Mar A Bha Sinn Air Éideadh: Early Dress of Gaels in Nova Scotia

If you have ever visited the Highland Village Museum, you may have noticed that all of our animators are dressed in period costumes. There are two distinct differences in our costumes. Early eras show costumes made of wool and linen while the later eras show the change of clothing with the introduction of cotton. 

When our ancestor’s arrived to the new world there were no stores to purchase clothes or materials, nor tailors or seamstresses to make them. This meant what little clothes or materials settlers had, needed to be made by hand.

Clothing at this time was made from the clò mór (great cloth), a broad cloth woven together from wool. Often it was the women in the house who made much of the clothing. They would gather the wool, wash and prepare the fibres for spinning. After the fibres were spun they would be woven into fabric and cut into the shapes needed to make the clothing. This fabric would be sewn by hand into shirts, pants, sweaters, and coats for their family to wear.


Women, at the time wore the ìochdar, a long skirt, made of wool, along with a wool bodice which were worn over linen underclothes.


The guailleachan, a woven wool shall worn over the shoulders and fastened with a metal broche, were also worn by the women for warmth.


Married and older women during that time wore a mutch (currac). These linen caps, or bonnets were worn to cover the hair when working inside the house or in the fields on the farm. Often, a young girl received a mutch from her mother after she was married.


Gaelic men arriving from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland are frequently pictured in what is considered traditional Highland dress of kilts and tartan. But at the time of immigration, from the late 1700s to mid-nineteenth century, Gaels were more accurately wearing a common style of pants and shirts. The lèine was a linen shirt made in light colours, with fabric strings sewn into the shirt to tighten them around the neck and wrists. The men were also wearing triubhas, trousers or dark coloured plants made of wool. Men also regularly wore hats or bonnets known as (bonaidean). Some men wove straw hats to shade them from the sun during the long hours they worked outside in the fields.


As time went by, more settlers arrived and villages formed around them. Many years later these villages built the new general stores around the community. Once these stores were established it became possible for fabric, shoes, dresses, under clothes, coats, and many other items to be shipped from away and brought in. It became more common for people to trade or purchase items from catalogues instead of making their own clothes and shoes at home from scratch.


If you would like to read more visit An Rubha, The Highland Village Gaelic Folklife Magazine online at
Be sure to check out the article, Tartan: Its History and Transformation, In Vol. 14 #1 Winter 2014 by Vicki Quimby, textile consultant and animator at the Highland Village.