COMMON COMPONENTS OF
TRADITIONAL IRISH DRESS
Various things can represent the
culture of a people. Food, music,
literature, and even attire can
combine to tell the story of a nation
and its people. Traditional Irish attire
is no longer worn on a daily basis,
but such clothing has retained its
importance through folk music and
dance. Here’s a deeper look at some
Irish wardrobe pieces that have been
worn through the centuries.
• Leine: Leine are knee-length shirts
that were simple and generally worn
by peasants. Men wore just the leine,
while women often donned these
shirts as undergarments and topped
them with open-sleeved dresses.
• Trews: Irish dress was sometimes
inspired by Gaelic and Norse attire.
Checked trews were a form of tartan
trouser that many Irish men would
wear with fringed coats or mantles.
The inside of the trews may have been
lined with leather to avoid chafi ng
while riding horses.
• Dance costumes: Early female
dancers wore ordinary peasant
dresses embellished with ribbons to
form fl owers or crosses. In the early
20th century, the dance costume
evolved into a hooded cloak over a
white dress with a sash. Eventually
the dress design and colors were
customized by dancing schools
to represent their establishments.
However, the most common colors
used were blue, green and white. Red
was deliberately avoided because of
its connection to England.
• Kilts: Most scholars will trace the
development of the “man’s skirt,” or
kilt, to Scotland. Irish men also wore
them regularly, particularly in the
early 20th century. The traditional
kilt associated with Ireland is the
Saffron kilt. It is mustard yellow in
color, often with shamrock appliques
down the pleat. These kilts were
fi rst worn by the Irish military, and
they are the most widely worn kilt
in Ireland today. Kilts also may be
comprised of tartan. Irish tartans are
designed to represent the districts and
counties of Ireland.
• Sporrans: A sporran is a pocket
attached to the front of a kilt as a
traditional accessory. Many Irish
sporrans have shamrocks and green
• Knee-high socks: Traditional dress
in Ireland often includes wearing
knee-high socks with ribbons that
match the color of the tartan.
• Ghillie brogues: This is a type of
Highland shoe that has long laces
that wrap around the ankles before
they are tied in the front. These shoes
are most commonly worn with kilts.
Female dancers have a similar, albeit
softer, Ghillie dance shoe that also
laces up and is worn with tall socks.
• Aran sweater: The Aran sweater
(jumper) is a style of sweater that
takes its name from the Aran Islands
off the west coast of Ireland. A
traditional Aran sweater is offwhite
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in color with cable patterns
on the body and sleeves. The fi rst
of these wool sweaters were made
for fi sherman and were made from
unscoured wool that is naturally
water-resistant. These sweaters are a
masterpiece of design.
Traditional Irish dress is often
reserved for special occasions and
calls to mind the rich history of the