Saturday, February 28, 2015

Costume of Bresse, France

Hello all, 

Today I will talk about the costume from the French region of Bresse. Bresse forms a coherent region with natural boundaries in the east of France, not very far from Switzerland.
It is found in the southeast of the old Province of Bourgogne, but today has been split between the Departments of Ain, Jura and  Saône-et-Loire. This points out the problems of using the modern administrative units, as here, as happens so often, they do not  coincide with cultural historical regions. Here is a map of France with the modern departments. Bresse is found at the juncture of the three mentioned above.

 Here is a map of the traditional provinces of France.

This is a map of the region of  Bresse. Bresse basically lies between the Ain and Saône rivers, including Bourg en Bresse in the south and Louhans in the north. Macon lies in the west of this area, having a similar costume. The lines on this map are roads, not rivers.

Except for the headdress, the costume of Bresse is much like that of other areas of central France.
The base garment is a chemise, with lace at the neckline and full sleeves gathered into a cuff, or with short sleeves.
A petticoat, or more than one is worn, along with bloomers and knit stockings.


Over this is worn a dress, with attached bodice and sleeves. This can be in various colors, wool in the winter and silk in the summer. It may have 3/4 sleeves which widen towards the cuff so as to show the  chemise sleeves. The sleeves may also be full length or elbow length. The bodice laces or buttons up the front. There are two or three bands of black velvet ribbon sewn above the hem.


 A shoulder shawl, or fichu, is worn. It may be a single color with ribbon near the edge, or it may be cotton or silk print with a border design. The point hangs to the waist in back, it is pinned to the shoulders and is fastened in front. It is of a color which contrasts with the dress. It may have fringe.

 Over all of this a large pinafore apron is worn. The skirt of the apron is full, covering the front and sides of the dress, and is a few inches shorter than the hem of the dress. There is a large bib which is pinned in place, 'pin-afore'. The top of the bib may be curved or in a v shape. The top of the bib may have trim, tucks, or sometimes even metallic embroidery. The apron should be of a color which contrasts with both the dress and the shoulder shawl. The bib may be pinned with straight pins, or with small brooches. There may be silver or gold chains attached to these.


Other jewelry may be worn. As in most parts of France, a cross is common. Bresse is famous for enamel work.

 Either black leather shoes or sabot [wooden shoes] may be worn.

As in all French costumes, a coif is mandatory. The bressan coif is relatively simple in construction. It consists of one piece with a border. Two to five rows of goffered lace 'tuyautee" are attached to the edge. It  is made of tulle or fine cotton or linen. A woman would never  leave the house uncoiffed.

The back of the coif is embroidered with various motifs, usually floral. A band of matching cotton or linen, also edged with the goffered lace buttons under the chin to secure the coif for married women. Single girls wear a coif with a red silk ribbon.

Here is a picture of a disassembled coif, and some coif embroidery.

For work, and in case of mourning, the coif is made of simple white muslin.

For the period of half mourning, the coif was slightly more elaborate.

In times of mourning, single girls would replace the red ribbon with black.

For exceptionally important events, the coif was sometimes embroidered with silver or gold.

All in all, the coif was a true work of art, and the ornament a mark of individuality and creativity.

For dress occasions, a very unusual hat is worn over the coif. This is called the brelot.

 It consists of a rigid disk of felt topped by a hollow sort of finial on a brass framework. The top of the finial often has a small tuft of lace and artificial flowers. The disk is also covered with black lace, and there are lace panels which hang off the sides and back down past the shoulders. The front has a short lace panel. The brelot is held in place with a black velvet ribbon secured under the chin. The brelot may be ornamented with gold chains and pins. 

Thank you for reading. I hope that you have found this to be interesting and informative.

Here are some videos of folk dance groups from Bresse.


Source Material: 
Carole Larche-Millon et al, Coiffes entre Bresse et Bourgogne, Taillanderie, 2006
 Lilla Fox, 'Folk Costumes of Western Europe',
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
Caroline Brancq, 'Les Costumes regioneaux d'Autrefois', Paris, 2003
Jacques Boulenger, 'Les Costumes de France', Journees du Livre, 1932
Andre Varagnac, ''French Costumes', London-Paris-New York, 1939