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National Costume for all?

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 02, 2014 8:48 pm    Post subject: National Costume for all? Reply with quote

If boys were a privileged sex when I was a child, I never noticed it. They appeared to be disadvantaged in many ways. I especially felt sorry for them on St David's Day because there was then no accepted Welsh national costume for a boy.

I lamented to foreigners later that they had come to school wearing nothing but a daffodil or a leek. This required further explanation. No, I didn't mean they came to school naked except for a bit of vegetable matter. They had not been sky clad but had had to wear their ordinary clothes.
And boys' clothes in those days were drab beyond belief. They were mainly in shades of grey, brown and black. Finally, aged eleven, I too came to school on our national day wearing dull grey and a felt leek. I didn't want to be one of a privileged caste.

My mother said that she'd never worn the costume anyway. In South Pembrokeshire, they didn't celebrate the saint's day at all before devolution.

It was a distinct cultural enclave known as 'little England beyond Wales'. It could just as accurately have been called 'little Flanders beyond Wales.' My grandmother spoke a dialect which was a mishmash of Flemish and Chaucerian English with some Welsh and Norwegian words until her death in 2011. Perhaps the dialect died with her.

My partner says they never celebrated St David's Day in schools in Monmouthshire in his childhood either. Monmouthshire had had a dual identity. It was in Wales for some purposes and England for others.

My son Andantom told me that there is now a national costume for boys in Wales. It consists of a flat cap, a light scarf, a shirt and waistcoat, breeches. stockings and sturdy lace up shoes. It's no wonder most boys don't bother with it. It doesn't look particularly attractive and it's not really different from peasant costume in other European countries.

But boys aren't left out now. They can have dragon transfers on their faces, wear a coronal of daffodil petals round their faces, and have blood red rugby strips.

What I object to are the Prince of Wales ostrich feathers and the motto 'ich dien' on the strips. Why don't they pick the stitches out? Prince Charles has demanded a kind of feudal payment for every time someone wears his motto. What a cheeky bugger! Aren't we paying through the nose already for his duchy originals?

I saw a small girl running down St Mary's Street in costume yesterday. It looked very nice, almost all red with a white lacy collar adorned with a splash of bright yellow in the form of a daffodil. But maybe if she'd put the high hat on, it would have spoiled the effect.

I'd seen two girls earlier with modified Welsh hats which weren't really high. Perhaps I'm not the only one who thinks the high hats can be very uglifying, especially for slight girls with delicate features.

They don't like them in Harrods. On St David's Day 2013, a group of Welshwomen in costume were refused entrance while women in saris and dibahs sailed through. Only when they said they were being racially discriminated against, did the door staff back down. Almost unbelievably, the Daily Mail took their side and so did almost everyone on the Mail's message board.

One contributor from Edinburgh said they looked like medieval witches. But that's the point. There were never any witches. But when people believed in them, that was how women dressed. It was not the Middle Ages but the seventeenth century. It was a pan-European fashion that lingered on in Wales.

By Victorian times, the high hat looked bizarre and disconcertingly masculine. No wonder people think Lady Llanover invented the costume from odds and ends she found in a cupboard, including her husband's top hat. All she did was invent a livery for her servants based on an existing costume.

One very distinct variant evolved in the Flemish village, Llangwm in Pembrokeshire where my mother was born. Augustus John referred to 'the orthodox Llangwm costume.'

My husband has pictures of his relatives in Serbian costume, the girls with rows of gold coins strung across their foreheads. It looks much prettier. But what can you do? We must loyally stick to our own costume, even if others are more becoming.
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