The Tall Welsh Hat

Other than one engraving (at Llanvetherine Church near Abergavenny) a recent researcher could find no evidence earlier than Victorian times for the the high crowned black hat.

Elderly lady with hat and shawl Even Lady Llanover acknowledged young girls mostly wore fashionable headgear in her time!

“while her flimsy straw bonnet, saturated with water, and dyed like a rainbow by the many coloured streams descending from its numerous and once gaudy ribbons”

We know that the tall black “Beaver” hat was very popular from the late 18th century onwards in country areas, but the much taller “chimney” that has so much become the image of current Welsh Costume Hat is probably a Victorian "invention" - an amalgamation of men’s Top Hats with the earlier Beaver hat.

No less a personage than Alfred Lord Tennyson writing in 1839 said:

“always excepting the Welsh-women's hats which look very comical to an English eye, being in truth men's hats, beavers, with the brim a little broad, and tied under the chin with a black ribband”

As Lady Llanover did not start her popularisation of the Welsh Costume and the tall hat until 1834, it seems probable that this type of beaver hat was the commonplace one.

By the end of the 19th century, the Tall Hat was in decline and tended only to be worn by the elderly or just brought out on St David’s day for the festivities. Another unfortunate result of this decline was that tall hats were no longer locally made. (Picture of a hat made by one of the main London-based makers)

Pembrokeshire Scarves

The Welsh Hat

Perhaps a truer tale is given by Thomas Martin in a tour of Pembrokeshire in 1801:

"They universally wear a silk handkerchief round their head and tied under the chin. Sometimes they wear several upon their head and shoulders and I was informed the more handkerchiefs, the greater the consequence of the wearer"

Imagine the comments you would receive on St David's day for wearing a few handkerchiefs on your head!

Historical accuracy is sometimes best ignored!

The Monmouth Cap

Perhaps the most genuinely Welsh of all headgear was the Monmouth Cap. A brown knitted hat with a button on the top. Most soldiers and sailors wore one and they were originally made in Monmouth in the times of the Tudors.

Unfortunately, the design became so commonplace, that manufacture was started in many other places (the knitting industry was heavily protected in the middle ages)

Last amended: 28th May 2012

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