Friday, December 15, 2006


Click on the pictures to enlarge:

For this project I decided to see if there was any kind of Welsh traditional dress, especially for women. Despite years of family history research, I had never thought to check before and had no idea what I would find, if anything.

Sure enough, a very interesting theme emerged.

In the nineteenth century, during a time when the Welsh language was illegal, and Welsh culture had been almost destroyed by the English, a revival of Welsh culture began taking place. Lady Llanover, aka Augusta Hall, or her bardic name, 'Gwenynen Gwent' (The Bee of Gwent), was the individual responsible for the establishment of a Welsh national costume in the nineteenth century.

“Her interest in this field came first to the fore in 1834 when she won [a prize at a national poetry and music festival known as] eisteddfod (ā-stĕTH'vŏd) for her essay on the preservation of the language, literature and traditional dress of Wales” (Gathering the Jewels).

“Lady Llanover's Great-great-great-great-grand-daughter wearing her ancestor's original costume with a rare Llanover Triple Harp.”

Dress for women consisted of:

A tall hat made of black felt with a high crown and wide brim over a white lace cap or fringed with white lace. The hats generally worn were the same as hats worn by men at the period. The tall chimney hat did not appear until the late 1840’s and seems to be based on an amalgamation of men’s top hats and a form of high hat worn during the 1790-1820 period in country areas.

Very witchy I might add, I wonder what the older versions looked like because there are at least 5 or 6 hats in this crowd that are a little more conical than the others!

Judy Grahn discusses the Metaformic theory of hats on page 91 of Blood, Bread and Roses, by the way, and Jeannine Davis-Kimball spends time on the conical hat in Warrior Women.

A red flannel shawl or a red cloak worn over a white blouse.

A full skirt made of wool with a black and white check pattern and/or a striped petticoat made of flannel. They couldn’t keep that description straight either which is how we ended up with this picture (checks, stripes and polkadots!)

Variations included an open-fronted bedgown over the top, or a coat-like gown and a starched white apron, although sometimes the apron is black and white checked.

“Proper Welsh ladies always wore black woolen stockings and black shoes and carried a basket made from willow withies” (British Culture).

Water color sketch of a Swansea market by E. Hull, dated 1871, showing vegetable and cockle sellers in traditional costume and a woman carrying her baby in a shawl, “Welsh fashion,” like a modern-day sling. Although shawls were worn by many European peasants one use of the shawl that is thought to be unique to the Welsh is that shawls were also used by Welsh women to carry their babies and this method of nursing a baby is still referred to as “Welsh Fashion.”“Illustrations showing this have survived from the late eighteenth century when Welsh women wore a simple length of cloth wrapped around their body. When shawls became popular, they were adapted to the same use, and some women even today still keep up the tradition” (St. Fagan’s).

So besides the very witchy looking hats the theme that stood out to me were the colors: red, black, and white!

I immediately recalled that numerous scholars have associated 3 colors with the earliest Goddess.

Citing traditional patriarchal Indo-European symbolism, Robert Graves wrote of her as the White Goddess because, “White is her principle colour, the colour of the first member of her moon trinity but when Suidas the Byzantine records that Io was a cow that changed her colour from white to rose and then to black he means that the New Moon is the white goddess of birth and growth; the Full Moon, the red goddess of love and battle; the Old Moon, the black goddess of death and divination. Suidas’s myth is supported by Hyginus’s fable of a Heifer calf born to Minos and Pasipahe which changed its colors thrixe daily in the same way. In response to a challenge from an oracle one Polyidus son of Coeranus correctly compared it to a Mulberry – a fruit sacred to the Triple Goddess. The three standing stones thrown down from Moeltre Hill near Dwygyfylchi in Wales in the iconoclastic seventeenth century may well have represented the Io trinity. One was white, one dark red, one dark blue and they were known as three women. The local monkish legend was that three women dressed in those colors were petrified for winnowing on a Sunday.”

“The most comprehensive and inspired account of the Goddess in all ancient literature is contained in Apuleius’s Golden Ass, where Lucius invokes her from the depth of misery and spiritual degradation and she appears in answer to his plea; incidentally it suggests the goddess was once worshipped at Moeltrein her triple capacity of white raiser, red reaper, and dark winnower of grain” (Graves 70).

But before I looked into red, black, and white, I’d already been considering finding a way to incorporate one example of my own personal cosmetikos as per this assignment and the cosmetikos I had chosen for this assignment was my Marilyn Monroe phase (in high school and my early twenties) – Red, Black and White!

I used to bleach my hair white and put on lots of very white foundation. I wore bright red lipstick, lots of jet-black eyeliner on my upper eyelids, and black mascara. I wore a lot of red and black dresses. I think my white hair gave me a kind of a supernatural glow that I subconsciously associated with divinity or otherworldiness. It’s also funny that we call Marilyn Monroe a goddess. So it was really interesting to come across the following lore on cosmetics:

“[These] colors were the fabric of traditional Eighteenth-Century make-up, all lead based paints - white for skin, black for eyebrows and eyelashes, and red for rouge. Actually, many women of the time died from overuse and abuse of these cosmetics.”

“In contrast, the colors have other meanings; they're the pigments of life in the [pre-patriarchal] goddess mythology. As Joseph Campbell writes in the introduction to The Language of the Goddess by Marija Gimbutas (1991), The goddess was the single source of all life who took her energy from the springs and wells, from the sun, moon, and moist earth, a symbolic system that represents cyclical, mythical time. Consequently we find signs of dynamic motion; whirling and twisting spirals, winding and coiling snakes, circles, crescents, horns, sprouting seeds and shoots. Ironically, the snake was a symbol of life energy and regeneration, not of evil. Campbell says that even the colors had a different meaning than in the Indo-European symbolic system. Black did not mean death or the underworld; it was the color of fertility, the color of damp caves and rich soil, of the womb of the Goddess where life begins. White, on the other hand, was "the color of death, of bones, while red signified the blood of life." Cave drawings with these colors have been found in southwestern France ,some of which date to 30,000 BC.”


The White Goddess: a historical grammar of poetic myth by Robert Graves

Gathering the Jewels

Welsh National Costume

British Culture, British Customs and British Traditions: Fashion, Clothes and National Costumes in the UK

St. Fagan’s National History Museum

Welsh Hat @

Welsh Costume @

Welsh Costume and the Influence of Lady Llanover by Christine Stevens

Progress of Beauty: Swift's Passionate Take on Women
Suzanne Poor (Seton Hall University)


“Lady Llanover's Great-great-great-great-grand-daughter wearing her ancestor's original costume with a rare Llanover Triple Harp.”

Contemporary lady

A Welsh Romance




Welsh spinners and spinning wheel
Photochrom prints Color 1890-1900.

Doll dressed in traditional Cardiganshire Costume, 1937

Mary Parry, Llanfechell, wearing Welsh national dress and carrying a basket, c. 1875

Welsh Costumes, early 20th century

1 comment:

Urania said...

I LOVE this article. So interesting. It reminds me of the Black Forest "trachten" or traditional dress and particularily hat: which is straw with large RED pom poms on top and black ribbon. The dress is black with white collar or lace....