Traditional Female Celtic Clothing

Written by michelle evans
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Traditional Female Celtic Clothing
Celtic women wore layers of brightly coloured fabrics like wool and linen. (Kolloseum in Oban image by katja_v from Fotolia.com)

The Celts emerged as a people who shared similar culture and languages from about 1300 to 750BC, according to an archaeologist at Northern Arizona University. They held lands that spread out from the British Isles to Galatia, or present-day Turkey. Although there is little written history of the Celts from around the 5th century, their encounters with other cultures such as the Romans and Greeks have provided solid historical accounts.

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Material Witnesses

One challenge to historians in Celtic dress is an understanding of the fabrics used by ancient Celts. The materials used in the 5th century were natural fabrics such as linen and wool. Unfortunately, all have decayed from centuries in the Irish bogs. Historian's resources for Celtic clothing have been from the more recent manuscripts, descriptions from other cultures and period garments from neighbouring cultures.

General Attire

The general attire for Celtic women in the 5th century was to wear a léine, which was an ankle-length tunic. A dress would be worn over the tunic and a cloak called a brat would be worn over the dress. Men wore both léines and brats, although men's léines were a shorter length. These pieces were the basic components of Celtic clothing for both men and women of the upper classes.

The Tunic or Léine

The tunic, or léine ("lay'-nuh") was made of light-coloured linen and resembled a long smock. It was sometimes sleeveless, and usually embroidered at the neck, cuffs and hemline. The léine's neckline was either V-shaped, square or round and sometimes included a hood. A belt was worn with the léine, which was also used to pull the léine up above the waistline to shorten the tunic.

The Dress

Celtic women wore three main dress styles. One of the styles was very formal, made of worsted wool with distinctive tubular folds, full sleeves and a V-shaped neckline. These dresses were an indication of high social status to the ancient Celts. Another dress style was more casual, with an open, V-shaped bodice and worn with half-sleeves covering the top part of the arm. The other dress used was high-necked with a full skirt and long sleeves. The bodice would be fitted and the sleeves button from wrist to the arm.

The Cloak or Brat

The Celts wore a cloak, or brat ("braht"), which was a large rectangle of wool that was folded multiple times around the shoulders, similar to a shawl. They tended to be brightly coloured and edged with a different or contrasting colour. Brats were made in multiple colours and patterns. Some of the more popular colours used were purple, red and green. Some cloaks had hoods or were arranged to create a hood out of the many folds.

Accessories and Jewelry

Ancient Celtic women used many accessories, most for practical purposes. Some wore hats, from basic caps to more fancy creations. Belts, or crios were worn to hold the léine around the waist and carry items. Crios were either woven or made from leather. Shoes were usually worn by all social classes. Pins resembling huge safety pins were used to close garments, as were brooches. Brooches were either open-circle (penannular) or closed-circle (annular) in style, and made from gold, silver or white bronze.

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