Descriptions of Welsh costume 1880-1889
For an explanation of recording conventions, see Chronological survey.


The apparent reduction in numbers of images of Welsh costumes during the 1870 lasted for only a decade and ended with a revival of the Welsh costume in the 1880s. Almost any major event after the visit of the Prince of Wales to Swansea in 1881 seems to have been accompanied by a small group of women in what by then was referred to as the national costume. This may have been a result of the realisation that a part of Welsh culture was rapidly disappearing, but the evidence for this has not yet surfaced. Royal visits, eisteddfodau, the formation of a Welsh ladies choir by Madame Clara Novello-Davies in 1883 and some other events  saw women dressed in Welsh hats, fine shawls, well-cut bedgowns, and skirts and aprons, all from their mothers or grandmothers or bought especially for one event and kept for others. There are several features which distinguish these late versions of National costume from earlier examples: the good quality of the costume, good shoes and large bows beneath the chin (for keeping the Welsh hat in place). These are mostly formal photographs of important events, and it is possible that the women wearing the costume are from the newly established middle class who could afford a costume just to be worn occasionally.

Bangor museum opened in 1887 and began collecting local specimens of Welsh fabrics, including, probably, some of the products made to sell at exhibitions of the Welsh Industries Association. Other museums, such as Tenby and Swansea opened during the 19th century and began to collect examples of costume but much was lost through natural deterioration and use in carnivals, drama productions and other public events. It is likely that some old costumes were cut up to make skirts for girls to wear on St David’s day.

