Descriptions of Welsh costume 1870-1879
For an explanation of recording conventions, see Chronological survey.
Mae gen aunty Liza â las fawr,
Las yn troi fynu a las yn troi lawr,
A dwylath a hanner a gambric a lawn
Pwy dalith am rheini heb wybod a Siôn
(Aunty Liza has a cap with a large lace,
Lace turning up and lace turning down,
With two yards and a half of cambric and lawn
Who will pay for those without Siôn knowing.)
1870 Bryngwyn, near Hay on Wye
Hannah [nearly 90 years old] living in ‘the Bryngwyn’ wore a tall Welsh hat till she was grown up.
Plomer, William (Ed), Kilvert’s Diary, (Penguin, 1977), p. 89, 14th October, 1870
The Rev Kilvert recorded that the Welsh hat was going out of fashion in 1871 at Llancatwg, West Glamorgan, [not in Plomer, William (Ed), Kilvert’s Diary, Penguin, 1977]
While we were here, we were not a little amused with the freaks and antiques of a score of donkeys and their drivers. The females dressed in primitive style of Welsh costume which is simply flannel of domestic manufacture, wove in a variety of patterns, that of the red, white and yellow stripe on blue background being the most used. The dress is made quite short, showing off a neat, well-trimmed ankle, and well-made shoe and stocking. Some of the better class and others, on the Sabbath and holiday, wear lace caps, very nicely got up, and on top of the head is a tall crowned silk beaver hat, with wide brim, tapering slightly from the brim to the crown. The most youthful and gay wear this hat alone, without cap, instead of which the hair is dressed in a similar style to that adopted of late by the American ladies; but the Welsh ladies don’t wear the hat on the forehead, but on the hear, nor do I think that they have resource to artificial means to increase the size of – I forget what it is called … many will smile at the primitive style of dress; but let me endeavour to assure them that a Welsh woman, attired so, seated on horseback with a market basket on her lap, or walking with market basket on her head, well loaded, and perhaps an infant in her arm, with her hat tied to the strings of her apron, blooming with the real colour of health, is as pretty, charming and happy as the gaily attired and fashionable lady of the season.
W, W.E. [Whyte, William E.; Gwynn, Gwilym Iorwerth] O’er the Atlantic : or, A journal of a voyage to and from Europe: a graphic …, (New York, 1870), pp. 86-87
The author was born in Loughor and spent much of his youth in Llanelli, but emigrated to America.
WELSH MUSIC IN LONDON. A Welsh musical entertainment took place [and one of the performers] appeared in Welsh costume, and excited great interest …
Anon, The Musical World, (1870), p. 493
[Photograph (3 3/8 x 2 3/8 ins, printed on very thin paper and stuck into the album), of three women in Welsh costume which he refers to in the text. These were posed around an elegant table indoors on a patterned carpet which suggests a studio setting. The lighting is good and this suggests he used a tripod here as he probably would have used elsewhere.]
The old Welsh costume is dying out but the photo below gives a good idea of it. The old women being the only ones who retain it. The high hats are now scarce, there is but one in Penmaenmawr where we are now staying, but the headdress of the central figure is very common; a cap and low hat over it. All the old women wear short garments, heavy boots and are always knitting.
New, Charles H., [Tour of north Wales] 1871 ‘Wedding Trip’, NLW MS 22021, p. 10
1871 MENAI BRIDGE – FFAIR Y BORTH
Pleasure fair, afternoon and evening … Some old women, attired in full native costume were the objects of much curiosity to strangers.
North Wales Chronicle (Bangor, Wales), Saturday, October 28, 1871
1872 Eisteddfod at Holyhead]
The prize on the triple harp was won by quite a young girl, who appeared in the old Welsh costume of a short stuff dress, white frill cap.
John Erskine Clarke, (ed.) Church Bells, (1872), p. 438
The chief feature of the Welsh costume is undoubtedly the tall hat worn by the women. It narrows towards the top, has a flat, round rim, …
Bullock, Rev. Charles, The Day of Days, (1872), p. 178
1873 Borth, Ceredigion
By Jove! there is a woman in a Welsh hat. One of the real old-fashioned sort – true beaver. Before the railway reached Borth, and cheap excursions were instituted, these hats were not such a rare sight as they are now; but the last five or six years have witnessed their almost total extinction, and a bad exchange has been made for tawdry imitations of modern bonnets, in which the Welsh maidens do not look half so comely as formerly.
Davies, G. Christopher, Mountain, Meadow, and Mere : a Series of Outdoor Sketches of Sport, Scenery, Adventures, and Natural History, 1873, p. 212. This originally appeared in ‘The Field’ (no date)
The dress of the Welsh women who came to Tenby Market generally consists of a high-crowned hat, a full quilled cap, a linsey plaid petticoat, a brown cloth short-sleeve jacket, woollen sleeves, chequered flannel apron, light coloured flannel neckerchief, black worsted stockings and tied boots …
Mason, R., A guide to the town of Tenby and its neighbourhood, (1873)
We breakfasted here at the house of a Mrs. … only specimen of the Welsh costume which occurred during our travels
The Marlburian, (1874), p. 129
1874 Llanarth [Monmouthshire]
At the marriage of Mr Monteith and Miss Florence Herbert at Llanarth, a double line of the retainers of Llanover were all in full Welsh costume, both in form and material – Welsh hats and caps and scarlet shawls, each hat being adorned with a silver and green leek.
