Saturday, December 17, 2011

Costume of Ceredigion or Cardiganshire, Wales or Cymru

Hello All, 

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.

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:
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


  1. just found this post - great information - thanks / diolch ;0)

  2. Cymraes dw i! (I am a Welsh woman) and researching traditional dress for taking part in an ancient Welsh welcoming of the New Year,The Mari Lwyd, involving folk dance and Welsh traditional music, language and a horse's skull.
    I really enjoyed visiting your site for information which I will use so my outfit will be very authentic.
    Many thanks, diolch yn fawr, Alyson

  3. I'm so glad that I found you wonderful blog. I'm hopng to make a Welsh costume for St Davids day (not this year!) for my grand-daughter. She's only two years old but I want to be able to give her something a whole lot better and more authentic than Welsh costumes available to buy.
    Very many thanks

  4. I am researching Welsh quilt patterns and colors, I came across this blog and thought you might be able to help. I Live in Kansas a small Welsh community in the USA. My heritage is
    mostly Welsh and I am very proud of it! I am planning to paint a barn
    quilt using a Welsh quilt pattern. If you do not know about barn
    quilts...they are a quilt pattern painted on a board and hung on the
    barn, garage, shed, fence etc. as a decoration.

    I have found several blocks called diamond in a square, that seems to
    be a traditional pattern. I am unsure of what colors to use. It
    looks like a lot of them are a dark red and brown? My question for
    you is can you help me with the colors that might be traditional in
    Wales? Or any other patterns that are traditional would be great too.

    Really any suggestions you could give me would be helpful and appreciated.

    Thank you for you time and help,
    Marilyn Wallace

  5. Hello, thank you for your very interesting information. One thing I cannot track down is the ladies tall hat, I can only find hats for children. Would you know of any suppliers in the UK please

  6. Hello

    Great work on your blog and some wonderful images. The history of Wales can be a bit of a minefield and difficult to unpick alongside English history. I hope you don't mind but here are a few paragraphs on Wales' history that may help your readers:

    Wales is a country and one of the four countries that make up what is the UK (or Britain): Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It is thought people settled in Wales at some during the ice-age. Around 20% of the population speak Welsh, many as their first language, as well as English.

    The Welsh for 'Wales' is Cymru (cum-ree). The Germanic word 'Wales' means stranger, but the word Cymru means 'fellow countrymen'. This can be a bit confusing! Many Welsh people will refer to their country name as Cymru.

    Welsh national identity emerged among the Celtic Britons after the Roman withdrawal from Britain in the 5th century. After numerous invasions by the English over the years, Wales became annexed by England in the 16th century.

    Welsh nationalism was reawakened in the 19th century, and the development of a Welsh National Costume by Lady Lanover was seen as an aid to carving out this identity as separate to that of England. In the late 20th century Wales gained a devolved government.

    Wales has it's own national anthem and the country's national flag is the Welsh dragon. It is thought that the dragon flag was introduced by the Romans. Symbols of Wales may also be familiar - the daffodil and the leek. At times, another flag, the flag of St David is also used to symbolise Wales. St David is Wales' patron saint.

    I run a Facebook page called Heritage and History of Wales if any of your readers have any questions or want to find out more about Wales and its history. We often have Welsh costume discussions on there that may be of interest.

    Again, great blog and thank you very much for writing about the Welsh costume.

  7. Very interesting indeed. I read that a variety of hats were worn by women, but does it depend on the period, like our bigouden headdresses in Brittany? (I am a headdresses embroider) The bigouden headdress was quite small in 1890 (about 6 cm high) but grew up progressively and reached about 33 or 35 cm in the fifties. Do you know what was the maximum height of a Welsh hat?

  8. There were a variety of hats worn, mostly made by commercial milliners. There is little information as to which hats were worn where or when, but there is some indication that different styles were worn in different districts; most likely because each hat maker had his own style. I do not know the maximum height, but the top hats were worn by both men and women

  9. Fascinating! Thank you! I wonder if you know why Mother Goose is often pictured in a variation of Welsh national dress? I have looked for a connection between the two, but haven't found much.

  10. Great piece on the costume of wales!
    I might be able to jelp you with some hat information... Generally hats were different depending on the region - eg, a lot of the cocklers had more of a flat woven bonnet (this was also so thry could carry baskets on theor heads). Felt hats were common, chimney pot hats (ie not tapered, just tall and straight up) and beaver hats (not actual beaver fur, but silk fibres set into fabric and used to cover a buckram base) were worn. You can distinguish where the hat was from by the insides - believe it or not, many welsh hats were made in london and in bristol (christys of london, thomas towned of london and carver and co of bristol) and had a white silk lining with a london hat maker's label inside. There were a few actual welsh beaver hat makers, in king street, carmarthen there was a hat maker and carmarthenshire hats have a red silk quilted band on the inside with no other lining. hats originating from the south and west of wales could be 9 1/2 inches, while in other counties the norm is 7-8 inches.
    Also the width of the ribbon band would identify where it was from.

  11. It's amazing, maybe my ancestors went in such costumes! You need to find out the family tree.

  12. It was a difficult 2 weeks, but I am glad the work is done now.

  13. I blog often and I truly appreciate your content.

  14. I like the helpful information you provide in your articles.

  15. I’m thinking some of my readers might find a bit of this interesting.

  16. A great read! ery well written and will like to read more on your informative website.