Sunday, November 30, 2014

Traditional Irish Clothing

In the fifteenth century Henry VIII passed laws in Ireland forbidding the traditional Celtic garb of the people. There were many reasons for such prohibitions; breaking the spirit and sense of unity of the Irish by destroying their culture certainly was one. The Irish manner of dressing was adapted as much as possible to the English way so that most of the trademarks of the ancient attire slipped into oblivion. Scholars have done some amazing research and discovered the traits of the antique Irish costume, many of which would seem as outlandish to us as to the English invaders of past centuries.

Irish women wore a sort of linen headdress like a turban; they did not wear corsets, and so the English described them as being immodest. Married women always covered their heads but young, unmarried girls let their hair flow loose. Men had long braided hair, which was strictly forbidden by the English. Men and women wore voluminous linen shirts or tunics called leine, often dyed yellow in saffron. The linen shirts had full, flowing, often pleated sleeves. Men wore wool trousers called trews. Women wore long gowns over the leines. Both genders wore mantles or cloaks called brats. The color and quality of the fabric often depended upon the individual's wealth and/or social standing. In spite of the proscriptions, the Irish culture was not destroyed, and most importantly, the Catholic faith of the people survived for many generations.



Gareth Russell said...

It is interesting to note that the custom of young, unmarried girls wearing their hair loose and uncovered became a more widespread trend, even in England. Anne Boleyn, who was herself a quarter Anglo-Irish (her grandmother Margaret was the heiress to the earldom of Ormonde) wore her hair down until her marriage in 1532/1533, often drawing attention to her decision by weaving diamonds or sapphires through her hair to create maximum visual impact. Although many young women in the English Court had the right to do this, few did in the years before 1522. There may be something of a cultural connection.

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

So women started covering their hair when married? Reminds me of Swedish customs up to fifty or hundred years ago (depending on region).

elena maria vidal said...

That is interesting, Gareth, there may be a connection. Queen Elizabeth wore her hair down at her coronation as well.

Hans, I do now that in many cultures, married women covered their heads with a little cap or bonnet, even through Victorian times.

Agnes B. Bullock said...

Wearing one's hair down indicated status as a virgin. Only married women wore it up, but young virgins wore it loose but covered in some manner. Older virgins would of course wear their hair as the married women would- less public shame as to their status. Common practice also in early England, circa King John, and also in Wales. Court headdresses during the later Middle Ages negated the practice somewhat as hair was completely covered (ie Elizabeth Woodville and the Unicorn type headdress we associate with princesses today)Also, ear;y Anglo Saxon England- hair worn braided and long, for both married and unmarried, with various types of wimple worn to indicate status )ie- married or unmarried)- this practice of the married woman's wimple prevalent in Norway and Scandinavia- see Kristin Lavransdatter. Very similar to pionee girls "putting their hair up" when they were 15 or 16.

Daniel B said...

In present times, Irish dancers are the best example to witness the traditional clothing of Ireland. In the early 1800’s female dancers wore ordinary peasant dresses often embellished with ribbons formed into flowers or crosses. The crimson homespun skirt reached till the ankles worn with a simple black bodice. From the late 1800’s onwards, pipers wore the kilt and from about 1910 male dancers began to wear this form of costume. During this period the typical female dance costume consisted of a hooded cloak over a white dress with a sash.

During the early 1900s, there was a trend of minimum design on the costumes. With the establishment of the dancing schools, each one came up with design their own distinctive costumes. The interlocking lines in the design denoted the continuity of life. The most common colors used in the dress were green and white. Red was deliberately avoided because of its relevance to England. The ancient Irish were fond of bright colors, as it was a mark of high social status in the community to be allowed to wear more than one color.