Sunday, September 4, 2016

Dutch Folk Costumes

Dutch Folk Costumes  by Anne Matusiewicz

In summer of 2014, Crailo received a donation of a traditional Dutch folk costume. It’s pretty easy to imagine what that looks like: We might picture a young woman in a striped skirt and a crisp white peaked cap, or perhaps a man wearing a jacket with shining buttons, short full trousers, and a fisherman’s cap. Of course both of them are wearing brightly painted wooden shoes.

The Netherlands is a small country, but there is a great deal of variation in their folk dress. Women particularly have a great deal of variation in their blouses, skirts, aprons, jackets, scarves, and kreplaps (a kreplap is a sort of dickey or chemisette that can be worn under or over other garments). Perhaps the most distinctive items in a Dutch woman’s traditional wardrobe were the caps. The style of cap a woman wore told a viewer where she came from, her social and marital status, and perhaps even her religion.  The cap and its gold or copper accessories were so important that even women who turned away from folk dress to follow fashion often kept their traditional headgear.  

Men’s Dutch folk dress developed from the comfortable and practical clothing used for work throughout the Netherlands’ history. In Marken men’s outfits include full, baggy breeches similar to those worn in the seventeenth century- and it is likely that once the men of this island adopted the style several centuries ago, they simply never stopped wearing it.  In many regions men wear fisherman’s caps as a reflection of the Netherlands’ close ties to the sea. For decoration, men’s clothing uses striped and checked fabrics and large decorated silver buttons.

The costume donated to Crailo appears to be from the Volendam area. Volendam is a popular tourist destination thanks to its historic fishing boats, windmills, and canal side houses, and its folk costume is also an important part of its tourist image- so much so that visitors can have their pictures taken wearing traditional garments. Men wear the well-known short full trousers and double-breasted short jackets, and women wear the famous peaked cap. This cap developed sometime after 1865 and by 1900 was recognized as distinctly Dutch. Postcards and Valentine’s Day cards of adorable Dutch girls in peaked caps cemented the style in the American consciousness.  

Women’s folk dress in Volendam starts with a kreplap printed or embroidered with bright flowers and a brightly-colored striped skirt. Over this is worn a blouse with elbow-length sleeves and a low square neckline that shows off the kreplap. The apron is usually black with a strip of flowered fabric at the top where it is gathered into the waistband. (Perhaps the popularity of black in Dutch folk clothing goes back to its popularity as a sign of respectable wealth in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.) Finally the outfit is topped with the peaked cap. Today this cap of lace, net, or eyelet is usually starched and supported by wire, but previously it was worn over a small dark-colored pointed cap which was regularly worn on its own.

The folk dress of the Netherlands preserves many features of clothing of the past, but what will its future be? Traditional dress had been losing popularity since 1900 and after World War II was abandoned on a larger and larger scale. In response to this the focus turned to preserving and recording the styles- in the 1950s the Dutch open-air museum received contributions of Dutch outfits, which artist Jan Duyvetter used to create illustrations of Dutch dress from 1600 to 1951. Today the number of people who wear the outfits as everyday dress must be no more than a few thousand and is decreasing steadily. Even the huge numbers of wooden shoes produced in the Netherlands are sold mainly to tourists. Like the Highland Scots kilt and the Japanese formal kimono, the painted klompen and starched caps have become clothing for special events- for tourists eager to experience this picturesque aspect of the Netherlands, and for wearers to show their national identity.

Further Information
Search for “Jan Duyvetter” at

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