What is lacking at present is any study of evidence of Welsh women’s perception of Welsh costume – what they thought about it as a costume, national or otherwise and what they thought of the masses of images of women in traditional costume. Why did women chose to spend a significant sum on the purchase of a rather inconvenient and delicate hat, and why over three hundred of these were so carefully preserved for several generations? Much has been written on representations of Welsh women but not so much on the representation or symbolism of Wales and Welshness by women, especially those wearing traditional costume. (For an excellent introduction to this see Ellen Phillips, MA Thesis on Images of Women in Welsh postcards.)
What influence did local tradition, status, occupation, religion, incomers, the romantic movement and marketing play in the development of Welsh costume? Did the idea that Welsh women were, or should be ‘hard-working, pleasure-abstaining, religious, and above all chaste’ influence those who wore Welsh costume? (Jane Aaron, Women in search of Welsh Identity, Scottish Affairs, no 18, (1997), pp. 69-81)
Was there peer pressure to wear traditional costume or did fashion have a greater influence and did incomers ever wear it except to ingratiate themselves into a local community? Why did the hat, never an official emblem of Wales, become so a popular with the tourist industry, and who, consciously or unconsciously adopted it for this purpose? To what extent did of export of Welsh cloth and stockings have had on the availability of relatively cheap Welsh fabric in Wales? To what extent was the use of the Welsh costume and hats in prints and portrait photographs driven by tradition, patriotism or by commerce?
While there is some evidence that farm maids were given cloth as part of their wage, is there any evidence for the suggestion that young woman were given a dowry consisting of enough cloth to last her a lifetime? Who made clothes for the poor? Did tailors specialise in making bedgowns?
There is also a need for a detailed analysis of the surviving fabrics including chemical analysis of the dyes which will give some help in dating the cloth. A study of wills and other documents which list costumes may give an indication or their relative importance. A comparative study of the costume worn by emigrants to Patagonia, Australia, America and Canada would be of interest.
Other questions to consider.
Some of these are prompted by assumptions that there were customs which influenced the way Welsh costume was worn, possibly based on studies of costume customs in other cultures. Most of these questions cannot be answered using the evidence available at present.
Effects of and on incomers:
What did incomers wear? Did women who moved to another part of Wales (e.g. for work or marriage) continue to wear a costume that their ancestors wore, or were they encouraged to adopt local fabrics and styles?
Did a community define what was traditional and did they exclude elements of costume which were not traditional (e.g. those introduced by incomers).
To what extent did people accept the ‘national’ dress even though it wasn’t part of their own tradition?
Was it possible to identify the costume of different villages or valleys (e.g. but the pattern in the weave of a fabric)?
Rites of passage and the calendar
Was ‘Sunday best’ Welsh costume worn by women when courting?
Did women always wear a cap to cover their hair after marriage?
Was the colour of fabrics significant in identifying marital status?
Did married women stop wearing traditional dress after giving birth or did the sex of the child influence when costume changed, if at all?
What beliefs and customs associated with costume survive in Wales, and which, if any, are of Welsh origin?
For example, what traditions were associated with a dowry, or did the husband buy a new set of clothes after the wedding (as in parts of Ireland). Were caps and hooded cloaks only worn by married women? Were there dates on which new clothes were bought (Easter, May 1st?) Were there traditions associated with old and second-hand clothes?
(See Mahon, Brid, Rich and Rare, The Story of Irish Dress, (2000) p. 65-74.)
Was a Welsh woman who normally wore Welsh costume expected to wear mourning dress on the death of her husband or other member of her family?
Did a dead person’s Welsh costume go to a needy neighbour or was it retained by the family, even if it suited no-one?
(It is interesting to note that all the surviving tailored gowns have narrow waists (about 24 inches = 60 cms), which suggests that they could not be worn by a woman with a fuller figure, and were perhaps only worn by young women.)
Did most women who had more than one set of Welsh costume, keep one just of special occasions, and others for work? Did they renew or refresh their best costume occasionally?
Did the fact that Welsh costume was so famous influence women to wear it?
Did dressing up in Welsh costume and doing things together (e.g. dancing on special days), bring communities together, or were such activities made fun of.
To what extent did Welsh communities in England and other ex-pat communities (Patagonia, America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand), wear Welsh costume on St David’s day and at other celebrations?
What is a traditional / folk / ethnic dress? How was it recognised by the wearer and the observer?
Was Welsh costume a symbol of the Welshness of the wearer, or was it just a local tradition?
What messages did Welsh costume send about the wearer to the observer?
Did the changes around the people of Wales (both within Wales and outside) prompt them to create icons of Welsh identity? For example, did the increased confidence in being Welsh influence the wearing of National costume?
Was the National costume developed during periods of stress (e.g. in Cyprus in 1959), for example, as a response to official reports critical of the Welsh.
Was Welsh costume worn in private or only at public events?
Marketing and cost
Was the wearing of shawls made in Paisley ambiguous?
Were Welsh women concerned that most Welsh hats were made in England?
Who drove the marketing of Welsh costume images, dolls and china – the makers or the entrepreneurs?