The editor, Bye-gones: Relating to Wales and the Border Counties, (October, 1884), p. 132
1874 Llanarth [Monmouthshire]
Marriage of Mr Monteith, Carstairs at Llanarth, seat of the father of the bride
One of the attractive features of the departure from the chapel was the appearance of a double line of retainers of Llanover who were all in full Welsh costume.
Glasgow Herald (Glasgow, Scotland), Saturday, October 17, 1874; Issue 10860
Peasants in Welsh costume; women in bright red skirts, striped waist, plaid aprons and queer caps. It is now only occasionally that one sees the women wearing the long stove-pipe hat, although we saw some. The dress, the houses, of the Welsh were always marked by the most scrupulous neatness.
Post, Loretta J., Scenes in Europe: or, Observations by and Amateur Artist. (Cincinnati, 1874), p. 40
Merthyr streets has lost one of its most picturesque class of frequenters. The fact was that the tall Welsh hat is obsolete.
Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), Tuesday, March 9, 1875
[The illustration shows] the hat worn by the woman. This head-gear is characteristically Welsh . These hats, tall, narrowing towards the top, with flat round rims, suggest Mother Hubbard and Mrs Quickly, with a touch of Tudor witch. They are often worn over a cap with white frills embellishing each side of the face; the fair wearer, thus “got up”, resembling unconsciously, but quaintly, a Peninsular veteran, with a weather scared visage surrounded by the white whiskers of the days of glorious Waterloo. I fancy that the use of these hats is slowly dying out. I do not remember ever to have to see [sic] one worn by a young woman. They seem to be old-fashioned, and to be confined to the generation which is passing away.’
Wilson, H Schütz, Picturesque Europe, Chapter on The West Coast of Wales, p. 154
Even the red-striped flannel clad washer woman who has a smack of old Gower in her dress causes excitement.
Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), Saturday, September 15, 1877
1877 [Merthyr Market]
Women reign at most of the stalls. Here is a brisk Welshwoman selling lace caps to a crowd of elderly Welsh dames, who gravely remove their bonnets, untie their old caps, and try on the new with religious care; and a lively trade drives the cap-seller, for here every woman wears a cap of lace or muslin under her bonnet or her hat. There is a noticeable change, too, in the costumes of the market-women. The peasants of Wales, like those of most lands, cling less strenuously to their distinctive costume in these latter days than they were wont to do. Formerly a farmer’s wife or daughter who should make her appearance at market or church (or on any like occasion which calls for the donning of one’s best), without wearing a tall hat, would have been deemed careless of her personal appearance, or peculiar in her tastes; so that twenty years ago these were seen in every district in Merthyr market, as well as the distinctive long cloaks of bright colours, and the occasional scuttle shaped bonnets. Nowadays the fashion is so greatly relaxed that we see but few of these in Merthyr Market. The head coverings of the women are chiefly mushroom hats of dark straw, or close fitting bonnets of black crape, always with a lace or muslin cap underneath. There are, however, some specimens still to be seen of the Welsh peasant costume as it has been for generations past; notably a comely young woman behind a vegetable stall, who wears the full costume in all its glory. She is a pink of neatness, and her beaver is superb. I at once christen her the Pride of the market, and if ever I go to live in Merthyr Tydfil, I shall buy my vegetable marrows of none but her. Her hat is prodigiously tall, and shines with a gloss that betokens careful brushing; it has a broad rim, and a peaked crown, and is adorned about the base of its chimney with a twist of some pinky stuff. Underneath it is seen a muslin cap of snowy whiteness, with blue ribbons, and the woman’s hair is drawn smoothly back from her shining forehead. A short semi-coat of red flannel reaches to her knee, and over her shoulders is pinned a gay green kerchief, striped with yellow. A blue chequered apron hangs from her waist, and a dark stuff gown reaches to her ankles, clearing the ground by some inches, and showing her stout shoes tied with a bit of ribbon. All these stuffs were home-made, I judged. The hat looked as if it were new, just out of a shop, but she told me she had had it some years. Such a hat will last the wearer a life-time with care, but it is likely to grow wrinkly at its peak as the burden of the years grow heavy on it. Later in the day, while rambling about in the neighbourhood of Merthyr, I came upon two elderly dames before a cottage door, whose hats were as old as themselves, to all appearance; one of the beavers indeed awakened the suspicion that it had been sat on in some dark hour of its existence. pp. 50-52
In … Carmarthenshire, I have been struck with the prevalence of a certain Herculean type of woman, slow and ponderous of movement, and of a height which when exaggerated by the tall beaver hat of the peasantry, is simply gigantic in effect. pp. 216
… the Welsh woman’s hat – that quaint Old-Mother-Hubbard hat which these women alone of all the world have continued to wear throughout the changes of fickle fashion. This hat is undoubtedly very ugly, but – thus does a modern Welsh bard poetise on the subject: –
Men buy their hats all kinds of shapes,
Our own Welsh women change theirs never;
‘Tis with their hats as with their loves-
Where fancy rests the hear approves,
And, loving once, they love forever.
