When someone says, “Welsh costume” or “Welsh National costume,” an image may pop into your head – a woman in a flannel petticoat under a flannel bedgown, apron, shawl, handkerchief, and hat. The style and image was popularized by a woman named Augusta Hall, known as Lady Llanover, who so loved Welsh language and culture that she wanted to preserve it. Keep reading for more information on Welsh costume ideas based on her original vision.
Brief history of Welsh costume
In the 19th century, traditional Welsh values were under threat, and Welsh costume became a way to reclaim dress as an identifiable part of Welsh culture. Lady Llanover was the wife of an aristocrat in Gwent who sought to support the national woollen industry. By popularizing the image attributed to the Welsh costume today, she hoped to provide a tangible way for individuals to participate in Welsh culture whether they were Welsh themselves or visiting Wales.
Traditional Welsh hat
The traditional Welsh “chimney” hat is often seen in photos of women during 1840s and beyond. There are a few features that make them distinctive from other hats: tall crown, flat brim, broad, and stiff. The black tall hat became a noted feature of the costume due to its height, distinctive fashion, and the fact that women also wore them with their costume. Please view the video below for some great examples of Welsh hats.
Welsh cockle bonnet
The cockle bonnet is also part of the Welsh costume. The cockle bonnet is unique from the Welsh hat because it is white (not black) and worn by everyone, even indoors. Today, they’re worn by girls on St. David’s Day.
Welsh lady shawl
During the peak of Welsh costume in 1840 to 1870, Welsh shawls were the most popular accessory that could be added to the costume. They came in a variety of different kinds which meant that they truly added a unique element.
Square – The most basic, this type of shawl is either square or rectangle and worn over the shoulders. It has a fringe all the way around the edge and comes in natural colors.
Turnovers – For printed shawls that were sewn up in a way that once folded cornerwise the edges showed face up.
Paisley – Paisley shawls quickly became the most popular types of shawls to wear with Welsh costumes, although they weren’t traditional in anyway. They were likely only worn for special occasions.
Whittle – Large or square shawls used to carry bread or other food. This type of shawl most often came in white, cream or red.
Home-produced woollen shawls – As Lady Llanover had intended, Welsh costumes would help support the woollen industry. Home-produced shawls often took on a checked pattern, which were popular along with the paisley shawls.
Nursing shawl – In addition to providing a stylish flair to the costume itself, Welsh women found another purpose for their shawls. They took to carrying their babies in their shawls and that function is still in use today.
Welsh lady apron/pinny
The Welsh lady apron was often black and white check with lace trim. The primary component of this element was that it didn’t deviate from natural colors. Like the skirt, it is also made out of flannel.
A gown/bedgown is the element of the Welsh costume that is most recognizable outside of the hat. The gown’s essential features are being tailored with a low-cut top, and a long and wide tailed skirt. Depending on the wealth of the wearer, the exact style and colour may have varied. For example, poorer women tended to wear a shapeless gown, or a bedgown, that they could pin back whilst working.
The skirt of the Welsh costume is most often made of heavy flannel. The patterns and colors are often either horizontal or vertical stripes in reds, blues, blacks, and whites.
The handkerchief, also known as a fichu, is a square piece of fabric that helped accommodate for the low-neckline of the gown. It would be worn around the neck and tucked into the top of the gown.
Although not worn daily, Welsh costume is still alive and well today. On St. David’s Day, the feast day of the patron saint of Wales, children everywhere still celebrate by sporting their “fancy dress” and wearing Welsh costume. It’s worn at Welsh festivals, including the Eisteddfod, and at folk-dance competitions. Although she has long since passed, Lady Llanover’s memory lives on through the national costume she created for everyone to admire and emulate as an act of patriotism.