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Welsh Costume (Ceredigion Museum)

A selection of 'traditional Welsh costume' from the collection held at Ceredigion Museum, Aberystwyth.

Welsh Costume (Ceredigion Museum)
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This theme contains a selection of 'traditional Welsh costume' from the collection held at Ceredigion Museum, Aberystwyth.

The popular image of what has come to be regarded as 'traditional Welsh costume' was largely developed during the nineteenth century. Although based on clothing worn by Welsh working-class countrywomen during the eighteenth century, it is an image which was heavily influenced by Lady Llanover, Augusta Hall (1802-96), who encouraged the wearing of an identifiable Welsh costume as a means of supporting and promoting a sense of Welsh national identity. It was an image which was also influenced by artists and photographers who produced work for the burgeoning tourist trade, and who were therefore keen to popularise the notion of a distinctively Welsh form of dress.

By the nineteenth century, the characteristic features of traditional Welsh costume were as follows: a striped flannel petticoat/skirt (usually in red and black wool), was worn under a flannel open-fronted betgwn or bedgown, with apron, flannel shawl and kerchief, and a small square flannel shawl, pinned under the chin, or, in many cases, a paisley scarf or shoulder shawl, topped with a tall black hat (or in parts of Wales, a red cloak).

While some elements, such as the bedgown and petticoat, had been part of Welsh rural dress for centuries, other features, such as the shoulder shawl, were introduced during the nineteenth century. The heyday of the shawl was during the 1850s and 1860s, when the popularity of wide crinoline dresses made it difficult to wear a coat. Although fashionable women ceased to wear them in later years, the women of both the rural and industrialised districts of Wales continued to wear shawls (of both the flannel and paisley varieties) up until the early years of the twentieth century. The so-called 'Paisley' shawl was by far the most popular type of shawl during the Victorian period. Characterised by the use of a Kashmiri-inspired pine-cone type motif, shawls of this type were woven in Edinburgh and Norwich from the late 1770s, but were first produced in Paisley, Scotland. There was nothing discernably Welsh about such shawls, therefore, but women often wore them with their traditional flannel clothing and, over a period of time, they came to be viewed as an indispensable part of 'traditional' Welsh costume.

The tall black hat (or beaver hat) began to appear during the late eighteenth century onwards, and was generally adopted by the mid-nineteenth century, but was by no means universally worn. This 'chimney' hat appears to have been based on an amalgamation of men's top hats and a form of high hat worn during the period 1790-1820 in country areas.

Sources:

Christine Stevens, 'Welsh Peasant Dress - Workwear or National Costume?', Textile History, 33 (1), 2002, pp. 63-78.

Ken Etheridge, 'Welsh Costume' (Swansea, 1977)