Rural working men generally wore clothes similar to those worn in other parts of the UK – a hat, neckerchief, shirt, waistcoat, jacket, breeches (certainly until the beginning of the 19th century when trousers became popular, but sometimes after that), stockings and shoes. The main difference between men’s clothes worn in Wales and elsewhere, is that they more often made of locally produced woollen fabrics and during the 18th century were often blue. A few guides to mountains wore eccentric costumes. The gentry normally wore the same as their peers in England but a few landowners had their clothes made of locally produce fabrics.
Mrs Jones of the woollen mills at Pandy Llywenan (Valley, Anglesey) (and other women whom J R Jones met in 1927), remembered men wearing knee breeches, to just above the knee, often with three or four silver buttons on the outer side.
J R Jones collection, NLW, vol.2, p. 51
Campion, George Bryant, Sketches of the picturesque character of Great Britain from nature and on stone. (London: Ackermann, 1836), no. 5 ‘Welsh Harper’
The harper is wearing a blue coat, red waistcoat, breeches, stockings and shoes.
DESCRIPTIONS OF MEN’S COSTUME
The summit of his head is commonly crown’d with a Monmouth Cap and its crown is commonly pinnacled with the Battlement of a button.
A Collection of Welsh Travels and Memoirs of Wales, Printed for and sold by John Torbuck, London, (1738), p. 44; (3 editions in 1740s)
1775 St Donats
Saw several pair of flannel sheets drying. These were chiefly used by the common people who also frequently wear red flannel shirts.
Grose, Francis, [Journey to South Wales, 1775] British Library, Add. MS. 17398 f. 79 (31. July.1775)
Men and women are almost indistinguishable except for breeches.
Clarke, Edward Daniel, (1769-1822) A Tour through the South of England, Wales and Part of Ireland, made during the Summer of 1791. (1793), p. 215
1796 [north Wales]
the men wear a sort of woollen stuff made at home, that looks something like the plaids they [sic] in Scotland only that here they are not loose, but made into waistcoats, bedgowns etc.
Anon, NLW MS 4489
[Print, a man and woman, both in men’s hats.]
‘A WELCH PEASANT AND HIS WIFE in their accustomed Habits and with the kind of Weapons that several Thousand People appeared with near Fishguard, Feb y 24th, 1797 the day the French surrendered to Ld Cawdor & Colonel Colby’s Troops. The wonderful Effect that the Scarlet Flannel had that day should never be forgotten. Lord Cawdor, very Judiciously, placed a considerable number of women in that Dress, in the rear of his army, who being considered by the French as being regular Troops, contributed in no small degree to that happy and unexpected surrender.
Illustration: The man is shown in jacket, waistcoat, shirt? with handkerchief tied around neck, breeches, stockings, shoes and round hat (like a bowler).
NMW, St Fagans, F84.159.44; Thomas, J E, Britain’s Last Invasion, Fishguard 1797 (2007), p. 5
It was now the fair; and about two hundred home-spun coats and blue cloaks were intermingled with a small number of cattle … Three or four men of a higher class appeared in broad-cloth coats; but not a female in a gown of distant manufacture,
Hutton, Catherine, Letters written during a Tour in North Wales by Miss Hutton, of Bennett’s Hill, near Birmingham, Letter X, Caernarfon; Aug. 27, published in the Monthly Magazine, 1816
the luxury of shoes and stockings, seems confined to the men, the women generally being destitute of either,
Shirley, Evelyn, Cursory Remarks made in a Tour through different parts of England and Wales in the months of August and September, 1797, NLW, mss. 16133 C, ff. 79v-80
1797 [Llangollen to Llanymynach]
The man’s attire is a jacket, waistcoat, and breeches, of their country flannel, the last of which are open at the knees, and the stockings (for the men generally wear them) are bound under the knees with red garters.
