fashion in Wales that caused the height of the crown to be exaggerated. There were other types of hat, such as the straw hat, which survived in Gower and Pembrokeshire and the crowned hats which are also seen in some illustrations. A white frilled cap was worn indoors by everyone at that period.

CLOAK AND WHITTLE
A cloak of red, blue, green or grey cloth with a deep gathered hood was worn in cold weather. However many figures wore a rectangular piece of woollen cloth, often red in colour, over the shoulders. This was called a “whittle” (shawl)

APRON
An apron, either white or of coloured flannel, completed the normal dress.

 

DANCE COSTUME FOR CHILDREN 

The tradition of folk dancing is still obviously enjoyed by children, it is still alive and perpetuated. Tradition is not static but
ongoing and so is the desire to identify the dancing with costume for festive occasions. Therefore, as long as it does not result in a ‘fancy dress’ outfit, it is perfectly sensible to wear a costume which identifies as closely as possible with the traditions but at the same time is a reflection of the present day circumstances.   If children wear costume outdoors in the summer the weather may be very warm. Many more colours and prints are easily available in lighter materials than the traditional flannel.  

 If you are just beginning to acquire costumes, then start with the simplest of garments, as most dancing is displayed out of doors during the summer and is of an energetic nature you can manage without betgwns and waistcoats. These can be added later when you decide whether you want to make them in traditional Welsh flannel or in a cooler fabric. If using cooler fabric remember to use natural or natural looking materials though, not shiny nylon and polyester or other obviously man made fabrics. Keep to traditional patterns and colours. Welsh clothes of the period would have been made of home produced flannel and linen, but cotton in a plain, stripe or check material would be cheaper and more comfortable on a hot day. The boys' breeches would have been made of corduroy and worn with a white collarless shirt.

To make a simple costume with a sufficiently good traditional appearance, the girls could wear a long coloured skirt (plain, striped or checked) and white blouse, with a white bonnet and long apron (not “waitress” style). A shawl can be made from a coloured square folded diagonally over the shoulders with a brooch pinning it to the blouse at the front to stop the shawl sliding around as they dance.

              Welsh flannel 142cm wide can be bought from -  

Melin Teifi                  

Dre-fach Felindre

Llandysul,

Dyfed 

SA44 5UP

Tel: 01559 371 003

Curlew Weavers

Troedyraur

Rhydlewis

Ceredigion

SA44 5RL

Tel: 01239 851 357

Bryncir Woollen Mill Ltd

Golan

Garndolbenmaen

Gwynedd

LL519YU

Tel: 01766 530 236        

for more detailed information on making costume for children