Articles by Huw David Jones
In 1881, the American consul in Cardiff, Wirt Sykes, visited Merthyr, where he was delighted to spot one market-women wearing traditional national dress: “There are… some specimens still to be seen of the Welsh peasant costume as it has been for generations past; notably a comely young women behind a vegetable stall, who wears the full costume in all its glory. She is a pink of neatness, and her beaver is superb.” Sykes was naturally referring to the girl’s tall black beaver-hat. He may, though, have been disappointed to learn that this essential accessory for any self-respecting Welsh Lady was largely fabricated by Victorian entrepreneurs, as the current exhibition at the Ceredigion Museum makes clear.
Featuring an assortment of hats, garments and souvenirs, Welsh Costume aims to debunk some of the myths surrounding our national garb. As curator Michael Freeman explains: “My main concern was to find out whether people actually wore these clothes or whether they were an invention for the growing tourist trade in the nineteenth century.”
It is accompanied by a display at the nearby National Library of Wales, which features images of Welsh costumes from the late-eighteenth to the mid-twentieth century. Including work by Ibbetson, Delamotte and Cadwallader, this represents a major addition to the growing body of research on Welsh visual culture.
Welsh Costume: The Truth Behind the Myth is at the Ceredigion Museum and the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, from Sat 21 Jun till Sat 30 Aug 2008.
This post was originally published by Buzz magazine.