Monday, November 14, 2011

Costume of Pont-Aven and vicinity, Bro-Gernev or Cornouialle, Brittany

 Hello all,

Today I will talk about another costume which was acquired by my friend Joan. The costume is commonly known as Giz-Foen [or Giz-Fouen]. It is also known as the costume of the regions of Fouesnant, Rosporden, Concarneau, or Pont-Aven. In fact, it is found in all of these, and over a relatively large area along the coast of the southeast corner of the province of Bro-Gernev, or Cornouialle, Brittany, as far north as Elliant. [But is not found in the communities of Moelan on the sea or Clohars Carnoet, in the extreme southeast corner.] Here is a map of Lower Brittany with the subject area shown in red. Below is a map showing the province of Cornouialle in the context of all Brittany.

 Brittany, or Little Britain, was settled by people from the southwest of the Island of Great Britain, who were driven out of their homeland by the invading English, [Anglo-Saxons]. The province of Kernev [in Breton] or Cornouialle [in French] is named after their homeland in Britain, Kornog or Cornwall, just as the next province to the east, Bro-Wened, or Vannes, is named after Gwynedd.They brought their language with them, and it is still spoken in Brittany today, being closely related to both Cornish and Welsh. On the map above, you can see the black and white flag of Brittany, and the flag of Kernev (Gernev)or Cornouaille with the white ram on blue.
For more information on Brittany, see this article.

Brittany, especially the western part, has a very rich history of folk costumes. This is one of the better known ones, with its elaborate coif. I found the costume on auction from an Estate Sale, among a lot of stage costumes, and i was able to buy it quite cheaply, as noone knew what it was. My Friend Joan, for whom i more recently made a Provencal costume, was very happy to acquire it.  Here is the costume as we received it. Below that is a photo of Joan  wearing it, along with myself in an Indian Kurta, Jennifer in her Hungarian, from the Great Plain, and Rita in her Goral.

Since Pont-Aven, one of the villages where this costume is worn, has a long history of hosting famous artists, this costume has been well documented in art. Here is a painting by Sartre from his time there of the innkeeper where he stayed, followed by a sketch from another artist.

Here is a photo showing a more contemporary version of this costume.

The base of the garment is a chemise, which does not show, except for some lace on the ends of the sleeves. Over this is a full petticoat, or more than one. Then there is the famous collerette, which you can see in the above images. This is attached to a sort of dickey, which hangs over the torso front and back, I think it was originally secured by ribbons, as similar garments in Dutch and German costumes are, we pinned it to the waistband of the petticoat.. The collar itself is very wide, and has lace attached to the front edges. The top edge of the front overlapping pieces is also decorated with lace.
The rest of the collar is goffered, like the ruffed collars in Elizabethan costume, but each curl is much smaller. These are made by gathering the collar material into a neckband. Then for each curve, a straw is placed either on the top or bottom, the cloth is wrapped around it, and then the whole thing is starched and ironed to keep the ruffle. [Needless to say, she has not washed it since she acquired it.] 

The effect is quite  stunning, especially when considers the amount of work it takes to make and set.

In some variants of the costume, the collarette has quite a curve to it. I do not understand how this is achieved, but it is impressive.

 Over the collarette, a 'jacket' of heavy wool is worn, called blouse or gilet. It opens down the front, the two sides overlap, and the neckline is cut square and edged with ribbon, trim, and/or rows of embroidery. This is pinned closed. It also has matching rows of ornament on the ends of the sleeves. Lace may be added, or the lace may be attached to the ends of the sleeves of the chemise. 

Over the blouse, or gilet, a vest or bodice is worn. It is made of the same heavy wool. It has armholes  cut large in back, and it is laced tightly in front. It is again decorated with matching ornament around the armholes, the neck, and the front edge. 

Here is a woman wearing an older form of the costume. You can see rows of embroidery between the rows of sewn on trim and ribbon.

In the photo of the rear of the vest above, you will notice a sort of padded 'shelf' on the lower back. A full skirt of the same wool is worn over the bodice, and this helps hold it in place. The hem of the skirt is ornamented in the same way as the blouse and the bodice.  The length of the hem varies.

 Over all of this, an apron is worn. Occasionally you will see one that hangs from the waist.