Still, it is very clear that the Welsh woman’s tall beaver hat is doomed. The pressure of modern taste in dress is too strong to be resisted, and year by year the tall hat gives way. The lamented comedian Charles Mathews, [Charles James Mathews, 1803-1878], in a conversation at my house in Cardiff shortly before his death, said to me that fifty years ago, when he made his first visit to Wales, all the women wore the tall hat. Now, according to my own observation, it is worn only by the farmers wives and daughters in the rural shires, and only by the maturer ones even among them. I have rarely seen a very young face under a beaver, though comely ones of middle age have frequently been encountered. In Cardiganshire some of the women wear a peculiar cloak-hood, and when, in a shower, this is thrown, as it sometime is, over the tall hat, the effect is something prodigious. The hat, being a matter of a foot high, and as solid as a chimney pot, covering it with the cloak-hood gives the wearer the appearance of having a balloon on her head. pp. 250-251
Sikes, Wirt, (1836-1883), American Consul in Cardiff, 1876-1883
Harper’s magazine, Volume 54, (1877), p. 340;
The Wild Welsh Coast, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine vol. 66, (February 1883), pp. 327-352
Rambles and Studies in Old South Wales, (1881) Reprinted by Stewart Williams, Barry, 1973, pp. 50-52, 216, 250-251. This was based on his illustrated articles published in American magazines such as Harpers and some have been republished in ‘Exploring The Wild Welsh Coast 100 Years Ago’ edited by Stuart D Ludlum, (Thames and Hudson 1985)
Part quoted in Smith, David, A People and a proletariat: essays in the history of Wales, 1780-1980, (1980), p. 218
1877 Dolgellau [French]
[Visits Miss Roberts at Dolgellau, on recommendation of English people at his hotel.] Elle est vêtue du costume welsh national. Coiffée en bandeux avec une torsade en velours en guise de natte, elle a une robe ouverte en carré [This means square or angular. This could refer to a chequered print on the dress, or more likely to a square neck shape.] par devant, et sa poitrine est garnie d’une chemisette à la Suissesse. Elle est drapée dans un châle de laine rouge. Miss Roberts nous fait le meilleur accueil.’
(She is wearing the Welsh national costume. Her hair coiled around her head, with a twist of velour serving as a plait, her dress is open at the front, and a Swiss-type blouse decorates her chest. She is wrapped in a shawl of red wool. Miss Roberts gives us the best welcome.)
Albert Huet, Un tour au pays de Galles (1877), p. 23
Translation by Heather Williams
‘Welsh Costume, showing National Costume.’ The illustration is from a photograph purchased in Laugharne, Carmarthenshire, 20 years ago but we are not aware by whom it was taken and so cannot acknowledge it. The old national Welsh costume is now rapidly dying out, so that it is desirable to preserve a record of it taken from genuine natives, and not from models dressed up for the occasion.
[Photograph: Two women by a waterwheel. Neither are looking at the photographer. Seated woman with Welsh hat in poor condition, shawl or top of a very short mantle just covering the shoulders; several layers of striped skirt and petticoat (3?), the skirt patched? and she is wearing shoes. The standing woman’s hat is obscured but does not appear to be tall. She has a short loose, short-sleeved bedgown, buttoned up to the neck; long plain skirt, and is holding a baby in a siol magu.]
Anon, Allen, John Romilly (ed.), The Reliquary and illustrated archaeologist,: a quarterly journal and review Devoted to the Study of Early Pagan and Christian Antiquities of Great Britain, …new series, vol. 3, (1897), p. 241
Brief Swansea revival. In 1878, the interest in Welsh costume was briefly stimulated by a group of women who wore modern versions of it in Swansea and although there was some encouragement for this, it just turned into an opportunity to criticise modern women’s fashion.
Report that the Swansea Bay published a cartoon showing Mrs Hussey Vivian in the National Welsh costume presenting a bouquet to the Prince of Wales on his first visit to Wales [which took place in 1881].
Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), Saturday, December 21, 1878
The dresses of the actresses are remarkably beautiful. … and the cockle-shell hat completes the picturesque costume which is rapidly coming into use in Wales amongst the best families …
The Englishman, Volumes 9-10
A woman answered her summons, whose singular appearance riveted his attention for the moment. She was in Welsh costume, and was large, bony, and grey-headed
Anon, Quiver, (1879), p. 91