Welsh National Dress (FAQ)

What does Welsh national dress look like?

The popular image of Welsh ‘national’ dress, of a woman in a red woollen cloak and tall black hat, is one which largely developed during the nineteenth century. It was part of a conscious revival of Welsh culture during a period when traditional values were under threat.

Where did the style come from?

The costume regarded as national dress is based on clothing worn by Welsh countrywomen during the early nineteenth century, which was a striped flannel petticoat worn under a flannel open-fronted bedgown, with an apron, shawl and kerchief or cap. Style of bedgown varied, with loose coat-like gowns, gowns with a fitted bodice and long skirts and also the short gown, which was very similar to a riding habit style.


Did Welsh women really wear tall black hats?

The hats generally worn were the same as hats worn by men at the period. The tall ‘chimney’ hat did not appear until the late 1840s and seems to be based on an amalgamation of men’s top hats and a form of high hat worn during the 1790–1820 period in country areas.


Who made the Welsh ‘national’ style popular?

Augusta Hall, known as Lady Llanover, was the wife of an ironmaster in Gwent, and was very influential in encouraging the wearing of a ‘national’ dress, both in her own home and at eisteddfodau. She considered it important to encourage the use of the Welsh language and the wearing of an identifiable Welsh costume. She succeeded in her aim mainly because people felt that their national identity was under threat and the wearing of a national costume was one way to promote that identity.

A further influence was the work of artists producing prints for the rising tourist trade, which had the effect of popularising the idea of a typical Welsh costume, and later the work of photographers who produced thousands of postcards. This contributed to the stereotyping of one style of costume, as opposed to the various styles which were worn earlier in the century.


Where did the patterns on a ‘Welsh shawl’ come from?

Shawls were the most fashionable of accessories between 1840 and 1870. The most popular were the Paisley shawls whose pattern originally came from Kashmir in India.

At first plain shawls with a woven patterned border attached were the most common. Later many fine examples with allover and border patterns were woven in Norfolk, Scotland and Paris. Shawls of the middle of the century were very large and complemented the full skirts of the period.

Shawls were made in other fabrics and patterns, including Cantonese silk and fine machine lace, though it was the paisley pattern which became very popular in Wales, along with home-produced woollen shawls with checked patterns.

Did Welsh women really wear a shawl?

In later years, although fashionable women no longer wore shawls, smaller shawls were still made and worn by countrywomen and working women in the towns. By the 1870s, cheaper shawls were produced by printing the designs on fine wools or cotton. Even during the early years of the twentieth century woollen, knitted and paisley shawls were widely worn in rural Wales. The paisley shawl even became accepted as part of ‘Welsh’ costume, though there is nothing traditionally Welsh about it at all.

Was the Welsh shawl used in babywearing?

One tradition of shawl-wearing which is truly Welsh is the practice of carrying babies in a shawl. Illustrations showing this have survived from the late eighteenth century when Welsh women wore a simple length of cloth wrapped around their body. When shawls became popular, they were adapted to the same use, and some women even today still keep up the tradition.


Read more about Welsh Women’s History.

Comments (19)

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Mary Hughes
24 November 2020, 16:56
Is it true that the Welsh hats worn by the southern ladies taller than the ones worn in the North

Diolch yn fawr
Mrs J A Taylor-Woods
23 June 2020, 00:35
Hi to SIAN WILCOX and NINA in NORWAY, Not sure if I can help in some way: I live near Lampeter, about 15 miles from the woollen mill at Drefach Felindre. I am a designer, dressmaker, spinner (wool) and various other things. Would I be able to help you achieve your ambition! re: fabrics, costume, etc? I make all sorts of things, bridesmaids, wedding clothes, skirts, suits, coats, etc?

