1878

YOUNG WOMEN WEARING WELSH COSTUME IN SWANSEA

In August 1878 a group of young gentlewomen walked around Swansea dressed in Welsh costume. This appears to have been an attempt by them (or probably by their parents) to revive the traditional Welsh costume and the Welsh woollen industry. This resulted in a brief flurry of reports, leaders, editorials and letters published in Welsh and other newspapers. The correspondence, which lasted until September, was more critical of contemporary women’s fashions than enthusiastic about the benefits of wearing traditional costume, whether for commercial or national benefits. No letters or reports on the wearing of Welsh costume in Swansea were published after September and the whole project appears to have failed, but it might have been the foundation of the proposals for the costumes which were worn when the Prince of Wales opened the Swansea Docks in 1881.

SUMMARY

Several young ladies connected with the principal families of the district, created considerable surprise on Saturday by appearing in the streets dressed in the old Welsh national costume. The attire is described as exceedingly becoming, its more general adoption by ladies is regarded as certain and the circumstances calculated consequently to give a desirable impetus to the Welsh flannel trade. (Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), Tuesday, August 13, 1878, Leader)

Two weeks later, the editor of the Cambrian repeated the description of the costume, taking the opportunity to criticise the ‘absurdly tight fitting and vulgar costume of the present day not only impedes locomotion, but makes the ladies appear more like Chinese mandarins than English [sic] women’ (Cambrian, 30.8.1878, p. 8, editorial) and the following week he cynically suggested that if the experiment proved to be successful, Paris would be supplanted by Penclawdd as the fashion centre of the world, but again suggested that wearing Welsh costume would be an excellent alternative to the current fashion which was in great need of reform. (Cambrian, 6.9.1878, p. 5 editorial) Two weeks later the Cambrian published a letter which suggested that none of the respectable middle class, not even their servants, would follow the example of the wives and daughters of a few of the wealthy merchants, but recommended that the fashionable women should ‘leave off their long wasteful trains, and the extravagant trimmings which they now wear’. (Cambrian, 20.9.1878, letter).

This view was contested by another reader, (who, perhaps, would have profited by the production of more flannel), by suggesting that the majority of Ladies were waiting for other wealthy ladies to wear Welsh costume to establish it as fashionable. He concluded: Let the ladies alone, therefore, to wear the Welsh costume in peace, if they like it. Surely we should not be ashamed of our ancient national costume, which is pretty to look at, convenient, comfortable, and very easy to make a wear. … (Cambrian, 27.9.1878, p. 3 letter)

FULL TRANSCRIPTION

Almost a sensation was created in Swansea on Saturday August 10th (according to a south Wales daily paper) [presumably the Western Mail, see below], by the appearance in the streets and markets of several young ladies, daughters of some of the principal families dressed in Welsh costume. The dresses were of course made of the very best Welsh flannel, the ‘bedgowns’ and under petticoat being of black and red plaid reaching down to nearly the ankle, with white and black plaid aprons, the corners being pinned back in accordance with true orthodox Welsh peasantry fashion.
The black cockle-shell fashioned bonnet and white linen cuffs (up to the elbows) completed the very picturesque costume, and we need scarcely say that these charming young ladies were cynosure of all eyes. Even the most prejudiced could not but acknowledge that the dress was most becoming and modest, a vast improvement upon the extravagantly tight fitting absurdities of ‘fashion’ of the present day.
The dress being short affords perfect ease in walking and when it is more generally adopted (as it now unquestionably will be), will give a much-needed impulse to one of our important local industries – the Welsh flannel trade.
Cambrian, 16.8.1878 (editorial)
The Bristol Mercury and Daily Post (Bristol, England), Saturday, August 17, 1878;
North Wales Chronicle (Bangor, Wales), Saturday, August 24, 1878;
The Newcastle Courant etc (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England), Friday, September 27, 1878; (mention)
Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post or Plymouth and Cornish Advertiser (Exeter, England), Tuesday, December 24, 1878; (mention)
Repeated almost verbatim in Bye-Gones, August 1878, p. 83