Warner, Richard, Rev (1763-1857), A Walk through Wales in Aug, 1797, letter 12, pp. 183-184
and the modern, like the ancient Briton, is not very attentive to food or clothing. The latter consists of a flannel jacket and breeches for men
Evans, John, Rev., (1768-1812), A tour through part of North Wales, in the year 1798, and at other times : … (London, 1800), 2nd edition, 1802; 3rd edition, 1804
The curate resided in a mean looking cottage … His dress was somewhat singular; he had on a blue coat that long had been worn threadbare and in various places exhibited marks of the industry his wife, a pair of antique corduroy breeches and a black waistcoat, and round his head was tied a blue handkerchief.
Bingley, W., Rev, A Tour round North Wales including its Scenery, Antiquities, Customs and some Sketches of its Natural History; Delineated from two Excursions through all the interesting Parts of the Country, during the summers of 1798 and 1801, (London, 1804), pp.238-239
… [the men’s] ‘dress, which may be almost called their uniform, is a light blue, short coat, with a waistcoat and breeches of the same colour.
‘Cymro’, (Theophilus Jones, 1759-1812) Cursory Remarks on Welsh Tours or Travels (1799), Cambrian Register II, (for 1796), pp. 440-441; Davies, Hywel M., Wales in Travel Writing, 1791-8, The Welsh Critique of Theophilus Jones, Welsh History Review, xxiii, 2007, 65-93
1800 Ysbyty Cynfyn
[‘old Halfield’ a peasant, was paid 2/6 as a guide.]
He put on his Sunday best – ‘a blue and white handkerchief tied over his welsh wig by his loving wife. … he was dressed in a loose brown great coat, waistcoat and breeches of the same; blue stockings, thick clumsy shoes, and brass buckles … in either hand he grasped a stock; one for his usual support, and the other to beat his horse.’
Skinner, John, Tour in South Wales, A.D. 1800, Central Library, Cardiff, MS. 1.503
For the guidance of artists and others interested in the Welsh costume we give this description by a Mr Rougemont who visited Brecon in 1802 ‘The men wear all brown flannel, jacket, waistcoat, and breeches, but to give themselves a finish, they all wear flaming scarlet garters.’
Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), Wednesday, October 24, 1900
A farming party also appeared at this instant, proceeding with goods for Carmarthen market. This group was opened by a robust young fellow driving a couple of cows; he wore the general dress of the country, a short blue coarse cloth coat; and breeches of the same, open at the knees; but he also possessed the luxury of shoes and stockings.
Barber, J.T., (1774-1841), Tour Throughout South Wales and Monmouthshire, (1803), p. 40
1804 Llanfair Caereinion
I here had a specimen, if not of clerical poverty, at least of rusticity. A clergyman of the established church, dressed in a blue coat, striped waistcoat, a silk handkerchief round his neck, and a riding stick in his hand, stood in the throng, selling geese
Brewer, J.N., A Tour Through the most interesting parts of North Wales, The Universal Magazine, New Series, vol. 2 (July to December, 1804), pp. 314
the men generally wear grey or drab coloured cloth, manufactured out of the wool of their own country sheep, coarsely and thickly woven;
Jones, Theophilus, The History of Brecknock, (1805), vol. 1, pp. 282-284
Blue, brown or striped cloth, home-spun and woven in the neighbourhood, made into a jacket, waistcoat and lower garments open at the knees with hose of coarse yarn forms the common dress of the mountaineer men – and I understand that within these twenty years, red flannel shirts, neatly stitched about the neck and wrist bands with white thread were in universal use among them. Even now they are sometimes seen and many of the old people are biggotted to them – a late magistrate of the County of Monmouth was distinguished by the appellation of Justice Crŷs Côch or the red shirted justice.
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
[Meyrick wrote a whole chapter on Costume in his History of Cardiganshire. Following a long discussion on costume from earliest times to the 16th century (one of his main interests was in Mediaeval armour), he wrote:]
Here my materials fail, and I must therefore proceed hastily to describe the dress of the modern Welsh, such as is retained by the peasantry, as the superior follow the English fashions. This dress, as it seems enforced by the climate, I doubt not has been at least two or three centuries in vogue, and probably that of the women much longer.
The men wear a coarse woollen cloth of a sky blue colour for coat, breeches, and waistcoat, with worsted stockings of the same colour; though in Radnorshire the colour is a drab. Even many of the clergy are so prejudiced in favour of their paternal dress, that they despise a sable habit, and retain the country clothing.