1880 Laugharne area
[Mary Curtis, who came from London, devoted a whole chapter on Welsh costume in her book on Laugharne and Pendine. She  says below that the following refers to 70 years earlier, i.e. 1810s. She wrote nearly 2,000 words on the subject, but it is rather muddled and contains some quite basic errors. This chapter was not published in the 1st edition of 1871.]
Let other maids their heads enfold
In tresses dark or coils of gold;
Cambrian Maids, believe me that
Your crowning beauty is you hat.
(Mrs J Hughes of Denbigh who won a prize for this poem at the Wrexham Eisteddfod, 1876)
The Welsh costume is fast going out, and the ugly fashions of the day taking its place; it is now only worn by elderly people, and not always by them; when they depart, there will be an end of it. It is, therefore, well that I should give the following description of it, that it may be retained in mind.
About Laugharne, and throughout Carmarthenshire, the costume is this: a bodice, with sleeves and a skirt, which comes below the knee and only to the sides, looped up behind in the middle, hanging down like two ends; a petticoat underneath falls to the ankles; a large apron conceals it in front – all composed of substantial woollen stuff, the material worn throughout Wales. Sometimes the petticoat is of merino. This woollen material is called Minco, and composed of yarn and worsted; the worsted is of a coarse kind; the yarn is the wool. The colour of the material varied in the different counties. In Carmarthenshire, it is black or brown, dark blue, and a kind of morun, or what they call here a wine colour. The patterns are stripes; the plaid pattern you see now is modern. The stripes are red or white. Sometimes the bodice and skirt is of a printed cotton, which they call “Stamp.” They would say of one they admired, “That is a pretty stamp.” The petticoat would be woollen or merino. A small pad like a roll is put underneath the skirt at the waist: the sleeves short, and the bodice cut low, and confined in front by two strong, large-headed pins, like skewers. Hooks and Eyes were not known formerly; more commonly pin-drain i.e. thorn pins; and the shawl fastened with sharp thorns from the thorn tree. They were carefully sharpened with some instrument and dried by the fire, and lasted long. Drain in Welsh is thorns ; dreinen is singular. A man used to come from the higher parts of this country with these thorn-pins to sell.
The body being low, a coloured handkerchief is tucked into it, covering the neck; on holidays a white muslin one, fastened with a gold pin or brooch; perhaps a silk handkerchief; then a “turnover,” which is a small shawl coming down in a point behind and in front, made of woollen or cashmere. For mourning it is a substantial silk handkerchief of blue-black. As the sleeves are short they wear sometimes woollen mittens tucked under the sleeves. There was worn, too, long gloves, which must have been like the old long ball-gloves; and also a leather glove, which was tied at the elbow with a ribbon run through a hem, and came over the back of the hand like a mitten. The long gloves were the more ancient fashion, and the material might be woollen, merino, printed cotton, or muslin, tied around the arm above the elbow with a ribbon. They also wore, as they do now, instead of gloves, etc, a sleeve a little full, tucked into the sleeve or tied above the elbow, and confined at the wrist, made of woollen, or merino, muslin, or wash-leather, the colour of dark-blue, but usually scarlet. Stays are not worn. Stockings were of wool of the sheep, or best lamb’s-wool, black or scarlet; white ones only worn in the towns, and that quite lately by those who imitated ladies. Shoes had narrow straps in front, or ears, as they called them, such as were worn formerly. There was a smarter shoe worn with a larger, deeper strap, ornamented with buttons on each side. In the winter the poorer class, and often the better class too, wore wooden shoes; and in many instances they do so still.
The ordinary cap is white muslin with full frilling; but there was a very pretty cap, called the bridal cap. It was composed of a broad ribbon-net, of some length, on which an edging was sewn, or it was made of some handsome real lace, often worth one guinea a yard. It was put along the upper part of the forehead, passing to the back of the head, where it was crossed and brought forward to the front, and confined under the chin with a pin. Sometimes a bright silk or satin ribbon was attached to the upper part of it, crossed behind and brought to the front, and confined at the top of the head in the centre. This cap was worn by those of the better labouring class, and by the families of respectable farmers; but it was especially worn by the bride on her marriage-day. The maids in farmhouses wore sometimes a similar cap, except that it was not so expensive, and was made of muslin. The costume of the families of respectable farmers in Carmarthenshire was very pretty when they were dressed in their best on Sundays, and for visiting. It consisted of a good black silk petticoat, quilted. The gown was of a substantial expensive material, generally with a gold shot, the body neither high nor low, coming well over the shoulders, sloping low to the front; a handkerchief, red perhaps, covering the neck, and tucked into the body. The skirt only came to the sides. Over the open space in front was a clean muslin apron, gathered up small at the waist. The skirt reached just above the ankles. Shoes with handsome steel buckles; very often they were silver. The pretty bridal cap completed the costume. Out of doors there was the usual shawl, and, if the weather required it, a cloak of dark blue cloth, and the Welsh hat. But at this time, i.e. seventy years ago, it had a broader brim, and lower crown, and was trimmed with a broad black ribbon round the bottom of the crown, with a bow and long ends at the side. At fêtes they wore a mob-cap, and the hood of the cloak put over it. The present high-crowned hat is a late intrusion on the ancient one, which always had a low crown and broad brim. Anciently each parish wore a distinctive petticoat; the people of each parish were known by their petticoat; the number of stripes indicated the parish. I do not know if this were so all over Wales; but it was so in some counties. The costume I have above described was usual in Pembrokeshire; this county followed very much the same fashion as Carmarthenshire. I should have said that the low-crowned hat was brought in, as far as I can ascertain, in the reign of Elizabeth. The cost of it is now £1 1s. There is always a white muslin cap, with full frilling worn with it. More anciently, the elderly people wore a handkerchief over their heads, and not a cap. A Welsh woman, when dressed for church, or visiting, or going for a holiday, always carried her shawl folded lengthways and thrown over her arm, and many do so now; it is called a “whittle.”  When covered with a pattern, like carpet pattern, they are called “carpet shawls.” They are of wool; sometimes have a mixture of cotton and silk. In summer, Cashmere shawls are worn. For winter there was a large cloak reaching to the feet, with a large hood, with which in rain they covered the hat, as many wear still. It is made of the best cloth, such as will last forever, of a dark colour, sometimes scarlet; the hood often lined with silk. In some places there was a short cloak worn by the better classes, trimmed with ermine; the less rich ones had it trimmed with rabbit-skin. A pair of substantial wash-leather pockets, tacked onto one string, were worn by innkeepers, farmers and persons in trade, sold at glovers’ and a fairs. For mourning, a piece of crape of a blue-black round the hat, just as on gentleman’s hats; for a young person, a piece of white love ribbon (i.e. gauze), would be put over the crape where it was joined; for an elderly person, it was black lace. Now hey wear black cloth instead of crape round the hat. Widows’ caps were white, with two or three frills of muslin at the sides, plain at the top; through the hem was passed a quill or piece of wood, and the muslin gathered closely up on it so as to come out crimped. I have heard stories of the maids of the farm-houses making use of tubs of water as looking-glasses. The materials of dress were, and are still, expensive; but then they are good and strong and almost last forever. The woollen stuff for the gown, petticoat, apron, was, and is now, from 3s to 5s the yard; all wool, no mixture of cotton; not of a wide width. I have seen cloaks that have had fifty years’ wear looking as good as new, and whose material was very like a board. The cloak cost £5. Welsh flannel for shirting, very durable, 2s 6d and 3 s the yard. How well this looks – dresses remaining heir looms in the family from generation to generation – speaking more powerfully for their respectability and good position than do the smart but poor materials, the trumpery finery, the tawdry ornaments they now assume, which perish in a season, and the foolish ugly fashions of this vain world! Dress seems with them now the great business of life, as it unhappily does with most classes.
In Pembrokeshire they wear a short jacket, cut low on the neck, and called “cwta,” which means short; bobtailed; especially applied to a dress. In common language it is called “a cutty”; the skirt of it – if so short a piece is attached, and hangs down from the waist of the jacket, deserves the name of skirt – is cut off short at the sides, just under the arm, and falls lower down behind. It is something like that frill which fell behind from the waist of a lady’s riding-habit which was once fashionable. In this jacket it is in folds; comes almost to a point. A handkerchief of some gay colour, as red, covers the neck, tucked into the top of the jacket; white muslin for holidays. A bright ribbon is put in front where the jacket closes, and also round the sleeve, which is short, just above the elbow. It is composed of woollen of some dark colour or else black; sometimes it has narrow red stripes; the petticoat of some material with red stripes. The whole dress has the name of “Pais gwn bach” in Pembrokeshire and Cardiganshire. Pais is jacket; gwn is gown; bach, little. They wear mittens of wash-leather such as I have already described, and a white cap with full frills, and the Welsh black stockings. Malkin, who travelled in Wales in 1807, says in his ‘History of south Wales’ : “The women in Pembrokeshire wear a short jacket and petticoat of brown woollen, like a riding habit, a close cap and long lappets, with a man’s beaver hat. The Whittle”, he says, “only appears in this county occasionally, and is a distinction on which the wearer never fails to value herself highly. It is a short red mantle, with a very deep fringe, hanging over the shoulders, and gives a most awfully military appearance, as General Tate can testify.” He is alluding here to the landing of the French at Fishguard, at the time of the first French Revolution of 1789-90, and the Welsh marshalled the women with their red mantles to make the French think they were soldiers. The skirt worn in Cardiganshire is pretty; it is open in the front and turned behind, and confined there; it is not unlike the present fashion of skirts.
{Reference to women at Fishguard.} An elderly lady, deceased 10 years ago [i.e. about 1870] at the age of 90 [i.e. about 17 at the time of the invasion] told me that a number of women dressed in the Welsh costume, with scarlet cloaks, and their high crowned, black beaver hats, were made to go up a hill a moderate distance off and to come out at some other point in such a way as if they were three times numerous. An officer said “You see we had an abundance more troops [sic].’
Curtis, Mary, The Antiquities of Laugharne, Pendine and their Neighbourhoods, 2nd edition 1880 (completed July 1879, see p. 339), Part 1. Section IV ‘The Welsh Costume’ pp. 40-44, 338 (not in the 1st edition of 1871) (Reprinted by Dyfed County Council, 1991)