I found your comments purely by chance. Not sure how you can get in touch, maybe with the email address? or try phoning me 01570 218391

Regards JTW
18 April 2020, 18:37
I am trying to remember the name of the man who unsuccessfully tried to start a traditional men's costume in response to the women's costume. I have a vague recollection of a sepia-toned photograph in which he wore a top (a shirt or jacket of some kind) that had a plaid pattern like a kilt/cilt. I've been scouring the internet, but to no avail.
If anyone could help point me in the right direction, I would be very grateful!
John Wake
3 April 2020, 13:12
I introduced Welsh Tartans and Kilts into the country in the early 1990s. I started the Welsh Tartan Centre, using plaids made near Builth Wells. Tradition has to start somewhere. We also introduced the St David's Flag at that time time to brand the regalia as separate from the Scots, Irish, Cornish etc. We could not get permission to use the cinquefoils on the flag so just used the basic black cross on yellow background. It had to be marketed as no-one seemed to know it, not even the most ardent Welsh person. Now it flies everywhere. Whether you agree with the concept of the introduction of the Brithwe Dewi Sant etc., I hope it has bought pleasure to many.
Siân Wilcox
2 March 2020, 07:31
A response to Nina in Norway - I live in New Zealand but also have Welsh heritage - my mother made me a proper Welsh costume ( definitely not like the Amazon ones) when I was 4 - fortunately I am a sewer so I’m now in the process of making 2 more bigger ones for my granddaughters who have outgrown my one. I was in Wales last year & bought genuine Welsh flannel from a Mill still in operation in Drefach Felindre in mid - Wales - sadly in the year since I bought it the girls have got taller & I find I now don’t have enough fabric - I found dealing with the Mill online was very difficult so I’m now exploring other options - if you happened to be in Wales maybe you could find someone there who could make up the fabric
8 May 2019, 19:45
Hi. I have spent two days now trying to find a seamstress who specializes in the Welsh national costume. I was born in Wales, but moved to Norway with my family as a young girl. In Norway the national dress is called a "bunad", and is normally handed down through generations. Otherwise it is purchased in the county you are born and raised. As I don't really feel "home" anywhere in Norway, the idea of sewing my own Welsh national dress has sprung to mind. But I can't sew, I don't have welsh wool available, and I don't know where to start.

I did look at the generic costume one can buy from amazon, but I've seen way more beautiful costumes than that one, which is why I wonder where on earth I would be able to either purchase one, or find someone who would be happy to make one for me. In Norway we have a registry of all seamstresses who specialize in the "bunad", but I couldn't find anything like that of the Welsh dress. Did I not look hard enough?

If you could point me in the right direction, I would be happy to follow!

Kind regards from Nina.
john faragher
18 January 2018, 02:04
I am q Manxman with a welsh gran and a Manx nana, I used to get a cudge from nana and a cwtch and bach from gran. double pleasure, but never liked grans moustache

Marc Haynes Amgueddfa Cymru – Museum Wales Staff
29 November 2017, 10:12
Hi Andy, thank you for your enquiry. Here is a reply from our textiles curator:

Yes, you’re correct. Although many websites and shops sell ‘Welsh’ tartan, it’s a relatively new ‘invented’ tradition. The collection at St Fagans includes one kilt – made in Scotland in 1967 from cloth registered as ‘the national Welsh tartan’ by a Welshman called Don Richards. A copy of the kilt was presented to Prince Charles. In Wales, we do not have an equivalent registration system for our traditional woven cloths, and Welsh mills tended to produce striped cloths, rather than plaid checks.
26 November 2017, 11:11
Hi, is Welsh tartan a fairly new concept? How far does it go back in history?
Sara Huws Amgueddfa Cymru – Museum Wales Staff
28 June 2017, 13:28

Hi there Pauleta,

Thank you for your comment. I'm glad to hear that you are of Welsh descent. We have a very rich culture, language and history, and I am sure you will have a great time exploring it. We have a lot of articles here on the website about a wide variety of Welsh topics and I hope you enjoy reading them.

If you ever come to visit Wales, do come and visit one (or all) our seven national museums - we look forward to welcoming you!

Cofion cynnes, best wishes,

Digital Team