November 5, 2019
In this week’s blog post I will be explaining the different components of women’s ancient Highland Dress.
The clothing shown here was worn by the general population of Scotland, but not necessarily by women of aristocracy.
Most Scottish women wore the arisaid ( known as earrasaid or earasaid in Gaelic), a long, wide piece of woolen fabric worn pleated over a petticoat, then held in place with a belt at the waist and a brooch at the throat. The surplus fabric was then draped over the head down to the feet. It kept the women warm and was often tied or wrapped so they could carry their babies while working and not expose them to the elements, or they wore them like the examples shown above. Arisaids were often passed down from mother to daughter.
The tonnag is a simple shawl, often made from the same material as the Arisaid. Women would either wear it over or instead of the arisaid as shown below. From the practicality aspect, one would assume Tonnags was worn more by unmarried or older women who did not have babies to carry.
Gowns and dresses:
If a woman or girl wore the arisaid, she wore it over a long-sleeved petticoat, similar to a dress. Over this she may wear a long-sleeved blouse or wear the blouse over the part of the arisaid that sits at the waist. If she did not wear the arisaid however, a Scottish lady would wear a full dress over her petticoat with a shawl or tonnag on top, such as illustrated below. A modesty cloth would be tied around her neck.
Below the gown and petticoat, she would wear two pocket bags attached to ribbon that could be accessed through slits in the dress. Then there would be stays, and later in the centuries, maybe a corset. After that, there was a shift, which, since daily bathing was not common, kept the gowns and stays clean from dirt and grime on the body. Gowns were not usually made of tartan, but the ban of tartan in 1746 did not apply to women, so tartan was often included in the outfit some way or another.
Scottish women generally wore stockings in the colder months, and fashionable women also wore osain, warm pleated socks that made their legs look twice as thick! Not very flattering, but served the purpose.
Many Scottish women did not wear shoes, this was not always because they were poor but simply because it was normal for the time, and their feet naturally hardened and became tough. Some women could only afford to buy one pair of shoes a year, so they wore them at church and special occasions to keep them looking new.
The Kertch, or breid caol in Gaelic, was a large linen square rolled from one corner to the middle, pinned and tied over the head, worn by married women to keep their hair out of the way. Married women would sometimes curl their hair and tie the curls with ribbons to hang over their cheeks.
The Mutch is a frilled bonnet worn by some married women. It essentially kept most of the hair out of the way and must have been particularly useful for women with babies who grabbed at their hair!
Worn by unmarried women and girls, the snood – or Stiom in Gaelic- is a long piece of ribbon which is passed under a girl’s hair at the back of her head, then tied in a bow on top or the other way round. Unmarried women and girls usually wore their hair down or in single or double plaits.
For special occasions, women (particularly for those of higher class) would wear a sash in the tartan of their clan.
How they tied it indicated their status.
Both men and women of the Highlands wore silver, bronze or copper brooches on their clothing, often to signify their political opinions or the clan they belonged to. These would be passed from mother to daughter for generations and were highly sought after. White Cockades were sometimes worn if they were Jacobite.
Next week we will take a look at men’s ancient Highland dress.
Arundel Castle, former home of Adeliza of Louvain, the fair maid of Brabant
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