Although England is a country rich in folklore and traditions, it has no definitive "national" costume. The most well-known folk costumes are those of the Morris dancers. They can be seen in many country villages during the summer months performing folk dances that once held ritualistic and magical meanings associated with the awakening of the earth.
The costume varies from team to team, but basically consists of white trousers, a white shirt, a pad of bells worn around the calf of the leg, and a hat made of felt or straw, decorated with ribbons and flowers. The bells and ribbons are said to banish harm and bring fertility. Morris dancing was originally an all-male tradition, but now some teams feature women dancers too.
Perhaps the most famous national costume in Britain is the Scottish kilt with its distinctive tartan pattern. The kilt is a length of woollen cloth, pleated except for sections at each end. The kilt is worn around the waist, with the pleats at the back and the ends crossed over at the front and secured with a pin.
Each Scottish Clan or family has its own distinctive tartan pattern, made up of different colours.
The kilt forms part of the traditional Highland dress, worn by Scottish clansmen and Scottish regiments. In addition to the kilt, a plaid or tartan cloak is worn over one shoulder, and a goatskin pouch or sporran is worn at the front of the kilt. Sometimes tartan trousers or trews are worn instead of a kilt. Women do not have their own distinctive national dress in Scotland, although tartan fabrics are widely used in clothing, and the kilt is also worn.
The national costume of Wales is based on the peasant costume of the 18th and 19th centuries. Because Wales was isolated geographically from the rest of Britain, many of the individual traits of costume and materials were retained in Welsh dress long after they had died out elsewhere. Unlike Scotland, the distinctive folk costume of Wales was worn by the women, consisting of a long gown (betgwn) or skirt, worn with a petticoat (pais - the favoured colour was scarlet) and topped with a shawl folded diagonally to form a triangle and draped around the shoulders, with one corner hanging down and two others pinned in front. Aprons were universally worn, sometimes simple, sometimes decorated with colourful embroidery.
The most distinctive part of the costume was the tall black "Welsh hat" or "beaver hat", thought to have originated in France at the end of the 18th century. The hats had a tall crown, cylindrical or conical in shape with a wide brim, and were usually trimmed with a band of silk or crêpe.
Early Irish dress, based on Gaelic and Norse costumes, consisted of check trews for men, worn with a fringed cloak or mantle, or a short tunic for both men and women, worn with a fringed cloak. This style of dressing was prohibited in the 16th century under sumptuary laws, passed to suppress the distinctive Irish dress and so overcome Irish reluctance to become part of England. In particular, the wearing of the fringed cloak was forbidden, as was the wearing of trews or any saffron-coloured garment (saffron yellow was an important feature of Irish costume).
Although a strong tradition of wearing folk costume does not survive in Northern Ireland today, folk music and folk dancing are very important.