1880 Holyhead market [French]
‘C’est le jour du marché, et toutes ces femmes jeunes ou vieilles y sont venues, le chef couvert d’un énorme bolivar [From Spanish meaning top hat with wide brim.] en feutre noir, dont la forme ressemble à s’y méprendre à un vase de jardin dont le bord serait évasé comme celui d’un sombrero espagnol. Voilà pour la coiffure des jeunes femmes qui posent ce vilain ornement sur leur chignon tressé. Les vieilles, soit pour « cacher des ans l’irréparable outrage » soit pour remédier à l’absence des cheveux, ont ajouté une coiffe, sous ce tromblon excentrique.// Le vêtement ordinaire de cette population féminie est également noir.// Le fichu qui couvre la poitrine et les épaules offre seul des teintes gaies : il est noué à la taille et recouvert par un tablier blanc de toile, complément de ce costume qui, après tout, ne manque pas d’une certain élégance primitive.// Les femmes âgées portent un manteau à capuchon sur leurs épaules, et, en cela, elles ressemblent aux Irlandaises dont le costume – au chapeau et à la propreté près – est presque identique.’
(It is market day, and all the women, young and old, have come, their heads covered in enormous top hats in black felt, whose shape you could be forgiven for mistaking for a garden vase [flower pot ?] with an opened out rim like that of a Spanish sombrero. That is the hairstyle of the young women who place this ugly ornament on their plaited bun. Old women, either in order to hide the ravages of time or to make up for lack of hair, have added a headdress under this eccentric hat.// The usual clothes of the women are also black.// The fichu [neckachief?]that covers the chest and shoulders provides the only cheerful colours : it is knotted at the waist and covered with an apron of white canvas, the remainder of this costume that, after all, is not without a certain primitive elegance.// Older women wear a cloak with a hood on their shoulders, which makes them resemble Irish women, whose costume – apart from the hat and cleanliness – is almost identical.)
M., R. “Un Marché au pays de Galles.” Journal des Voyages 6 (Jan.-July 1880): 408, 410
Translation by Heather Williams

