I am going to do a couple of postings on Welsh costume. The Welsh are a branch of the surviving native British. Together with their close cousins, the Cornish, they once occupied most of Britain, including all of England and what is now southwestern Scotland as well. The term Welsh is derived from the old Anglo-Saxon word for Stranger. They call themselves Cymry and their country Cymru, Many of them still speak the same language which they had prior to the invasion of the English, [the Anglo-Saxons].
They use two flags, one is the well known red dragon, traditionally thought to have been used by Arthur and the house of Pendragon,
and the other is the flag of St. David, the patron saint of Wales.
I suppose i should start with the costume of the southwest, Cardiganshire and vicinity. Here is a map showing Cardiganshire, or Ceredigion in Welsh.
This is the costume most commonly seen reproduced by Welsh folk dance and singing groups. I wish to thank the Ceredigion Museum for their kind permission to use images of clothing articles in their collection. Welsh costume existed in various forms, I will focus on one version of the costume from this region. For an excellent article on the history of Welsh costume in general, see this article.
The image above is a painting which was commissioned by Augusta Hall, who became Lady LLanover. She is often credited with a great influence on the development of Welsh National Costume in the 19th cent, as part of a movement to create a Welsh National Identity and pride therein. Here are a couple more images of the costume as worn in Cardiganshire and vicinity.
The most typical Welsh costume is called Pais a Betgwn, which is usually translated into English as 'Petticoat and Bedgown". It was mostly made of locally woven wool, in various shades of black, gray, brown, red, and occasionally blue. Locally available dyes were used, which gave rise to regional tendencies in color, for example red was most common by the shore, as the red dye was extracted from shellfish. Much of this cloth was woven in checks, plaids, stripes and textured designs.
One thing on which all my sources agree is that chemises were not commonly worn, as many of the Welsh were too poor to afford linen or cotton. [I find this odd, as peasants all across Europe raised and wove their own linen, but that is what is recorded]. If in fact, a chemise is worn, it is not visible when the entire costume is on.
The basic upper garment is the Betgwn, also spelled Becwn, and on Ynys Mon, Becon.
The betgwn is derived from the open fronted gown which was popular in the Tudor period. Here is a schematic of the cut. It has a princess line in back, the sleeves usually extend to the elbow, sometimes, as in this example, with a turned up cuff, which may have ribbon or lace sewn on.
There are two buttons on the back of the waist and two or more box pleats. The length varies in different parts of Wales, in this region the tail is long,
and is sometimes pinned or buttoned up for work.
The front of the bodice is closed with hooks or pins, or thorns if one could not afford pins. The betgwn in Ceredigion was often made of flannel woven in black and red vertical stripes.
The neckline of this betgwn is often rather low,and so a cotton kerchief is worn around the neck and tucked in for modesty's sake. This is often white, but it could be of various colors.
The tail of the kerchief may be left to hang in back, but often it is also tucked in.
Under the betgwn is worn the pais, the petticoat or skirt. Usually more than one is worn. For those who could afford it, a linen or cotton one would be the first layer.
very often a red flannel pais would be worn over this as the second skirt. It was believed that red flannel protected one from various ills. This could be plain or could have stripes woven in, usually vertically.
the waist is often eased in with a seperate narrower piece around the hips.
The skirt may be ornamented with tucks and/or ribbons.
Sometimes the topskirt is made of a material which is very close to that of the betgwn. Here you see the betgwn on the right, and the pais, or skirt on the left.
Sometimes the top pais is made from a very different color. These are often wool, but may be of linsey-woolsey.
This one is woven with a quite fetching design. The red and white stripes look like they might be ikat dyed.
They may have flounces sewn on.
This one has a very attractive design done in appliqued ribbon.
An apron is always worn with this costume. It is usually wool with a vertical stripe, often with tucks and a horizontal design woven into the bottom hem.
In older costumes, one sometimes sees a design woven along the sides as well, as in this woman from Llanddewibrefi, photo taken in 1880.
The apron is generally worn over the betgwn.
The apron could also be made of checked material.
Typically still with a horizontal design on the bottom edge.
A pocket of cloth is typically worn under the apron or the skirts of the betgwn. It could be of woolen cloth, as here, or of linen or cotton as in the next image.
The betgwn leaves the arms bare to the elbow. This is very practical when working. When it was time to dress up, or when the weather was cooler, oversleeves were worn. These had drawstrings to hold them above the elbow. The dress ones often had ribbons and bows sewn onto them. Oversleeves are common in many Western European Costumes.
