Like many nations, France has a plethora of regional/national costumes, worn on feast days, holidays and cultural celebrations. Let’s take a look at some well-known, and not so well-known costumes.
Who hasn’t seen the dramatic lace headdresses of the women of Bretagne? Source, Wikipedia, Coiffes bretonnes traditionnelles du cercle Ar Vro Vigoudenn portée pour la Grande Parade du Festical Interceltique de Lorient en 2009, XIIIfromTOKYO (Traditional Bretonne Headdress).
While there are at least 66 different styles for Bretagne alone, the “tower” coiffes of Bigoudin are probably the best known. They are certainly hard to miss. These lace coiffes may vary depending upon the marital status of the lady in question: single, married or widowed. These and other costumes are well documented as far back as the 18th century, but undoubtedly had preceding versions.
The traditional costume of Alsace is also dramatic, and charming as well. Consider this piece of faïence by Sarreguémines, Obernai pattern, in which the ladies of the town are having a snowball fight! Those headdresses look like great big bows on top of their heads.
This little doll follows suit:
In fact, collecting these vintage souvenir dolls is a great way to learn about the regional costumes of France. If you are lucky enough to find one (they haven’t been made in the old fashioned way since the early 60s), look under the skirt. There may be a tag, typewritten, that identifies the doll. Or, a doll in really good condition may have a manufacturer’s tag, with an identification.
I have been gathering these little dolls for at least a decade, and from time to time add a new one up for sale at Parlez-Vous Provence. It can be difficult to identify some of these dolls, and their regions, without some detective work. Here are some more of my favorites; try to note the detail in these little creatures. They look like they could jump down from the shelf at some point and chat with us in their regional patois.
A charming mademoiselle from Nice. I love her big wide straw hat:
A rather severe “madame” from the Auvergne region. This costume is almost medieval looking. If you’ve seen the film “Etre et Avoir,” the Auvergne is the region where the school was located:
Another “madame” from Provence, we think, because of her paisley “Indiennes” shawl. She is not from Nice but perhaps in a more northern, mountainous part. She seems more benign than her friend from Auvergne! Her back is pretty too:
And here’s a little gathering some of our other Bretagne dolls had to celebrate Bastille Day:
Collecting regional dolls can be a great way to introduce folklore, history and artisan works of art to your child. Make up stories, and have the kids (gently) act them out with their dolls. Don’t hesitate to let your children feature prominently in these stories as well; they delight in being part of the fantasy, as well as the center of attention when the story is about them and their doll friends. If you speak French, have the dolls speak in simple sentences to your child: “I heard her say Bonjour, Caitlin, ça va? That means hello, Caitlin, how are you?” They’ll get a kick out of it, and you’ll develop their ear for languages - really good for their brain development.
Imagine, all that from one beautiful little doll, made decades ago the old fashioned way.
À la prochaine,