Kerchief / handkerchief / headcloth / head kerchief / neck kerchief   (binneog in Ireland)

The term fishu is French. It was used by Dr Ilid Anthony in her booklet on Welsh costumes for a scarf or small shawl worn around the neck, but it is not really the correct term to use in the context of Welsh costume. A fichu was a delicate fabric, often with lace whereas the kerchief worn in the same way by a Welsh woman was probably a plain square or rectangle of cotton.


There are two types of kerchief: those worn over the head and those worn around the neck and tucked into the neck of a lower garment. Most appear to have been made of cotton, or possibly fine wool. They were plain or patterned.

Many illustrations show women wearing large handkerchiefs under their hats.

Several tourists suggest that wearing kerchiefs over their heads was restricted to Pembrokeshire, women in traditional dress from most parts of Wales are shown wearing a kerchief in this way.This method of tying kerchiefs around the head was not restricted to Wales. (William Alexander (1767 – 1816) ‘Picturesque representations of the dress and manners of the English. Illustrated in fifty coloured engravings, with descriptions’, published in 1814.)

References to kerchiefs. The descriptions below that they were smaller than shawls.

1774 Pembrokeshire

Wyndham  claimed that the handkerchief was restricted to Pembrokeshire and that the women there didn’t wear the men’s hats prevalent elsewhere in Wales. (Wyndham, Henry Penruddocke, A gentleman’s tour through Monmouthshire and Wales, in the months of June and July, 1774, (2nd edition) London, 1794 pp. 76-78)

1796 north Wales

‘Two printed handkerchiefs for the women; one worn round the neck, the other on the head, crossed under the chin, and tied behind.’ (Catherine Hutton, Letters written during a Tour in North Wales by Miss Hutton, of Bennett’s Hill, near Birmingham, letter II, Mallwyd, July 27th, 1796)

1801 Pembrokeshire

The Pembrokeshire women differ in their dress from all those we have before seen, for instead of the neat bordered mob cap, they universally wear a silk Handkerchief round their head and tied under the chin, sometimes they wear several upon their head and shoulder, and I was informed that the more handkerchiefs, the greater the consequence of the wearer, but to my eyes they appeared all to be afflicted with the tooth ache or sore throat.(Thomas Martyn, A Tour of South Wales, [1801] NLW MS 1340C p. 98)

1801 Narberth

… the buyers and sellers were chiefly women and their dress being so exactly similar that it seemed like looking at a single person through a multiplying glass. Those women belonging to the neighbouring Counties were clearly distinguishable by the want of the silk handkerchief round the head and shoulders worn by the women of Pembroke, but they were few in number. (Thomas Martyn, A Tour of South Wales, [1801] NLW MS 1340C p. 102)

1808 Swansea

The head dress is composed of a mob cap with a coloured handkerchief ties so closely over the head, and crossed under the chin with a long corner hanging behind as would incline a stranger to suppose there was a universal tooth-ach amongst the common people. Above all this warm headdress, in the month of August, is added a black beaver hat. (Spence, Elizabeth, (1768-1832), Summer Excursions through parts of Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Warwickshire, Staffordshire, Herefordshire, Derbyshire, and South Wales, volume 2, p. 112-3).

1835 Builth

Women looked ‘very nice in their stuff dress, full white caps with very wide borders, a black hat: which is very pretty because [it was] not made the least like a man’s hat, more like the fashion of ladies’ riding hats, and a smart Indian or other silk handkerchief pinned very neatly on with very dainty gloves make the dress complete. Some have worked collars and cotton dresses, but they do not look near so well as the stuff of linsey. Most of them rode into town on very small ponies or large carthorses and those that did not, always had patterns for it was dry and dirty. (Mary and Charles Webber, Bodleian Library, Top Gen, E59, pp. 5-6)

1860s Bala

Mary Jones (1784-1864), famous for walking to Bala to fetch a bible when young, is shown in a portrait wearing a cotton kerchief wrapped around her head and chin. (Robert Oliver Rees, Mary Jones a’i Beibl, (Y Feibl Gymdeithas Frytanaidd a Thramor, 1923), opp. p. 29)

1890 Amlwch

Dorcas Society – Annual Distribution to the Poor. Young and old were donned in one uniform fashion and sailed under the flag of respectable poverty, the costume being a short gown, white apron, and a shawl carefully covering the head. (North Wales Chronicle (Bangor) November 22, 1890)


Photograph of a woman with a kerchief worn around her head and tied at the back. (NLW PZ524825)