Saturday, January 30, 2016

Overview of the costumes of France 2 - the South

This is a continuation of my last article.
France was divided into traditional provinces before the revolution. These are shown in color in the map above. Afterwards the nation was divided into administrative districts, called Departements, of roughly the same size, which were grouped into 27 Regions.  These are shown by the fine and bold lines on the map above. A quick glance will show that they do not always correspond. The map below names the contemporary Regions and Departements.

I will attempt to present the folk costumes according to the old Provinces, as they more closely present regions of traditional culture. 
France is, like most nations, multiethnic and multilingual. The five corners of the nation have territories in which unrelated languages are spoken. German in Alsace, Dutch in French Flanders, Breton in Brittany, Basque in the Basque country, and Catalonian in Rousillon. The Corsican language is also distinct. In the main part of the country various Romance dialects were traditionally spoken, which linguists and tradition group into three languages. In the north, the Langues d'oïl
these dialects are various forms of the language which we today call French.
In the east, Arpitan,
and in the south, the Langues d'oc, or Occitan.
On the following map, French dialects are shown in shades of green, Arpitan dialects in shades of blue, and Occitan dialects in shades of red. Other languages are shown in violet or lavender.

This article will cover roughly the territory of the Langues d'Oc and Arpitan, with the exception of Bresse. Aunis and Saintonge will be included int this  article. I will proceed roughly from north to south. Some Provinces have much more material as regards costume than others.

Many of the costumes are quite similar, the largest differences being in the coifs and other headdresses, which show an amazing variety. 


This province, together with Saintonge, forms the current departement of Charentes Maritimes.

In this province there are many coifs used. Poitou and Charentes are incredibly rich in different coifs. One of the major ones in Aunis is called the Capot Marandais. This consists of a triangular  headpiece, and lace pieces which wrap around it, Similar to the Grisette of Niort.

This type is called la Rochelle.

 But others are worn in the same region.

The most spectacular version of the coif is part of the traditional bridal wear of the Ile de Re. 


This is an old province well known for its pottery.

 The island of Oleron.
One famous version of the capot marandaise which is worn here is known as the ballon.

Other types of headpieces were also worn in this province.

 This hat was worn with work clothing, as a protection against sun and weather.

This is called the coiffette.

A quadrille in 5 figures from Saintonge.


The most famous part of this province is the region of Cognac, which, of course, is known for its fine brandy.

The ballon and other coifs were worn here, but one of the distinctive coifs of this area  is called le champanais, which was  worn in the region around the town of Cognac.

La Marche

This province was once an independent county, that is, a region ruled by a Count.

The small straw hat with velvet ribbons is typical for this province, although similar to those found in parts of Auvergne.

A song from La Marche.


The large luxury vehicle is named after this province. Originally the driver sat under an open roof, or hood, which supposedly resembled the headpiece of this region. Such are the vagaries of language.

The distinctive coif of this region is called the barbichet. It is found only in this province.

A song  from Limousin. The choir is in the local costume.

Here is a dance from Limousin, La montagnard, three of the women are wearing wonderful Limousin costumes.


Auvergne was the territory of the Gallic tribe of the Arverni. Under the leadership of the famous Vercingetorix, they won significant battles against Caesar in his attempt to conquer Gaul. The people of this region continue to take pride in their identity.

Auvergne is a region which has kept much of its traditional culture, including music and dance. 

A bourree  from Auvergne. This group is wearing a variety of costumes from around the province.


This province consists of the land around the City of Lyons. It forms the contemporary departements of Rhone and Loire.


Savoy was an independent Duchy for many centuries and was only incorporated into France after the Revolution. It has very strong local traditions in many ways.

Savoy is currently divided into two departements, Savoie and Haute-Savoie, or Upper Savoy. The costumes of this region are very rich, especially in the southern part. This region lies in the French Alps

Haute Savoie

Annecy is the capitol of Upper Savoy and lies in the west part of the departement.

A traditional wedding in Annecy.
Chablais lies in the northeast of Upper Savoy, next to the present Swiss border. This costume is from the Morzine valley.

