Irish people have always had a troubled history: facing British colonization, surviving the Great Hunger, fighting for their independence, and finally being recognized after many years of conflicts. During the time, people’s clothing was a representation of their occupations, climate conditions, and life struggles. From shawls used as luggage during the immigration to America to unique family patterns on sweaters, traditional Irish clothing is fascinating, this is why we are delighted to present 3 traditional Irish clothing items with great importance for Ireland’s history:
Irish flat caps
Anr important traditional piece, Irish flat caps are believed to appear in the 14th century in Northern England; at that time, they were called bonnet and looked nothing like the modern flat caps. Later, due to the fact that these pieces were usually made of wool, tweed, and cotton, they played a crucial role in the boost of the national wool production and the development of general trade. In 1571 the English Parliament mandated that on Sundays and holidays, every non-noble man over the age of 6 had to wear a flat cap, otherwise facing a fine. Despite the fact that his arbitrary law was repelled shortly after, flat caps became extremely popular and had a deep influence on the way people dressed. In the 19th and 20th centuries, they represented a part of the uniform of the Irish working class, but shortly after, in the 1920s, stylish young men started wearing them to make a fashion statement. These headpieces became so popular that they were adopted even by the aristocracy. Nowadays, Irish flat caps represent the first-picked garment for celebrities like Mick Jagger, Sir Elton John, Harry Styles, and Matthew McConaughey.
Celtic women had worn Irish shawls for centuries: wealthy ladies wore thin, delicate ones made of expensive materials, while poor women proudly wrapped around shoulders massive shawls. These pieces could be either lightweight, worn on warm days over a blouse, or heavyweight, knitted, or crocheted of thick wool, protecting from the cold winds and rain. In addition to their obvious purpose to keep warm during the colder seasons, shawls also played an important role in the lives of early immigrants, who used them as a cover or a piece of luggage during their journey. Their historical significance is so considerable, that they were portrayed on the Irish banknotes, in 1920 and 1976. They can also often be found in folk songs like The Galway Shawls and The Ould Plaid Shawl, both describing the angelic beauty of Irish women. Shawls also had a spiritual value, as it was a family custom that the mother handed down the shawl to her eldest daughter. As Wikipedia suggests, they became so popular, that in 1482 Pope Sixtus IV even allowed them to be exported.
The Aran sweater, also known as the fisherman sweater, is one of the most well-known items of Irish clothing. Despite the fact that they are only a century old, these sweaters played a significant part in the improvement of the fishing industry during the late 1890s-early 1910s, when fishermen all over Britain and Ireland came to the Aran Islands. The jumpers were not only made of thick, untreated wool that protected fishers from the cold, they were also water-resistant! The legend says that every family had a special knitting pattern, so if a man drowned, his body could be recognized by his sweater. These days, Aran sweaters are very popular due to their high quality and beautiful design, being loved by fashion creators like Michael Kors and Isabel Marant.