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Icelandic dress

Travellers to Iceland in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries regularly illustrated their descriptions of local customs with images of the distinctive native dress, especially that of the women.

Over a decorated vest fastened with silver clasps was worn a jacket of black velvet with silver buttons, surmounted by a velvet ruff around the neck. The turban-like headdress of linen might be up to twenty inches high. For bridal or special occasions it was richly decorated with gold or silver, depending on the wealth of the wearer.

Ólafsson and Pálsson, sent by the Danish Academy of Sciences to survey Iceland for the King, contrasted peasant dress with that of brides or ladies of higher rank (Travels in Iceland, English trans., London, 1805). The colours of the different categories of dress were also recorded by Sir George Steuart Mackenzie, a traveller whose primary purpose in visiting Iceland in 1810 was in fact mineralogical research (Travels in the Island of Iceland, Edinburgh, 1812).

 

Detail of plate from 'Travels in Iceland' showing costumes

Travels in Iceland, 1805

Detail of plate from 'Travels in the Island of Iceland' showing costumes

Travels in the Island of Iceland, 1812

 

 

Other travellers, too, extended their original research to include accounts of local costume and customs. Sir William Jackson Hooker (1785-1865), for example, included a brightly coloured illustration of an Icelandic lady in bridal dress when he published the record of his 1809 visit to Iceland. In his case, the lure of Iceland was botanical; his expedition was funded by the eminent botanist Sir Joseph Banks who had visited the country in 1772.

Ebenezer Henderson (1784-1858), a Scot, was a missionary who toured Iceland in 1814-15, distributing bibles. In publishing his experiences in 1818 (Iceland; or the Journal of a Residence in that Island), he illustrated his description of the local people with a picture of an Icelandic family, including a young child in formal costume.

 

Illustration of Icelandic bridal dress, by Sir William Jackson Hooker

Icelandic bridal dress, by Sir William Jackson Hooker, 1818

Illustration of Icelandic family formal dress, from 'Iceland; or the Journal of a Residence in that Island'

Iceland; or the Journal of a Residence in that Island, 1812

 

 

Next: Illustrating Literature

 

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