Friday, April 28, 2017

Costume of the North Frisian Islands

Hello all,
The Frisians are one of the minority peoples of Europe, Inhabiting the coast of the North Sea from the northern Netherlands to the southernmost tip of Denmark.  The Frisian Language is linguistically the closest living language to English [except for Scots]. 

There are over 500,000 people today who still speak Frisian, but Frisian, like many minority languages consists of several local dialects which are not mutually intelligible. They are generally grouped into West Frisian, in the Netherlands, East Frisian, which survives only in one small enclave in the Saterland, and North Frisian, which is spoken on the coast and the islands of southern Jutland, and also includes Heligoland. Other people in the area maintain a Frisian identity while having lost the language.

Here is a closeup map of the North Frisian Islands.

The four main islands are Sylt [in German], or Söl [in Frisian]; Föhr or Feer, Amrum or  Oomram, and Pellworm or Polweerm. Helgoland or deät Lun, is culturally and linguistically related to the North Frisian Islands, but is separated geographically, being found further out to sea. While Sylt and Helgoland each have their own distinct costumes, the rest of the islands and islets share basically the same costume, which started on Feer and Oomram and spread to the others. The islands of Rømø and Fanø each also have their own costumes, but are inhabited by Danes.

Here is a print by Albert Kretschmer showing three variants of this costume. This was published in 1887. In the center is a more everyday costume, on the right is the Sunday costume, and on the left is the Dress costume for special occasions; the last is the one most commonly seen today. The apron waistband is narrower today, otherwise, the costume is very similar. 

When I searched for images online, there was some confusion as to which island the various images came from . I did find out from a video the difference between the costume of Foehr, just below, and the costume of Amrum, in the second image. 

If you look at the semicircle of silver filigree buttons on the front, The Foehr costume has 12, while the Amrum costume has 8.

The image below shows a woman from Hallig Hooge, one of the 10 small islets in the area. Note that she has ten buttons.

The only images which I could find from Pellworm has them in the Sunday outfit rather than the full dress costume.

Here is a video showing the Föhr costume being laid out by a woman who makes them.
The video is in German. 

Here is a video from Amrum, showing the outer parts of the costume as worn today being put on. This is also in German. 

 The outfit as worn today only seems to go back a couple hundred years, and was heavily influenced by upper class costumes of Spain. The people of Frisia have always made their living as sea traders, sailors and fishermen. Even today the silver filigree jewelry is made in Portugal. Old drawings show a costume which is similar to that of Sylt. This costume is clearly that of an affluent society.

The base garment is a chemise, over which two petticoats likely are worn, one of red flannel, and one of white linen.

The skirt is black with a blue silk ribbon appliqued to the hem, full length and heavily gathered in back. It is connected to a bodice.

 For everyday, it is likely that originally a linen overshirt was worn over the chemise and under the bodice/skirt.

 Today this is no longer seen. This has been replaced by a jacket. 

For going to market or Sunday dress, this may contrast with the skirt and bodice, the quality of the fabric being appropriate to the occasion. See also the print by Kretschmer above. This version below on the right is less commonly seen today.

 For Sunday dress, the jacket is usually black. Two silver filigree buttons are pinned to each side of the bosom, and a shawl is wrapped around the shoulders or wrapped around the waist and tied in back.


Sometimes this shawl has embroidery on the point.

For the dressiest festive outfit, a semicircle of black cloth with large silver filigree buttons around the edge is pinned to the front.

A silk shawl is wrapped around the shoulders and gathered into place with many pins.

The shawl originally may have long silk fringes which the local women knotted themselves and then sewed to the bought shawl. Over the shawl is pinned a piece of jewelry that consists of three plates which are joined with chains, with other chains hanging below. There may be a religious medal hanging from the center, as in the image above, Or there may be three pendants as shown below; a cross, a heart and an anchor, the symbols of Faith, Charity, and Hope, respectively.

Today the fringes are often separate pieces, pinned onto the shawl. This woman looks like she has both kinds of fringe.

For the dress costume, the cuffs of the jacket are trimmed with lace and two silver filigree buttons.

 The apron is very long and full, and may be made of embroidered white linen, silk damask or brocade, or plain material with lace or ribbons sewn to it. If the apron is not of linen, it tends to be in a dark color.

The waistband wraps all the way around the waist, and is fastened at the rear with a brooch that matches the rest of the jewelry.

 The 'ties' are wrapped around to the front center of the apron and secured with a pin, which allows the ends to hang freely.

The hair is braided and wrapped into a bun on the back of the head. A large shawl is folded until it is about 4 inches wide, and then wrapped around the head to make a headdress which stands up on top of the head. Formerly it would have an embroidered edge with fringes on a corner, but today this may be a separate piece which is secured to the shawl with decorative pins after it is wrapped and pinned in place, so that the embroidery is shown off and the fringes hang down on the sides. 

Married women wear a red 'cap', which is embroidered with black beads and covers part of the hair under the shawl. Unusually, most of the hair remains uncovered.

Knit stockings and black leather shoes complete the ensemble, but these are rarely visible.

A few more images of this costume; This outfit has been much photographed.


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

Roman K

 A video of the Amrum trachtengruppe explaining their costume, in German. 

A video of a dance group from Amrum 

A video of a dance group from Foehr.

 A parade on the island of Foehr.



  1. Thank you! Very interesting!

  2. I can't stop looking at these beautiful photos. Thank you for writing about this -- I love your blog! Some of my ancestors are from Pellworm, so it's amazing to learn about their traditional dress. Thank you!

  3. These dresses are beautiful! My last name is Freese, and I've recently learned that the name originated in East Friesland, or East Frisia. I was wondering if you'd be willing to do a post about the traditional clothing of East Frisia, since that's where my ancestors are from and I haven't been able to find any information on the traditional dress there. Thank you!

  4. My grandfather was from Amrum and my grandmother from Fohr. They met and married in NYC in the late 1920's. We have photos in the traditional dress of four generations including myself. I hope to use your site to craft a costume my daughter and daughter-in-law can wear so we can continue the tradition. We have the silver buttons and the breast plate.

  5. My daughter and granddaughter are currently living in Munich and I am excited to show them what their anscestors wore. DO the little girls dress the same?

    1. Hello. The full dress costume with all the silver is generally put on for the first time at Confirmation. The simpler forms of the costume, for Sunday and for everyday were worn by younger girls. If you look, there are some images of younger girls in the article, in particular image number 23, 40, and 70.

  6. Fascinating , the costume in the 17th and 18th centuries was quite different with the skirts just below the knee. I am descended on mums side from CC Magnussen who painted and drew the costumes there many times in the 1860s.l have reproductions of his pictures, showing variations on the costume, including a shawl , possibly knitted , worn over the head in mourning, also another type of headdress worn by older women