1878
REFORM IN LADIES’ DRESS
The Echo of Wednesday says ‘Probably there are few persons of intellectual status but will agree that a reform in Ladies Dress is imperatively necessary. The absurdly tight fitting and vulgar costume of the present day not only impedes locomotion, but makes the ladies appear more like Chinese mandarins than English  [sic] women. It is with pleasure, then, we find that some of the best families of south Wales are setting a reform in dress, most picturesque, but becoming. Many of the principal families in Swansea have dressed up their grown-up daughters in the old Welsh costume. The bodice, the “bedgown” and petticoat are all made of the best Welsh flannel, the petticoat being looped back in true orthodox fashion. The dress is short, reaching only to the ankle, and white linen cuffs up to the elbows, and the cockle-shell hat, completes the picturesque costume which is rapidly coming into use in Wales amongst the best families and giving a much needed impulse to the Welsh flannel trade.     
Cambrian, 30.8.1878, p. 8, (editorial)
The Bristol Mercury and Daily Post (Bristol, England), August 30, 1878

1878
LADIES DRESS REFORM IN SWANSEA
Satirical comment that if women take any notice of the previous week’s report on wearing Welsh costume, Paris will be supplanted by Penclawdd as the fashion centre of the world.  ‘It has been said that the [Welsh] costume is most becoming; that the material of which it is made is quite the most conducive to the good health of the wearer in so variable and so damp a climate as ours ; that the newly revived fashion will find universal acceptance, even in Japan; and that this excellent movement will “give a much-needed impetus to the Welsh flannel trade” Whether all this may come to pass or not – and we confess we cannot feel so confident as some of our contemporaries – is of no moment. One thing, however, is plainly indicated by this outburst of enthusiasm – namely the need of reform in female dress. … Since the recent article in the papers all eyes are directed to Swansea, and if Swansea ladies will only unhesitatingly and truly lead the way in so desirable reform they will earn for themselves distinction, and personal comfort and the thanks of the national sisterhood.
Cambrian, 6.9.1878, p. 5 (editorial)

1878
REFORM IN LADIES’ DRESS
Much has been said and written of late about the ladies and their dresses, and of the great need of some reform. The plan which a few of our wealthy merchants’ wives and daughters have proposed and adopted seems to me to be the most unlikely of all of bringing about any desirable reform. To adopt a flannel bedgown, flannel apron etc instead of rich silks and satins, is to go from one extreme to the other; it seems like a mere frolic, and they may rest assured that none of the respectable middle class, not even the servants, will ever follow their example. If the ladies were to leave off their long wasteful trains, the extravagant trimmings which they now wear on their dresses, and the vulgar “sacks” which are enough to make modest females blush – let them try this plan, and I feel it would bring about the reform which is so much needed amongst all classes.
Yours respectfully, A Constant Reader
Cambrian, 20.9.1878, (letter)

1878
THE WELSH COSTUME
In your good old paper of last week, “A Constant Reader” (moralising) calls attention to reforms about to be made by wealthy ladies of Swansea in their wearing apparel. The writer does not seem to approve of the Welsh costume being worn by ladies, but rather inclines to stick to his view of silks and satins, and speaks of the ladies going from one extreme to the other as a mere frolic. Well the latter may be true; but when he says that none of the respectable middle classes, not even their servants, will ever follow their example, I beg to differ from him. I believe that once the thing is set afloat by a few more of the wealthy ladies, it will boldly be followed by others, who are perhaps only now waiting until all idle curiosity is over. If the servants do not think it proper to follow, why, let them just stick to their own fashion, as they have it, and they will offend none, except, perhaps, those who my happen to be tripped up by unfortunately treading upon their wasteful, as far worse than useless, long skirts. {criticism of the modern fashion of wearing a tail} … Let the ladies alone, therefore, to wear the Welsh costume in peace, if they like it. Surely we should not be ashamed of our ancient national costume, which is pretty to look at, convenient, comfortable, and very easy to make a wear. …
Oh how delightful ‘tis to see
That Swansea ladies now agree
To wear the simple flannel dress
Of by-gone days; – all will confess
That ‘tis so very nice to meet,
Our charming lasses in the street,
With Taffy’s costumes fitting neat;
Their shortened skirts exposing feet
So Lovely! ‘twill be truly sweet,
When worn with cockle hats complete.
We’ll praise the costume and the flannel,
as best this side the Bristol Channel;
And praise the girls who’ll wear the stuff
Despite the scorner’s keen rebuff
Respectfully Yours
A Casual reader
Cambrian, 27.9.1878, p. 3 (letter)

1878
FEMININE FASHIONS, FANCIES, AND FOIBLES
With the panniers now introduced and the old-fashioned garment called by our great-grandmothers a bedgown, I see another return to the fashions of the past. Reference to the Welsh costumes being worn by the daughters of principal families in Swansea.
The Newcastle Courant etc (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England), Friday, September 27, 1878

1878
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

Advertisements