As today marks St David’s Day, I’m sure many of you – young and old – have dressed for the occasion, either by way of the increasingly popular Welsh rugby or football shirts, or the more traditional waistcoat and flat cap, or characteristic tall hat, apron and shawl that has come to embody our national dress. But what’s the history behind the traditional Welsh costume?
The costume is linked with Augusta Hall, Lady Llanover (also known by her bardic name, ‘Gwenynen Gwent’). She was an important patron and sponsor of folk culture in Wales during the nineteenth century, especially with regards to music and dance. She was born in Monmouthshire in 1802 and became an influential member of the Cymreigyddion y Fenni society, along with her friend Thomas Price (Carnhuanawc).
Today, she is primarily recognised for her image of the traditional Welsh costume. In her Eisteddfod-winning essay in 1834, ‘The Advantages resulting from the Preservation of the Welsh Language and National Costumes of Wales’, she argued that women in Wales should wear clothes made from traditional Welsh wool, as opposed to the cheaper cotton fabrics that were becoming increasingly popular at the time. It is possible that she commissioned a series of watercolours of women’s costumes from various parts of Wales, including Cardiganshire and Pembrokeshire, in the volume Dull-wisgoedd Cymreig by Cadwaladr (1830) [NLW Drawing vol. 299].
She tried to promote her vision of the Welsh dress, that included the typical hat, petticoat and bedgown, within her circle and beyond, but without much luck. Aside from forcing her servants in Llanover to dress in this way and compelling some of her closest acquaintances to do so also, it would appear that her efforts to popularise the dress on a larger scale were unsuccessful. It is debatable whether the evidence exists to support the common belief that she was responsible for its ‘invention’. Nonetheless, her version of the dress and perceived role in its popularity has become heavily linked with the story of Wales’ national costume and how it is recognised today.
Happy St David’s Day to all!
Michael Freeman, ‘Lady Llanover and the Welsh Costume Prints‘, The National Library of Wales Journal, vol. XXXIV, no. 2 (2007), pp. 235-252
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