Grand Bornand lies in the central part of this area, on the Borne river. Note the hand embroidered shawls.

Val Montjoie is in southeast Upper Savoy. The mountains to its south block access to Savoy proper.

Some dances from Upper Savoy.

This area is extremely rich in folk costumes, and I have already done a series of articles about the costumes of this area.

The north and west form what is known as Savoie Propre, or Savoy Proper.

Val d'Arly
This river valley is in the north, on the border with Upper Savoy.

A dance from the Arly valley.

This is the capitol of Savoie, and little is remembered of its costume tradition.

The following are two long, large and isolated mountain valleys with extremely rich costume traditions.

This costume is often used to represent all of Savoy. I have one article just on this valley.

A dance from Tarentaise.

A video showing silk and embroidered shawls  from Upper Tarentaise.

Many villages in this valley have their own costume. I have written three articles about it.
Upper Maurienne

Dances from Orelle, in Upper Maurienne.

Montaimont and Villards Valley

Arvan valley. These are very famous and distinctive costumes. I have also written an article about these.

Music and images from up and down the Maurienne valley.

Here is an example of why one should be wary of artist's renditions of costumes.

The artist has  this woman wearing the headpiece of Tarentaise, which would indeed be worn in Bourg St Maurice,  but also the skirt of the Arvan valley, and the rest of the costume of Montaimont. All the pieces are from Savoy, but such an ensemble has never been worn by anyone. Be skeptical and verify.


This province is named after the dolphin on the coat of arms of the Counts of Albon who ruled this area until it was annexed by the kingdom of France in 1349. Since that time, the heir to the French throne was referred to as 'Le Dauphin', and was nominally the ruler of this County.





Nice is today the embodiment of the French Riviera, but it was never part  of the Kingdom of France, being joined to France only in1860. This province completely surrounds the Principality of Monaco.

The traditional language of this area is Occitan, and the costume in the hinterlands was similar to that of Provence. But one costume in particular has become a symbol of Nice itself, and is also worn in Monaco as their Traditional Costume.

Dances from Nice.


This province, like so many others, was an independant County until it was annexed by France in 1481.

The people of Provence speak their own dialect of Occitan, called Provencal. The costume does not vary much by locality, although there are some differences between Upper and Lower Provence. There is more distinction between the costumes of the three social classes: Paysanne, Artisane, and Bastidane. The area around Arles has a distinct costume.
I have written an article about  Provencal costume.

Upper Provence

Lower Provence




This costume is basically the same as that of the Artisanne, but made of finer and more expensive materials.


A dance group out of Aix en Provence.

The city of Marseille has encroached upon the village of Chateau Gombert, which has a somewhat distinct costume, featuring a unique coif in both small and large variants.


This city lies in the west of the province, near the mouth of the Rhone river and the Camargue. 
This costume is very distinct, and comes in several variants. I have already done an article detailing this costume, and its variations.

The Farandole of Arles.


This is an ill-defined term, having several meanings. It may refer to the language of the south of France, or its eastern variant. The borders shown here are those at the time of the Revolution. This was originally the independent County of Toulouse, but already under the Kingdom of France the provinces of Quercy and Rouerge had been removed from it, causing the large bight that one can see in the northern border. After the revolution, the capitol, Toulouse, and its  region,  was removed  from Languedoc, and Rousillon was added to it. All of this was  to divide the territory and try to reduce the fiercely independent character of the Languedoc people.

The northeast of Languedoc forms a distinct region, being rather mountainous, and consists of the following three  former  provinces of Toulouse.

Province of Vivarais, the current departement of Ardeche.

Province of Velay, the central and eastern parts  of the current departement of Haute-Loire. There were a variety of coifs worn in this area.

Province of Gevaudan, the current departement of Lozere.

Lower Languedoc
This is the low lying area along the coast. There is not much remembered of the folk costume in this area, but here are some images from the community of Agde, in the departement of Herault.


This was the capitol of Languedoc, on the higher ground of the northwest. Today it has been separated from Languedoc, and put into the region of Midi-Pyrenees.

