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'Welsh Costume..... the truth behind the myth'

Two displays, one at the Coliseum, and the other at the National Library of Wales will give those visiting Aberystwyth a chance to see a wonderful collection of images and examples of Welsh costume.

Bedgown 1a

21st June to 30th August, 2008

According to common belief, a Welsh costume consists of a tall black hat, a bedgown, an apron and a shawl.

Michael Freeman, curator at Ceredigion Museum, Aberystwyth has been taking a closer look. For the next few months there will be two major displays in Aberystwyth covering the history of the Welsh costume. This is a chance for you to get your outfits ready for the Urdd Eisteddfod at Aberystwyth 2010.

Michael, who has been working on this research for a number of years, has gathered a collection of 1,500 images and brought together a wide range of examples to include in these enlightening displays.

Both exhibitions are free and open to the public from 21st June, 2008.

Welsh costume 

Michael was pleased to report, 'I have travelled all over Wales to view some of the most brilliant collections of Welsh textiles. I have seen at least 220 Welsh hats held in museums and private homes across Wales and also some beautiful bedgowns which were a distinctive element of Welsh costume. Some of these items will be included in these shows.'

Michael continues, 'My main concern with this research 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.'

The exhibition at the Ceredigion Museum will include costumes, hats, dolls, souvenirs and illustrations.

'It could be argued that there was nothing especially Welsh about this dress since people all over Europe wore similar outfits during the 18th century. But this form of dress survived longer in Wales than elsewhere, and people like Lady Llanover encouraged women to wear traditional costumes to support the Welsh textile industry which was struggling at the time. The costume, with its unique hat became popular during the later part of the 19th century with tourists who were searching for something different. At this time there was a significant increase in mass tourism and this might have been the main drive for the popularisation of a National costume.'

As for the exhibition at the National Library of Wales Michael was able to add, ' There will be at least 250 images of Welsh costume from the late 18th century to the mid 20th century including works by J C Ibbetson, George Delamotte, and watercolours by A Cadwallader, which may have been commissioned by Lady Llanover. Some Welsh dolls will also be displayed, including one which may have been given to Princess Victoria in 1832.

'It is commonly thought that Augusta Hall, or Lady Llanover as she became known, was a driving force behind the reinvention of the Welsh costume in nineteenth century, but' Michael adds, 'although she built a woollen mill near Llanover House and encouraged her friends and servants to wear Welsh costume, her influence on the design and use of Welsh costume was probably a lot less than has been thought.'

'Welsh Costume.....the truth behind the myth' will be opened at Ceredigion Museum by Elen Phillips, Curator of Social and Cultural History, St Fagans, on Friday 20th June at 7.30.

Michael Freeman will be giving a free talk about Welsh costume in the Coliseum Gallery on Saturday 28th June, 2008 at 2.30pm.

For those interested in the study of Welsh costume there will be an all day session held at the National Library on 20th September, 2008.