Meyrick, S. R., The History and Antiquities of the County of Cardiganshire, 1808, pp. cci-ccii; 2nd edition, 1907, p. 91
Thomas Evans, late of Aberystwyth, hawker and horse dealer, broke out of Cardigan gaol wearing a blue frock coat, leather breeches and boots.
Carmarthen Journal, 21.3.1812
Ferry over the Conway ‘with a most picturesque beggar, a fine tall figure with a white beaver hat of battered condition’
Duncan, John Shute, (Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford), Tour Through Wales 1813, NLW MS16715A, p. 23
1819 Merthyr Tydfil
We thought at first the Welsh dogs had an objection to our stockings, but that could not be the case as the Welshmen constantly wear them though very often without feet to them, keeping them down by a kind of loop put round one of their toes; the knees of their breeches are open and red garters tied below.
Sandys, William, (1792-1874), Sandys, Sampson, (1797-1880) (brothers)
‘A Walk through South Wales in Oct. 1819’, Cwrtmawr MS 393C, p. 36
The men’s dress is not singular, except that by some of their own country flannels are worn.
Freeman, G.J., Rev., Sketches in Wales, or a Diary of three Walking Excursions in that Principality in 1823, 1824, 1825, (1826), p. 16
Repeated in Leigh’s guide to Wales and Monmouthshire: containing observations on the Mode of Travelling … (1831), (4th edition 1839), p. 9
Accused: Mary Jones; Parish: Welshpool; County: Montgomery; Status: Married
Offence: Theft from a standing of breeches on Welshpool fair day. Prosecutor in ‘the habit of attending fairs with ready made clothes for the purpose of sale’. Prisoner, aged 23, indicted with her brother-in-law.
Location and date: Parish: Welshpool; County: Montgomery; Date: 12 March 1821
Prosecutor: Thomas Lawrence, Shrewsbury, co. Salop, tai
Plea: Not guilty.
Punishment: Prays benefit of clergy, 2 years hard labour in the House of Correction
Court of Great Sessions, File number: 4/201/3, Document number 2
A singular novelty attracted the attention of the fashionables at Aberystwyth last season, in the person of a gentleman of fortune, who appeared daily on the Marine Terrace, dressed in a pair of Cossack-cut trowsers of Welsh manufacture, the colour dark blue, with small red stripes; being the very identical material of which the females of the counties of Merioneth, Cardigan, and other parts of Wales, from time immemorial have made their gowns and petticoats. The effect, however, was really pleasing; and the ladies, delighted with the novelty, as well as handsome appearance, voted the Welsh Trowsers a most becoming garment. The consequence of the approval of the fair may be easily anticipated; in a few days the tailors were literally oppressed with orders – Kerseymeres and Broad-cloths, as well as Nankeen and Duck, (not withstanding the season) were thrown aside; supplanted by the homely stripe of old Cymru; and before a week had rolled away since its original appearance, scarce a gentleman was seen promenading the terrace, but who had attired himself in Welsh Trowsers. The rage of fashion may generally be assimilated to the contagious nature of the plague, the wild-fire of vanity, with electric avidity, impetuously rushing through the votaries of the one, as the distemper pervades the victims of the other. But here the new zest of the fashionable was divested of the usual pernicious attendants of a reigning foible, namely, extravagance of price, outré absurdity, or anti-nationality in adopting the taste and produce of the foreigner. But the Welsh Trowsers, though owing their present adoption to the caprice of fashion, bids fair to become a standing article of clothing, in this principality at least, on the laudable principle of patriotism, as well as the more humble virtue of economy. On the celebration of the last St David’s Day at Aberystwyth, many of the members of the Cymreigyddion Society appeared in Welsh Trowsers, and a great desire was manifested to bring them into general wear, with a view of benefiting our own trade; certainly a most efficient mode, and however the eternal praters and lofty disclaimers on visionary theories may despise this humble local sort of patriotism, we dare assert, it may be productive of more solid good to our country than all their frothy speeches and impracticable plans combined, can possibly realise. Even were patriotism out of the question, (a separation however, we would warmly protest against,) the man of taste may be told, the dress is handsome and becoming, and can be had in a variety of patterns; and we will tell the economist he may purchase three pairs at the price of one of English cloth, to which it has been discovered to be preferable, to riders, especially, for several reasons. Although the energy of the Cymry is highly conspicuous in the preservation of their language as well as a great portion of their national characteristics, in spite of the severe obstructions of time, and circumstances inauspicious to the cause of freedom, yet the ancient costume of the Britons after their removal from barbarism, seems to have been considered of minor importance, and remained unrecorded, while the highlanders of Scotland, to this hour, retain their ancient garb.