A group from Toulouse performing dances from the region.

Rousillon or Rosselló

This province is the northernmost part of Catalonia. It was ceded to the French crown in 1659. The Catalan language is spoken here, and the people feel more connected to the rest of Catalonia in Andorra and Spain than they do to Paris.

The costume, like the people is the one typical of Catalonia. The first and last images show people doing the Catalonian national dance, the Sardana.

A group from Rousillon performing Catalonian dances.

Guyenne and Gascony [Aquitaine]

This is the largest  of the traditional provinces of France, and is made up of some very dissimilar regions. Some parts in the east were traditionally part of the County of Toulouse, namely Quercy and Rouergue. Of the remaining area, Guyenne was in the north and east, and Gascony in the south and west. Much of this area was part of the Duchy of Aquitaine, which played a major role in the history of both France and England. In all of this area various dialects of Occitan are  spoken, except for the Basque region.

This map shows Guyenne just before the Revolution with the modern Departements in color and the traditional regional names in Italics.

or the present departement of Aveyron. This is the easternmost area.

Bouree from Rouergue.

A street dance in Rouergue [Averyron]. Quercy
or the present department of Lot and the northern half of Tarn et Garonne.This is west of Rouergue but still north of Languedoc.

A dance from Quercy.

This was in the north of Guyenne, just west of Quercy, equivalent to the modern departement of Dordogne.

A series of videos on the costume and dance of Perigorde.


This is south of Perigorde. The costume is also found slightly further south in Gascogne, around the area of Casteljaloux.



Again, the modern departements are shown in color on this map. The term Gascogne comes from the same root as the word Basque. The people of this region originally spoke a language similar to Basque, but in recent centuries spoke Occitan.

In Gers and the lowland north of Gascony the costume is rather uniform.

Dance from Gascogne.

Songs from Gascogne. Sung in Occitan with French subtitles.

This is the area along the coast, extending inland  for quite a ways. Today most is pine forest on sandy land, but in the past, much of this region was  wetland, which led to the inhabitants developing the habit of walking on stilts to get  around.

Dances from les Landes.


This region was never a province; in fact it was divided between several duchies and counties. Nevertheless, the costumes have a certain similarity. Some of the most interesting and colorful costumes of France are found in the mountain valleys of the Pyrenees. I will proceed from west to east.

Basque Country

The northwesternmost part of the Basque country lies in France. This consists of the three provinces of Lapurdi, Lower Navarre, and Zuberoa.
There are a couple of unique costumes to this area.
 This is from Zuberoa.

This is from Lower Navarre

Some other Basque costumes from this area  resemble  those used over all of the Basque country.

This is the  famous Basque dance Maskarada from Zuberoa. It requires men in specific costumes which are as traditional as those of the Bromley Horn dance.

A dance group from Biarritz performing.


This was once an independent County, and was later joined with the County of Foix. The entire area speaks Bearnaise, a dialect of Occitan, except for the village of Eskiula, which speaks Basque.

The best  known costume of this area is from the Ossau valley.

A line dance from Ossau.


This former County is found to the east of Bearn, and is again part of Gascogne, The costume is similar to that of Bearn.

A dance from Bagneres de Bigorre.


This is in the northeast of Bigorre.

A stage presentation of a wedding in Campan.


This is also a former  County, found to the east of Bigorre.

A series of short videos  showing dances and songs from Comminges.


Another former County, this area  was later joined with the County of Foix to make the current departement of Arieges.
The costume of the valley of Bethmale is possiblly the most colorful and interesting in all of France.

 A group of Bethmalais performing songs [in Occitan] and dances at a folk festival in Poland.


This province was another which was formerly an independent County. It was very small, and at a certain point the Count of Foix became also the Count of Bearn, and removed his residence there. It currently forms the eastern half of the departement of Ariege.

This community has retained an interesting costume.

A festival with ceremonies and dancing in Massat.

Thank you for reading. I hope that you have found this to be interesting and Informative. 
I admit that this took me longer than I thought it would.

Roman K.