The Welsh Hat

We all know the Welsh hat which is worn as part of the national costume. 

THE WELSH HAT (Het Gymreig)

It is still worn by folk dancers and schoolgirls in Wales on St David`s Day but rarely on other occasions.


The Welsh hat first appeared during the 1830s and there are many examples that have survived. The hat may have developed from a number of types of tall hat including the riding hat, which ladies wore during the early part of the 19th century but there is no evidence that explains why, during the 1830s the tall hat with the stiff brim, which is unique to the Welsh hat, replaced the other types of men`s hat worn by many rural women in Wales at that time.

By the late 1840s, the Welsh hat had become an icon of Wales and was used in cartoons to represent Wales as a nation. It represented the image of a happy, hearty, healthy, hard-working Welsh woman. As part of the national identity, it was normally worn with the other elements of Welsh costume, especially the gown or bedgown or a Welsh “gwn neu betgyn” It continues in use as an icon of Wales in tourist literature

The tall hats are often cited as a deciding factor in terminating the attempted last invasion of Britain by Napoleonic forces in 1797 ( Battle of Fishguard). The French soldiers are said to have mistaken the women, seen at a distance returning from work in the fields, carrying pitchforks and wearing red shawls and tall Welsh hats, for a detachment of British “redcoats”, whose uniform included tall black hats or shakoes This is a possible misconception as the Welsh hat, in the form known today at least, didn`t exist until the 1830s and there is much evidence that the women were, at this time wearing felt hats similar to those worn by working men by at least the 1770s

19th-century Welsh hats were made in the same way and with the same materials as top hats. The shell was made of buckram, strengthened with shellac or resin, and covered with black silk plush. Some were made of felt( originally beaver fur and later from other animal furs. During the 20th century, most were made of card covered in black fabric. Welsh hats for children are made of felt and normally worn with a cotton or lace cap underneath.


Another alternative hat is the Cockle Hat. A flat felt hat tied with ribbons on which the women balanced the heavy baskets of cockles gathered from the coast of Carmarthen Bay when taking them home to cook and then on to the market.


A derived meaning of “Welsh Hat” is an ancillary stack, usually black in colour, attached to the funnel of a ship to ensure cleaner disposal of exhaust from the engines. This was used on several passenger liners by the Orient line in the 1950s

I hope you have enjoyed our “Welsh millinery” journey and hope you will keep up to date with our website.

Pauline Howe