[Assumption that the Britons partially conformed to the Roman mode of dress during the occupation].
David ab Gwelym … is described in what was, doubless, the general costume of Wales at that period, viz a cloak, a vest, and trowsers, of the manufacture of this country; and who knows but the latter article was in texture, colour, and fashion, the counterpart of these of the present day? And that the Welsh Trowsers now introduced into wear by the caprice of the fashionable visitants of a watering-place, may be but a resumption of a part of our ancient dress laid aside for the period of four centuries? Be that as it may, in these times of retrenchment and necessitated economy, independent of the several other lights in which we have viewed the subject, their introduction into general wear would prove highly beneficial to the country: and we may boldly ask, since the Scotch plaid forms a part of the army clothing, why the Welsh stripe may not be used for a similar purpose? It is equally warm, durable, and handsome in appearance, and being less glaring, infinitely neater to the eye of taste. Surely none can conceive the zeal misplaced , that would warmly recommend to those spirited and patriotic gentlemen of our country, who have its welfare most at heart, to introduce the Welsh Trousers as a part of the clothing of the militia of the principality; and it is earnestly hoped this suggestion of an obscure, but disinterested individual, may find approvers and friends in the liberal and enlightened members of our various literary Cambrian Societies.
Prichard, Thomas Jeffery Llewelyn, (1790-1862) The new Aberystwyth guide to the waters, bathing houses, public walks, and amusements : … (Aberystwyth, 1824), p. 179
Adams, Sam, Thomas Jeffery Llewelyn Prichard (UWP, 2000)
(There is another reference to trowsers made of black and crimson striped fabric worn by the son of John Wales, Ist Lord Ormathwaite in 1833)
1824 Shrewsbury, England
The termination of the Welsh cloth trade in Shrewsbury, is an event of too much importance to be passed over. Shrewsbury had enjoyed this branch of commerce for more than three centuries, and during the two last it has been carried on in the great room over the market house. Every Thursday the central parts of the town were all life and bustle. Troops of hardy ponies, each with a halter of twisted straw, and laden with two bales of cloth, poured into the market place in the morning, driven by stout Welshmen, in their country coats of blue cloth, and striped linsey waistcoats: and the description given by Dyer may boast of a more than poetical accuracy.
The northern Cambrians, an industrious tribe,
Carry their labours on pygmaean steeds,
Yet strong and sprightly; over hill and dale
They travel unfatigued and lay their bales
In Salop’s streets, beneath whose lofty walls,
Pearly Sabrina wafts them with her barks,
And spreads the swelling sheet.
The Shropshire Gazetteer: With an Appendix Including a Survey of the County, (1824), p. 923 ‘History of Shrewsbury’
Quoted without source by J Geraint Jenkins, The Woollen industry of Montgomeryshire, Montgomery Collections, vol 58, (1963), p. 57.
1827 (or earlier), Pwllheli
… the markets are numerously attended, and to a person who has never had an opportunity of seeing a large assembly of the natives, in their holiday dress, will appear remarkably striking, and different from a scene of a similar nature in England, where the colour of the cloaks, gowns, coats and stockings, and every article of dress are nearly as various as the persons who wear them; but here, on the contrary, one uniform tint pervades the whole; the men being dressed completely in blue, which is the prevailing colour;
Batenham, A., The Traveller’s companion in a pedestrian excursion from Chester through North Wales, including a description of the suspension bridge at Bangor, (1827 edition), p. 60
Today the Welsh lasses have thot [thought ?] proper to clothe their legs and feet. Yesterday in one walk from Merthyr we saw so much nakedness as quite to shock us. This, bye the bye is one of the means of distinction between the sexes for we never see the men (the poorest) without shoes or stockings.
