By Marion Macarthur née Bernardo, from Nice, a recent visitor to the National Museum of Costume
A few weeks ago, I came to visit the National Museum of Costume at Shambellie House and its fantastic collection of dresses and outfits. I found it fascinating that the passion of one man led to the creation of such an interesting place, which became a reference for history and future dressmaking inspiration
While there, I started to talk to a lady who was working there about my own wedding, which had taken place only a few weeks before, and how both my husband and I both wore the traditional outfits of the places we were born in. She invited me to share my story here.
My husband is Scottish from the Clan Macarthur, therefore he wore the Macarthur tartan kilt. However, he wore a vegetarian sporran that I made myself, since he is vegetarian and refuses to wear the traditional sealskin sporran or any other leather – his shoes are vegetarian too.
I was born in Nice, in the south of France, and my mum and I designed and made my dress from documents we searched and gathered. There is a Museum of the Traditional Outfit in Nice, just like the National Museum of Costume, but it wasn’t our only source of information.
At first, we didn’t find much beyond the “popular, famous” outfit from Nice, the one represented on postcards and at folk festivals. But any good Nissart (that’s someone from Nice) knows, this one is only for tourists! It consists of a red and white stripy skirt, a white shirt, a black corset and black short apron and a shawl on the shoulders. The Capelina (the traditional straw hat) is worn hanging down the back.
Now for the truth! We found that the Capelina was often worn on the head to protect from the sun and the rain. It was usually embroidered with floral details and held with a black ribbon. If not worn on the head, it was sometimes worn on the hips or the back, but was more likely to be put on the side or away.
The dress itself, I found, changed a lot from village to village (for not so long ago “Nice” was actually a County) and from area to area within the town itself. It has also changed a lot through time.
I was born in the town, a few streets away from the seashore, where the traditional stripy white and red skirt was used for a very long time. However, it was in fact the petticoat, worn under the skirt.
Nice was a fishing village, and every day the fishermen’s wives would wait for their men to return from the sea. When they did, the ladies would come down to the beach and help bring the boats back to shore and unload the catch.
But before doing so, they would take their skirts off so as to not damage them and then run to their men in their red and white petticoats to help – and that is what made them so famous! The double ribbon running around the petticoat means “Fishers”, as opposed to one ribbon for the “Flower gatherers” and none for the “Land people”.
So, I wore the fishermen’s wives petticoat and on top of it a skirt made from one of the beautiful typical fabrics from Provence.
On top I did wear a white shirt, but I was lucky enough to own one which my grandmother had given me years ago and which was hand-embroidered around the sleeves and neck (although this is not very clear on the pictures).
I had a black velvet corset with the traditional straps crossed at the back and I wore the traditional cross around my neck (called St Rita’s Cross) on a black velvet ribbon (a rare event since I am not Catholic, but the County of Nice has been Catholic since longer than one can remember). Following old drawings, I did my hair up with a piece of fabric the way it was done in Nice.
Last (but not least) is the jacket I wore on top of the shirt, the jewel of my mum’s creativity. It is an absolute replica of the mountain jacket of a nearby tiny village (still in the County) called La Brigue. Of course in Nice, it is never cold enough to wear a jacket, a woollen shawl will do. But I needed something nicer than a woollen shawl and I got married in Scotland, and although it was May, it was incredibly wet and cold, so the jacket came in really handy!