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The clothing culture of Ireland is a very interesting aspect of the country. Irish clothes are generally very well-made and have a long history of significance attached to them. Men in Ireland are often seen wearing linen driving caps. Europeans have been fond of linen driving caps for centuries. The patterns and colors of these hats vary greatly by their design but are most often found in neutral colors. Patchwork is also a popular look for these caps, although other more respectable and somber designs are more appropriate for some settings. However they look, a quality linen driving cap should be cool and not stifle the wearer. Aran sweaters are a historical part of Irish culture. Clan Arans used to be very popular. Each family clan had its own unique stitching or pattern that was used in their sweaters. These sweaters were hand knit with careful attentiveness. Museums in Ireland have the different clan patterns registered and well-documented. Even today Aran sweaters remain a popular staple of the Irish wardrobe. Tweed is another fabric traditionally noted in Irish culture. In the past, looms were used to create the tweed fabrics, and these methods are still used in modern times to make high quality tweed. Because most Irish tweed is handwoven it is more costly and durable than tweed commonly manufactured in other parts of the world. Jackets are a very popular way to wear tweed, as tweed jackets are appropriate for many occasions and have a simple yet elegant style.
Little is known about Irish apparel before the twelfth century. Historians believe that the early inhabitants of Ireland dressed in wool cloth, although some argue that garments made of animal skins were more prevalent. By the thirteenth century, the Irish were bundling themselves in mantles, which are coats made of wool cloth. Most mantles were composed of small scraps of cloth sewn together, although the wealthy were able to afford mantles made from a single but very large piece of cloth.
Cloaks called brata, on the other hand, would signify wealth if they were made from several different colors. In fact, sumptuary portion of the Brehon Law decreed that slaves could only wear cloaks with one color, while freemen could wear four and kings wore several different colors. Beneath these brats, they wore léine, a tunic that extended to the knees. The leine was very wide at the bottom and narrow on top. Likewise, the leine's sleeves were narrow at the upper arms but widened greatly at the elbows. Another garment, known as an inar, was a jacket, pleated at either beneath the breast, or at the waist, with split sleeves. Woodcarvings seem to indicate that inar were richly decorated, possibly through embroidery.
Less is known of the early apparel of the Irish women and children. Like men, women's clothing was mostly derived from wool. It is likely that the earliest female inhabitants of Ireland also donned léine which looked similar (if not identical) to those of their male counterparts. By the fifteenth century, women were wearing long dresses made from wool cloth, often decorated with ribbons and other accessories. These dresses were created and worn in direct imitation of those found in England, where the nobility had banned Irish clothing.
The clothing that most consider "traditional" today was largely worn in the 19th century. Women wore simple dresses, similar to those worn by present-day Irish dancers. Lace collars became quite fashionable at this time, as did the green color associated with Ireland today.
- Dress in Ireland a History by Mairead Dunlevy.