If you take a look at some of the above images, the oversleeves were usually made of a different fabric, and could be quite dressy.
A small shawl is often worn over the shoulders, pinned in front. This is in addition to the cotton kerchief which is tucked into the neckline. These are of various colors.
It is often thought that a Paisley, or Kashmiri shawl is typical of Welsh costume. In fact these were not made in Wales, but originally were hand-embroidered in Kashmir, and later simplified versions were woven in Paisley in Scotland. They were, and still are, much sought-after, and any Welsh woman who could afford one, or who received one as a gift from a sailor or other traveling gentleman, wore it gladly. These are generally larger than the small shoulder shawls shown above.
Here is a print of a well off Welsh woman wearing a paisley shawl and a crinoline.
There is one more type of shawl which is commonly worn with Welsh costume. This is the 'Nursing Shawl' or Siol Fagu. This is an exceptionally large shawl which is used to fasten a baby to one's torso so that your arms are free. Here is a website which describes them in detail I Believe that you can also order them from this website.
The standard northwest European mob cap of linen or cotton is worn with this costume. It often has goffered lace around the face. especially on the sides. Often extra ribbons are attached at the side of the face. Here is one of the many posed postcard photographs of Welsh women at tea. Notice the fancy caps.
Here are two women from Cellan, the one on the left is Jane Thomas, the mother of the photographer.
Sometimes long lappets are connected to the cap.
The Welsh hat is famous, but in fact a variety of hats were worn with this costume. You can see here just above, she is wearing a man's top hat. This was quite common. Various hats of straw, felt or wool were worn for working. A kerchief could be tied over the cap and under the hat for warmth. The dress hat was made of beaver, and varied somewhat in shape according to where it was made. Typically the beaver of Cardiganshire is tall and somewhat tapered towards the top.
Stockings and black leather shoes with buckles are worn by those who could afford them. Clogs were also worn. Often peasant women went barefoot, as in so many other places. Sometimes they would wear stockings without soles, which had a loop around the big toe to keep them in place.
A large cloak is worn with this costume as needed. It has a very large hood so that it may cover the tall hat. This is also known as the Kerry Cloak in Ireland and is worn with the folk costume in France as well. Usually the cloak is black.
There exists a perception that the cloak is normally red. This is not the case. There were a series of 'Alms-houses' set up by Henry, Third Lord Stanley. These provided lodging to poor women who needed it. One stipulation for residence was the wearing of Welsh National Dress. The red cloaks were part of the uniform provided for the residents of the Alms houses. Many photos were taken of these ladies, who often took tea in the open air, apparently. Lord Stanley often visited them, and so made for a grand photo-op, and many have seen these photos. The red cloaks were not worn outside of the Alms-houses.
Thank you for reading. I hope you have found this interesting. One's type of dress can contribute to one's expression of self-identity in a very strong way. The Cymraeg National Dress helped to bolster the self-identity of the Welsh.
Here is a video of a very nice Welsh dance, The women are basically wearing the Cardiganshire costume, although the long cotton sleeves under the betgwn are incorrect. Or perhaps they are cotton oversleeves. They are also wearing the aprons under the betgwn.
Here is a website in Wales where you can buy beautifully woven Welsh fabric for costumes. They also make children's Welsh costumes, but not very authentic.
For those of you who like dolls, here is a website offering some very nicely made dolls in Welsh Costume which are available.
Here is a website which gathers together a great deal of information on many aspects of Welsh Culture and History. It is written in both English and Welsh, and is called Casglu'r Tlysau, or Gathering the Jewels. It is well worth browsing.
The collection of the Ceredigion Museum. This is a link directly to their Museum:
Here is a website showing items in their collection.
Ken Etheridge, 'Welsh Costume in the 18th & 19th cent.', Swansea, 1997
Huw Roberts, 'Pais a Becon, Gwn stwff a Het silc' [Traditional Welsh Costume in 19th cent Anglesey] Llansadwrn, Anglesey, 2006
F. G. Payne, 'Welsh Peasant Costume', Cardiff, 1964
Megan Ellis, 'Welsh Costume and Customs', National Library of Wales, Alberystwyth, 1951
Joan Perkins, 'The Welsh Doll', Swansea, 1990
Lilla M. Fox, 'Costumes and Customs of the British Isles', Boston, 1974
Adam Glickman, 'Stereotypes, a book of Postcards', San Francisco, 1991