Clothing of the Ancient Celts:

A Guide to Celtic Costume



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Introduction:

With the current vogue for all things Celtic, you'd think there would be a lot of interest in Celtic history, culture and costuming.  But, as a remark passed along by a friend states, "There are not a lot of people interested in Irish history. There are a lot of people interested in painting themselves blue and pretending to be from Tir na n'Og."  Hopefully, since you're here looking at my page, you're interested in doing things correctly.   And I'm trying to provide a little guidance, and tell you what is and isn't known on the subject without making stuff up out of thin air.

Ok, now...
When you watch a Hollywood film about medieval or pre-modern Europe, chances are the people are clothed in drab clothes, crudely woven and sewn.

Actually, textiles in ancient times were fairly advanced. It doesn't make any sense that a culture with the fine metalworking techniques seen in torques and other surviving artifacts would be running around in rags and tatters, yet this is the common perception of what people wore.

Weaving is a very basic technology and was quite advanced as early as 5,000 BCE, and brightly colored dyes were readily available. If we met our Celtic ancestors, they would probably look as gaudy to us as they did to the Romans, since they were very fond of bright colors and ornamentation.

There aren't a lot of textile remains found for Celtic clothing from prehistoric times through the 16th century; we mostly have to rely on manuscripts and descriptions of what was worn at various times. However, I will make some educated guesses based on textile construction techniques from the few Celtic finds available, as well as evidence from the bog finds in Denmark, which could arguably be either Celtic or Teutonic. Obviously, fashions varied from place to place and time to time, so Celtic clothing wasn't universally the same in all places over the thousand or so years I'm spanning; however, similar techniques of constructing and decorating clothing were used throughout Europe, and results can be inferred from these. Clothing in the Iron Age certainly varied from tribe to tribe; one tribe may have favored baggy trews, while another tribe liked them skin-tight. What I hope to do here is to provide a framework based on what we do know, in order to have at least a solid starting point for further exploration.

The Scottish segment starts with the early middle ages, and, I hope, refutes a few of the myths in circulation about Scottish costume that are currently in circulation. I will be expanding on this segment over time.

My apologies to the Welsh side of Celtic culture. My primary interests are pre-historic and classical Celtic culture, and Gaelic (Irish and Scottish) medieval Celtic culture. A few Welsh costume links are in my list of other web resources.

Copyright Notice:

The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.

Clothing of the Ancient Celts - Copyright 1997, M. E. Riley

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