The Prince of Wales visited Swansea to open the docks. There were suggestions that local people should wear Welsh costume at the event, but few did.

Mr Wirt Sikes, in his “Rambles and Studies in Old South Wales, has necessarily some observations upon the peculiar sugar-loaf head gear of our country women, once an essential part of the national costume, but now discarded by all except the older dames or very old fashioned young people. … thus does a modern Welsh bard poetise in the subject:-
Oh Changeful woman, constant man,
Has been the theme for buried ages:
But here’s the truth, say No who can
Ye Bards, philosophers and sages:
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.
D.J., Bye-gones: Relating to Wales and the Border Counties, September, 1882, p. 121
The poem is ‘Epigram on A Welshwoman’s Hat’ from J. C. Manning (Carl Morganwg), The Death of Saul and other Eisteddfod Prize Poems and Miscellaneous Verses, J.C. Manning, Swansea, (1877).

A wax doll dressed in Welsh costume was sent to the infant Princess Margaret (born 15.1.1882), daughter of Prince Arthur, 3rd son of Queen Victoria and the Duchess of Connaught). It was sent by Miss Frances Catherine Evans, Dolgellau.
The editor, Bye-gones: Relating to Wales and the Border Counties, April, 1882, p. 42
Among the incidents of St David’s Day are included a gift to the infant daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Connaught of a large Wax doll dressed in real Welsh costume from materials made to order by Mr John Meyrick Jones of Dolgelly
Birmingham Daily Post (Birmingham, England), Saturday, March 4, 1882

1882 Visit of Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh
A young lady dressed in a gorgeous Welsh costume was present.
Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), Monday, March 20, 1882; Issue 4012
St David’s
A large number of women wearing Welsh hats and costumes were seated on the steps of the cross. Some were knitting and in a prominent position was placed one driving one of the old spinning wheels peculiar to the Principality.
A gentleman named Eastwood, who was staying in the area, present each of the old ladies dressed in Welsh costume with a packet of tea.
Dewsland and Kemes Guardian, 25.3.1882

The former is a very pretty girl, dressed in Welsh costume. Both possess voices of great richness and flexibility, and sing charmingly.
James Hogg, Florence Marryat, London society, Volume 45‎, (1884), p. 66

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, and is often worn over a cap, with white frills embellishing each side of the face. The substantial rather than the ornamental is manifestly kept in view in the general dress of the country. English influence is to a considerable extent changing the “fashion”; but the costume affords a characteristic touch of the picturesque Wales should be sorry to loose.
[Accompanied by a print entitled ‘Welsh costume’ of three women in Tenby / Llangwn costume, possibly based on a photograph by C.S. Allen, published by Francis Frith].
Bullock, Charles, Rev., ‘Welsh Costume’, The Day of Days, vol XIII, (1884), p. 178