Captain Lloyd, A Diary of Journey from Charring Cross, London, through Wales, by Captain Lloyd, 1827, NLW MS 786, p. 26
The man’s attire is a jacket, waistcoat, and breeches of their country flannel, made similarly to those in use in England.
Anon, A guide to the beauties of Anglesey and Carnarvonshire : comprehending particular notices of Beaumaris, Carnarvon, Conway, Snowdon, the Menai Suspension Bridge, Bangor, and every interesting place or object deserving the attention of the tourist, (c 1830), pp. 7-8
1833 Bangor Market
Gentlemen generally wear a body coat with the collar gracefully folded back and hanging over the shoulders, the waist not exceeding two feet in length; the skirts which are narrow and tapering reach the calf of the leg, and give the exquisite the appearance of a water wagtail; the lappels [sic] are thrown back upon the shoulders so as to display the waistcoat which is generally of a bright red with a broad black stripe giving the bust of the wearer the appearance of a kitchen range with a cinder fire. Tight corduroy “fie-for-shames” are in general wear, and black worsted stockings, and shoes coated with Macadamization paste, and tied with leather thongs.
Gentlemen from the Quarries frequently sport a fustian short coat, and trowsers the same, – these when variegated at the knees and elbows with new stuff look very picturesque. Hats of black felt are in general use, they are stuck upon the back part of the skull so as to leave the countenance and ears perfectly exposed. Some exquisites carry a tobacco pipe, with the stalk projecting from the waistcoat pocket. B.B. (Barnaby Bodkin, Tailor)
North Wales Chronicle, 25.6.1833
The man’s attire is a jacket, waistcoat, and breeches of their country flannel, made similarly to those in use in England.
Anon, A guide to the beauties of Anglesey and Carnarvonshire : comprehending particular notices of Beaumaris, Carnarvon, Conway, Snowdon, the Menai Suspension Bridge, Bangor, and every interesting place or object deserving the attention of the tourist.(c 1830), pp. 7-8
The male dress differs less from the English, generally, than the female. The difference in the former is more in the material of the dress, than in the form. The Welsh peasantry delight in having a whole suit of blue, home-spun, half-fulled cloth, – with blue stockings, or perchance of the native colour of a black sheep. … The Radnorshire cloth is of the same material, but there the sable grey is preferred. [This is probably derived from Meyrick] In Meirion, the surcyn (jerkin) is most frequently seen; and even there, now, it is but seldom worn on Sunday. At work it is found convenient, on account of its want of skirts.
The Rev John Blackwell, (Alun, 1797 – 1840), curate of Holywell and Rector of Manordeifi (Pembrokeshire), ‘On the Advantages Resulting from the Preservation of the Welsh Language and the National Costumes of Wales.’
This was published i851), edited by G. Edwards (Gutyn Padarn), pp. 253-266 which states that ‘This essay was intended for the Cn English, as a translation from the Welsh in Beauties of Alun; being the Literary Remains, in Welsh and English, of the late The Rev John Blackwell, B.A., (Ruthin and London, 1ardiff Eisteddfod,  but sent in too late for the adjudication.’
The English translation was also published in The Cambrian Journal, (Cambrian Institute), Tenby, 1861, pp. 26-38, in which it was prefaced by the following: ‘We reprint the following essay by the late eminent Bard and Scholar, Blackwell ; especially as it furnishes valuable information on a subject that is engaging a good deal of the public attention just now, that is, the National Costume of the Welsh.’
The Welsh version was published anonymously under the title ‘Gwisgaid y Cymru in Cylchgrawn y Gymdeithas er Taenu Gwybodaeth Fuddiol am 1834, dan olygiad y Parch John Blackwell, B.A., (Llanymddyfri, gan D.R. and W. Rees, 1834), pp. 274-276
1836 [Derived from earlier sources]
The coat, breeches, and stockings, of the men, are always blue, and their waistcoats red; their shirts, are of blue or red flannel, except in some parts of the northern counties, where they are striped.
