Wales has a rich cultural and historical heritage, and any number of images spring to mind when discussing this proud Celtic nation. The red dragon, the daffodil, the stunning castles and landscapes to name but a few. You may also picture the Welsh national dress, with its distinctive red shawl, tall black hat, and patterned apron.
So, what are the origins of this unique national costume, which is still often worn on celebratory occasions such as St David’s Day? Well, it’s not as old as you might expect, with the roots traceable back to the early nineteenth century.
The National Museum of Wales website explains that the fashion was promoted by the influential Lady Llanover of Gwent, who was keen to support Welsh identity. She was also involved in the eisteddfod, which is the national festival of Welsh culture that was also revived around this time, and celebrated the native music, poetry, and language.
The red shawls of fine wool or cotton become popular with the countrywomen of Wales, as they were warm, and practical for chores such as carrying babies, and gathering fruit and vegetables. The tall black chimney hats were originally worn by gentlemen to lend them height and presence, and it is not clear why women starting wearing them.
It is even rumoured that Welsh women in their tall black hats and red shawls repelled an invasion of the French at Fishguard in 1797. Apparently, the French soldiers surrendered when they mistook hordes of local ladies, who had come to see what the disturbance was all about, for British redcoat soldiers!
Now, the Welsh national costume adorns dolls in gift shops up and down the country, as one of those special mementoes of a visit. Another gift shop favourite are Welsh love spoons, which is a decorative wooden spoon which has a meaningful symbol, such as an angel, carved into the handle.