Several Welsh people and people who had connections with Wales bemoaned the wearing of English fashions and fabrics by Welsh women (not men) in place of the traditional costume of wool. What is clear from the title of the essay which the Cardiff Eisteddfod Committee set in 1834 is that the Eisteddfod organisers were concerned that the Welsh costume was beginning to disappear along with the language. Augusta Hall’s winning essay clearly states that the young women of Wales were beginning to wear the lighter, brighter cottons of the sort which their peers in England were wearing rather than the cheaper, longer-lasting, warm, waterproof homespuns that their mothers wore.
The introduction of travellers and riches has made an odd jumble in the dress of the middling class of women at Caernarvon. They mingle the cotton manufacturers of Manchester with their own wool, and often hold up a gown with all the colours of the rainbow to display a striped woollen petticoat. The poor women are invariably clad in a woollen bedgown and petticoat.
Hutton, Catherine, Letters written during a Tour in North Wales by Miss Hutton, of Bennett’s Hill, near Birmingham, Letter XI, Caernarvon; Sept. 13, Monthly Magazine, 1816
1799 [north Wales]
Catherine Hutton and her father observed two weddings: one in Llanberis, where ‘My father, who was an invited guest, remained two hours and during this time he saw about 150 persons two only of whom were English. Not a female appeared in anything but woollen or without a man’s hat, except the mother of the bride, who was cook.’ The other was in Caernarfon town – not very distant, but a thriving coastal port, and here, ‘At Llanbeblae, [Llanbeblig] the parish church of Caernarfon I saw a sailor married to the daughter of a shoemaker … The town ladies were clad, not like the mountaineers, in woollen, but in printed cotton gowns, white petticoats and white stockings; but they retained the beaver hat and, as the morning was cloudy, the blue cloak which nothing but the hottest sunshine, and sometimes not even that, could persuade them to lay aside.’
Letters written during a Third Tour in North Wales by Miss Hutton, of Bennett’s Hill, near Birmingham, Letter XIV, Caernarfon, September 14th, 1799, Monthly Magazine, 1816 and Hutton Beale, Catherine, Reminiscences of a Gentlewoman of the last century; letters of Catherine Hutton (Birmingham, 1891), p. 125
1796 Llanddaro, Carmarthenshire
Women wear whittles, a very old fashion and bad, not for its age, but because the modern rural cloak is much more convenient and comfortable than the whittle; utility is the only thing that should fix fashions, nor should anything but a greater utility be permitted to change them; but let the Carmarthenshire lasses, retaining their perfect innocence and pleasing simplicity of manners – wear their whittles forever rather than run like some of the Glamorgan harebrained wenches into the follies of fashion; ignorance of the English language guards many parts of Wales from a number of bad habits and from fashions.
Edward Williams (lolo Morganwg), Journal of an Excursion into Carmarthenshire in June, 1796
Thomas Edwards, (‘Twm o’r Nant’, 1739-1810) wrote an interlude which criticised servant girls who purchased ‘many coloured gowns and stays, whatever the shirt may be like, a shaggy hat, frilled bonnet, however ugly they may be’. They also indulge in ‘black satin cloak and wire caps, balloon bonnets and ribboned hats, large handkerchiefs and double frills, while they must have a ‘caroline hat’, fine shirts and silk mufflers and velvet collars on their coats in order to gain respect among their lovers.’ His final couplet condemned the Welsh women:
‘The pride of foolish Welsh people
Imitates that of the English.’
Gwiddanes Dlodi (to Sir Tom Tell Truth):
A’r merched mwyn gymen a’r llygaid main gwamal
Sydd heddyw mor sosi, yn caru ac yn sisial,
Pan ddeloch i’r bwth bach yn gwla’ch gwely,
Chwi fyddwch yn llafar na thalwch moch llyfu.
Y rhan mewn sadrwydd mae i chwi gonsidro
Os myfi fydd y feistres, mi wnaf i chwi fwstro
Heb ddim byclau plated na gown brith plotiog,
Na ffedogau gwynion, mi ddaliaf fi geiniog.
Y glôg sedan ddu a’r wyer capiau,
A’r balloon bonnets a’r hetiau ribanau,
A’r handkerchiefs mawr a’r ruffles dwbwl,
O myfi yn y funud a’ch gwisgaf chwi’n fanwl.
Thomas Edwards, Interlude neu Chwareyddiaeth yn Gosod Allan y Tri Chryfion Byd sef Cariad, Tylodi ac Angeu, (Merthyr, 1850), p. 12
The great influx of strangers introduced by the several Iron Manufactories have it is true of late years tended to bring English manufacturer and English Fashions in use amongst them and the ancient characteristic dress is very fastly wearing out. The younger females, when dressed, cut a smart appearance, with their white kerchiefs and aprons, scarlet cloth cloaks edged with fur, neat mob caps plaited and fastened under the chin with coloured ribbons – and men’s round beaver hats. I saw several and admired their neatness but am sorry to observe that frippery of the town is too much gaining ground among them. They have generally good healthy complexions and small white teeth which they are very careful of.
Cuyler, A.M., Recollections of a visit to Llanbeder in the County of Brecon with remarks on an excursion down the River Wye from Rhos to Chepstow including Abergavenny, Monmouth, Piecefield, Raglan etc by A.M.Cuyler 1807, NLW add MS 784a, p. 167-168
1832 south-east Wales
‘… How frequently do we now see the hale and robust mother of fifty, and even grandmother of eighty, returning from church or market secure from the storm, under the protection of the warm woollen gown, and comfortable cloak or whittle of Gwent or Dyfed, with a neat and serviceable beaver hat, and black woollen stockings, pursuing her homeward path unobstructed by the influence of cold or wet, while the delicate and cotton clad daughter or grand-daughter, with perhaps the symptoms of consumption on her cheek, is shivering in the rain, seeking the precarious shelter of the nearest hedge, or shifting her station from tree to tree, to avoid the soaking of the shower, while her flimsy straw bonnet, saturated with water, and dyed like a rainbow by the many coloured streams descending from its numerous and once gaudy ribbons, is presenting a deplorable example of the sad effects resulting from that absurd abandonment of ancient and wise habits.’
Hall, Augusta (Lady Llanover) essay on ‘The Advantages Resulting from the Preservation of the Welsh Language and the National Costumes of Wales’ for the Gwent and Dyfed Eisteddfod, Cardiff, 1834, published in separate Welsh and English editions in 1836.