Welsh Dress

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.

Welsh Dress

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.

Shawls

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(13)

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 – National 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.
Andy
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 – National 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,


Sara
Digital Team

Pauleta J Whiteis Clawson
27 June 2017, 15:43
We have researched our ancestry and discovered that we are mainly from Wales on my father's paternal side. Our original family came from Wales in 1801 with husband, wife, two sons and another son born on board ship. I'm searching for as much information as possible; music (I play piano, organ, flute, dobro), language, dress, quilts, etc. Thank you for this post.
Drew
29 December 2016, 02:17
As a child I saw a kilted Welshman in Llangefni leading a parade. Tartan plaid shawls were common and seen in old photographs of Welsh women. We had kilted Scots working in Welsh factories also in Wales. a photo exists on the webs somewhere to be found..
29 August 2016, 09:37
Wales is a lovely country.
Rosemary Moore
22 August 2016, 20:22
Thank you for including the word 'cwtch' in one of your comments. As a small girl growing up in South Wales, I was often invited by my Great Grandmother to "Come and have a cwtch" but I never knew how it was spelt.
L.Morgan
21 August 2016, 12:51
I nursed both children 'Welsh Fashion' in the 1980's. It is the most effective way of combining a nice 'cwtch' at the same time as doing a spot of housework!
Nan Edwards
21 August 2016, 09:59
Most interesting.

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