Clothing of the Ancient Celts: 500 BC - 1 AD (Late Iron Age)


Women's Clothing

  Celtic women in Continental Europe wore what can be described as a Greek- or Roman-style chiton over a sleeved under-tunic for the colder climate. The Celts had been in contact with the Greeks from early times, as is shown by amphorae found far into northern Europe on the route used to trade amber from the Baltic for goods from the Mediterranean. The Celtic 'bog dress,' as it has been called, might have been an imitation of Greek garments, or it might have been a logical development due to the shape of the finished fabric produced on a loom: it's very simple to make a dress by taking a length of fabric, doubling it on itself, pinning it at the shoulders and belting the waist. Greek women's clothing: see COSTUME IN ANCIENT GREECE. Follow the directions for making a peplos or chiton for the outer dress. For the inner dress, make a basic narrow-sleeved tunic, or follow the instructions for a Viking tunic on Carolyn Priest-Dorman's Home Page.  

Men's Clothing

  Celtic men are described as wearing colorful tunics, with or without breeches. Sleeves are narrow to the wrist, with decoration at the wrist and neck; short sleeves were also worn. The breeches could be wide, narrow (as on the Gundestrup cauldron), or in one case, wide at the top, fitted below the knee, and with straps beneath the instep; there were probably various fashions from place to place and time to time. [Dunleavy, p. 17] The Brigantia web page (put up by a group doing Iron Age Celtic reenactment in the U.K.) has fairly comprehensive information about men's clothing in this time period, as well as information about weapons, etc.  

Decoration/Personal Ornamentation:

  Clothing was highly decorated with fringe and embroidery. The Celts even had 'cloth of gold', made by wrapping thin strips of gold around the threads. Embroidery was usually done with stem stitch in silk or colored wool on linen, since linen does not take dye well, or sometimes with white linen embroidery on a colored wool background. A 'brocaded' cloth (meaning that it was woven with floating decorative threads) was found in Irgenhause, Switzerland, with a very geometrical design of checkers and several large triangles. Beads were also used to embellish clothing. [Barber, Prehistoric Textiles, pp. 139-140] Hair was worn (in battle, at least) spiked with lime. This had the effect of bleaching the hair, so that one would achieve the effect described in the depiction of CuChullain:
[Findabair describing CuChullain:] The man has long, braided, yellow hair with three colours on it: dark brown at the base, blood red in the middle and golden yellow at the tip. [Gantz, p. 235]
Celtic women were known for wearing their hair in ornate braided arrangements, sometimes with golden balls holding the tips of each braid. Celtic men also braided their hair, as seen above. See my page, Hair, Jewelry, etc.; also see Social History of Ancient Ireland. Other interesting links: Bodies of the Bogs Then, there is, of course, the famous Torc; but enough has been written about that elsewhere. Copyright Notice: The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies. Clothing of the Ancient Celts - Copyright 1997, M. E. Riley and 2002, Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved.

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