AlthoughEnglandis a country rich in folklore and traditions, it has no
definitive "national" costume. The most well-known folk costumes are those of
the Morris dancers. They can be seen in many country villages during the summer
months performing folk dances that once held ritualistic and magical meanings
associated with the awakening of the earth.
The costume varies from team to team, but basically consists of white
trousers, a white shirt, a pad of bells worn around the calf of the leg, and a
hat made of felt or straw, decorated with ribbons and flowers. The bells and
ribbons are said to banish harm and bring fertility. Morris dancing was
originally an all-male tradition, but now some teams feature women dancers
Perhaps the most famous national costume inBritainis the Scottish kilt with
its distinctive tartan pattern. The kilt is a length of woollen cloth, pleated
except for sections at each end. The kilt is worn around the waist, with the
pleats at the back and the ends crossed over at the front and secured with a
Each Scottish Clan or family has its own distinctive tartan pattern, made
up of different colours.
The kilt forms part of the traditional Highland dress, worn by Scottish
clansmen and Scottish regiments. In addition to the kilt, a plaid or tartan
cloak is worn over one shoulder, and a goatskin pouch or sporran is worn at the
front of the kilt. Sometimes tartan trousers or trews are worn instead of a
kilt. Women do not have their own distinctive national dress inScotland,
although tartan fabrics are widely used in clothing, and the kilt is also
The national costume ofWalesis based on the peasant costume of the 18th and
19th centuries. BecauseWaleswas isolated geographically from the rest ofBritain,
many of the individual traits of costume and materials were retained in Welsh
dress long after they had died out elsewhere. Unlike Scotland, the distinctive
folk costume of Wales was worn by the women, consisting of a long gown (betgwn)
or skirt, worn with a petticoat (pais - the favoured colour was scarlet) and
topped with a shawl folded diagonally to form a triangle and draped around the
shoulders, with one corner hanging down and two others pinned in front. Aprons
were universally worn, sometimes simple, sometimes decorated with colourful
The most distinctive part of the costume was the tall black "Welsh hat" or
"beaver hat", thought to have originated inFranceat the end of the 18th century.
The hats had a tall crown, cylindrical or conical in shape with a wide brim, and
were usually trimmed with a band of silk or crêpe.
Early Irish dress, based on Gaelic and Norse costumes, consisted of check
trews for men, worn with a fringed cloak or mantle, or a short tunic for both
men and women, worn with a fringed cloak. This style of dressing was prohibited
in the 16th century under sumptuary laws, passed to suppress the distinctive
Irish dress and so overcome Irish reluctance to become part ofEngland. In
particular, the wearing of the fringed cloak was forbidden, as was the wearing
of trews or any saffron-coloured garment (saffron yellow was an important
feature of Irish costume).
Although a strong tradition of wearing folk costume does not survive
inNorthern Irelandtoday, folk music and folk dancing are very important.