Charles Augustus Goodrich, The Universal Traveller: Designed to Introduce Readers at Home to an acquaintance with the Arts, Customs and Manners of the Principal Modern Nations of the Globe, … derived from the researches of recent Travellers, 2nd edition, 1836, p. 227 (subsequent editions: 1838, 1842, 1843, 1845)
Repeated in Blake, A View of the World, 1841, p. 86
For clothing the Men wear coarse woollen cloth of a blue colour and flannel shirts.
‘Observations on Parturition amongst the Poor In the Upper District of Cardiganshire’
Williams, Richard, (Doctor of Aberystwyth), (N.L.W. 12165D), p6 folio 9r – p. 7 folio 11r.
1848 Merthyr Tydfil
The men dress plainly, but comfortably in substantial broad-cloth and homespun, elegance being sacrificed to ease and durability.
Clarke, T.E., A Guide to Merthyr Tydfil and the travellers Companion in Visiting the Ironworks, (1848), pp. 43-45
The small farmers and laboring men all wore leggins, buttoning from the knee to the ankle; heavy hob-nailed shoes; little, low, narrow-brimmed, round-topped felt hats, and frocks of linen blue or white in color, the skirts reaching below the knee, very short waists, a kind of broad epaulette, or cape, gathered in, boddice fashion, before and behind, loose shirt-like sleeves, and the whole profusely covered with needle-work. I suppose this is the original smock-frock. An uglier garment could not well be contrived, for it makes every man who wears it appear to have a spare, pinched-up, narrow-chested, hump-backed figure.
Olmsted, F.L., Walks and Talks of an American Farmer in England, (1852), p. 183
near Sycharth, Bala
the man was tall, about 50 years of age; he was dressed in a white coat, corduroy breeches, shoes, and grey worsted stockings. (Chapter 66)
As I was standing in the middle of one of the business streets I suddenly heard a loud and dissonant gabbling, and glancing around beheld a number of wild-looking people, male and female. Wild looked the men, yet wilder the women. The men were very lightly clad, and were all barefooted and bareheaded; they carried stout sticks in their hands. (Chapter 27)
near Dinas Mawddwy
The company are dressed mostly in the same fashion, brown coats, broad-brimmed hats and yellowish corduroy breeches with gaiters. One who looks like a labouring man has a white smock and a white hat, patched trowsers, and highlows covered with gravel – one has a blue coat. (Chapter 76)
Borrow, George, (1803-1881), Wild Wales,
The farmers with their tailcoats reaching nearly to the heels, and ornamented with brass buttons – their beavers and leather gaiters present a very primitive appearance especially when mounted on their little ponies.
Billinghurst, H.P., A Pedestrian Ramble through Oxford, Chester and North Wales, 1854. Women’s Library, London, 7RMB/B/1, pp. 169-17
1860 Strata Florida
The farmer rose at our appearance, and, in the language of the country, bade us welcome. He was a tall, hard-featured man, with the true Celtic cast of countenance, clad in a threadbare, blue, homespun coat, corduroy continuations, and dark blue woollen hose—the usual costume of the Welsh peasantry. [men’s costume]
Cliffe, John Henry, Notes and recollections of an angler: rambles among the mountains, valleys … (1860), p. 219
1861 south Wales
The men wear low-crowned hats, and are for the most part clothed in coats and vests of deep blue cloth, home spun and with brass buttons, have knee breeches of corduroy, and are very partial to showy silk neckcloths.
Hall, Mr and Mrs, The Book of South Wales, the Wye, and the coast, (1861), pp. 300-301.
Hand coloured print cut out and stuck to paper. Image 10.2 x 5.3 cms
Portraits of Swansea Characters, c. 1820 by George Delamotte
1 Will o Pendam in blue jacket, blue breeches, white stockings,
2 Sam Lewis in long brown jacket, waistcoat, handkerchief around his neck and white trousers.
3 Thomas Lewis in Black jacket with tails and breeches
NLW DV271, PB4886
Early 19th century
The Snowdon Guide
Brown jacket, red waistcoat, white handkerchief around his neck, brown breeches, white stockings.
NMW, St Fagans, F84.159/45