Welsh Fashions - Origins of Traditional Dress & Costumes in Wales
We are all familiar with the Welsh Lady costume, but what is its history?
It is very likely that the dress was evolved from an early European costume
It is hard to pinpoint how many years our ancestors have worn the costume, but the first accounts are from tourists to Wales in 1770. They recorded that women in the Welsh countryside wore a distinctive costume which varied by region.
It is likely that it became more popular as people then associated it with the tradition costume of Wales. Urban women started to wear it for special occasions and when going to market to sell their produce.
The fashion had gone out of style in the 1880s, though the Welsh hat, shawl and apron became adopted as a National Costume. From then on it was worn by women at events such as Royal visits, by choirs, at church and chapel and eisteddfodaus. Little girls first wore the costume as a celebration on Saint David's Day just before the First World War.
Source: http://dams.llgc.org.uk/behaviour/llgc-id:1123685/fedora-bdef:image/reference The National Library of Wales
The Welsh Lady Costume
The Welsh hat
The most iconic part of the Welsh costume. They have a stiff, flat brim and a tall crown. There are several variations of the crown: drum shaped (worn in north-west Wales), slightly tapered (found in the rest of Wales) and cockle hat, which was flat and used to balance baskets of cockles (worn in the Swansea area).
They were originally made of felt (known as beaver, but not made of beaver fur!) or silk plush on a stiffened buckram base.
The lace frills often seen in pictures are from the cap (or mob cap), which was a linen or cotton head cover.
The gown or bedgown
The gown / bedgown (betgwn in Welsh) was worn in Wales for longer than elsewhere in Britain. They were often made of locally sourced red check and black striped flannel in South Wales or printed cotton in North Wales.
The skirt and underskirt
Known as 'pais' in Welsh, these were often made of thick flannel with vertical stripes in reds and dark blue or black and white.
This was often of natural colours in chequered patterns.
Although recognised as an essential part of Welsh costume, most were expensive and probably only worn for very special occasions. Some were made from natural wool, printed cotton and even silk with bright Paisley patterns. Many were fringed. Most were worn around the shoulders but they were sometimes tied the waist or shoulders to carry goods.
The cape or mantle
These were long and often had large hoods (to contain the Welsh hat). Blue woollen cloaks were far more common than red ones in much of Wales as the material was cheaper.
This was a small square piece of cotton or linen, known in Welsh as a fishu . It was worn around the neck or across the head as a head scarf.