1884 (and earlier?)
Welsh costumes differ in the different counties. The skirts or petticoats are of Welsh flannel; the tunics turned under at the back; the bodices either open heart-shape or are low. Many of the sleeves have a white over-sleeve to elbow. A check apron and a small coloured shawl across the shoulders are always worn, and a high beaver hat over a cap; but the shapes differ in North and South Wales; while at Swansea the cockle-shell hat is made of straw, and has a flat crown. For fancy balls the following Welsh dresses are suitable: – striped red and black satin short skirts; upper skirt and bodice of black velvet, with revers of red satin; white muslin neckerchief tucked inside high hat; mittens; knitting in hand. Or a dark blue stuff skirt, striped red and black upper skirt, bunched up; black and white check apron; tall beaver hat over cap. Carmarthenshire Peasant: – Plain red cloth skirt; low purple bodice; white muslin handkerchief tucked inside white cap; white sleeves below elbow; short white apron; mittens, see plate XXXII, Plate 62 (opp. p. 154) – woman in tall hat, goffered cap, shawl, gown with separate sleeves, apron; knitting.
Young Ardern Holt, Lilian, Fancy dresses described; or, What to wear at fancy balls.
Edition 1 – [1879]; Edition 2 – 1880; Edition 3 – 1882; Edition 4 – 1884, pp. 282-283; Edition 5 –  ; Edition: 6 – 1896

Margaret, a middle-aged servant in Welsh costume with high beaver hat surmounting her snow-white cap. p. 9
The fairy or witch as may be … wore the Welsh costume. She … was dressed in the striped woollen of the country manufacture. The short petticoat and looped-up gown not only enabled the wearer to climb the rocks like a roe … while the short hooded scarlet cloak and high black beaver hat … p.181
Beale, Anne, The Pennant Family, vol. I, (1885)  Fiction

1886 Caernarfon Eisteddfod
Miss Morris, daughter of the secretary of the Eisteddfod, attired in Welsh costume, presented the Lord Mayor of London with a piece of Welsh tweed. His wife was presented with a shawl made by Messrs Jones, Evans and Co., Newtown
The editor, Bye-gones: Relating to Wales and the Border Counties, September, 1886, p. 127

1886 Llangollen
To our great sorrow the national costume has completely disappeared from Wales – certainly from north Wales. The women do not wear the conical hat we are accustomed to see in pictures representing or pretending to represent Welsh women. It is true it is said that in Cardiganshire there are still to be seen women wearing the national dress, but for the statement which we were unable to verify we are not to be held answerable. In Llangollen the only approach to national peculiarity in dress is that the women nearly all wear men’s hats over their linen caps. This is peculiar but not pretty.
Myrbach,[Felician] and P[aul] Villars. Sketches of England. (London: The “Art Journal” Office, 1891), pp. 133-80

One couple appeared in Welsh costume to compete for prizes offered by Mr John Jones and Mr Elias Jones for the best male and female costumes. The president regretted that there not more competitors in so picturesque a costume. His daughter appeared in one in London recently. The two who appeared now were Mr William Foulkes, Llanberris and Miss Catherine Jane Jones, Conway.
North Wales Chronicle (Bangor, Wales), September 17, 1887

1889 Llangollen
A doll, dressed in Welsh costume was presented to Princess Victoria of Battenberg [presumably the two year-old daughter of Prince Henry] by Lady Martin on behalf of Mrs Owens of Llangollen.
The Times, Tuesday August 27th, 1889, page 8
[There were no references to Welsh costume or Welsh hats in the extensive reports of this visit in The Times.]
{Lady members of the Llandderfel choir wore Welsh costume for their performance to the Queen}
The editor, Bye-gones: Relating to Wales and the Border Counties, 1889-90, p. 227
[Queen Victoria, Prince Henry and his wife stayed at Palé near Bala (the home of Mr Robinson) and visited Wrexham and Llangollen.]

1889 [Miscellaneous]
Admirers of the picturesque will be glad to hear that the long Welsh hat which was want to distinguish the women of the Principality, has not wholly given way to the ‘Toque’ or ‘Paul Jones’. Some were seen at the Welsh Fancy Fair, St Peter’s Hall, Liverpool. The Misses Butler took pride in presenting themselves in the Welsh hat. They are now to be met with only in the mountainous districts of North Wales and some remote parts of the south.
Daily News (London, England), November 22, 1889