But most commonly, there is a triangular bib attached to the top, which is pinned to the bodice. In England, this was called a 'pin-afore'. It is usually white, off white, or blue, and often trimmed with lace. The length of the apron also varies. It is unfortunately sometimes made of satin today.

Open-work gloves, 'mitaines', and black velvet ribbons around the neck elegantly accessorize the outfit. The ribbons sometimes have sequins attached, and often support crosses.

What truly sets this costume apart, as is so often the case, is the unique coif. While at first glance it may appear to be bizarre and rather inexplicable, consisting of a pillbox with one or two wide strips of lace attached, in fact it developed from the standard mob cap with long side lappets.

If you look at the painting by Sartre above, you will see an  early form of this cap. Here is a woman wearing the old-style cap of Pont-Aven that he painted.

And here is the cap as worn in Pont-Aven today.

The hair is gathered up into a bun on top of the head, or more likely, braided and then pinned up, as in Arles. The cap is then fitted on top of the hair. You may have noticed that there are variations on this basic coif. For example, in Pont-Aven, there is one strip of lace. In Concarneau and some other communities, they have two, like this.  Joan bought her coif seperately, on French Ebay, and it is closer to the Concarneau style.

In fact, because this basic coif is worn in so many communities, several variations have developed.

And that covers the Pont-Aven costume. However, there is in fact another variant, which reflects something that is often seen in the historical development of folk costume. In some communities where they wear this costume, the women at a certain point looked at it and muttered something under their breath probably best not recorded for history. They then decided to simplify. They took the blouse, vest, and skirt and made it all in one piece, thus creating a dress in the modern sense. This has become the costume of these communities, and is still worn with the collarette, coif and apron. It is often of velvet or a rich dark fabric, and an entirely different type of embroidery, often including beadwork has developed for this dress. 

Some of these communities include Quimperle,



and Tremeven. This is the same woman photographed in 1913 and 1915. One could wish to see her embroidery more clearly.

 Thank you for reading, i hope you have found this interesting and perhaps inspiring.
I will close with just a couple more images which i found on the internet, and one of Joan wearing her costume.

Just a couple of videos to show the costume, and let you experience Breton Music. The music is clearly of the Celtic Tradition. 

This is a group of people doing An Dro, one of the commonest dances of Brittany. Every town does it a little differently. This is how it should be done, in one long line with everybody. This is from a festival, a fest noz, in Riec The costumes are very visible. They are accompanied by a pipe and drum corps.

This is a gavotte in the style of Fisel, extensively choreographed for the stage. The music is very good, being a form of Mouth-Music in call and response.

 And another group doing An Dro.

Feel free to contact me with requests for research. I hope to eventually cover all of Europe and the Former Russian Empire/Soviet Union. I also gratefully accept tips on source materials which i may not have. I also accept commissions to research/design, sew, and/or embroider costumes or other items for groups or individuals. I also choreograph and teach folk dance.
Roman K.

Source Material:
Joseph Jigourel - Yanna Fournier, 'Costumes de Bretagne', Brest, 2000
Pierre Jakez Helias, 'Coiffes et Costumes de Bretagne', 1983
Bruno Helias, 'Breton Costumes', Florence, Italy, 1997
V. Hetet-Roudaut et al, 'La Broderie en Bretagne', Morlaix, 1989
Andre Sainsard, 'Costumes Folkloriques Provinces Françaises', Paris, 1972
Royere, Gardilanne, Moffat et al, 'Les Costumes Regionaux de la France', New York, 1929
Charles-Brun, 'Costumes des Provinces Françaises', Paris, 1937
P. Leroux, 'Costumes Regionaux', Paris, 1940


  1. Thanks for this Roman. Being born and raised in Cornwall(UK), it was great to see the traditional decorative work produced by our cousins in Brittany.

  2. Hi! In my class of French, our group has to do a research of Brittany and I decided to look at the traditional clothes first, but I can't see any of them. Could you please do something o that I can see all of them? Thank you very much :)

    1. Hello Iris,
      I have completed an article which is an overview of the costumes of Brittany. I really was not able to do it sooner, and it involved more research than I expected.
      I hope it will be of use, although likely your class project is now over with.
      You should be aware, however, that Brittany is not really French, although certainly shares much of the culture, as Wales does with England.