. Very funny explanations have been proposed about the Bigouden's head dress,
It has become the symbol of Brittany exactly at the time when the older ladies who still stubbornly insisted on wearing it died of old age.
It is very picturesque: Imagine Rio de Janeiro’s sugar loaf on an old lady’s head, and all the stories that imaginative people could invent about its origin to explain THAT! Why should they wear a menhir on their heads? So uncomfortable, especially in a very windy and rainy part of the country, but also so beautiful if you happen to look at it closely. Now everybody can, thanks to the net.
It is only one among 1.200 different head dresses in Brittany , and indeed, some of them are much more elegant (Fouesnant ’s for example).
It was part of a traditional costume that used to show you belonged to a parish, but also to seduce and draw men’s attention. And Bigoudénie, that is the extreme South West part of Brittany, Bigoudénie, then, always has had the reputation , among Bretons, of being the proudest, the most self assured, almost to the point of being arrogant,” beg bras” as we say here (big mouthed)population.
To be honest, that was mainly their close neighbours ’ opinion, and I must admit I am one of them: a Glazig. My great- grandparents used to say: “ Nonsense! To go about wearing a lighthouse on their heads! They ARE crazy!”
So, these are the stories that were invented to explain this:
There were historical explanations. At school we were taught “ Histoire de France”, and nobody ever told us about our real history. But at university, “Celtic history” was taught. We were surprised and very interested in the subject. So we learnt that in 1675, Brittany was self governed. Of course, everybody spoke Breton (a Gaelic language). Louis XIV was the king of France but he was very, very far away and nobody really cared about him. But he had a crazy idea. He decided to impose an anti-feminist law: Women lost the right to choose their husbands. It was really unwise of him to imagine they would accept that, in a country where, since the druidess ’ time women played an important part in society. Rebellion started. Louis XIV had also very spendthrift habits. He needed more and more money for his wars, and to build his wonderful “Palais de Versailles”. Only the Parliament of Brittany could impose new taxes. But Louis XIV couldn’t care less about the people’s rights. So he decided to raise taxes about stamped papers and salt. That was too much for the Bretons. And the
Red bonnet, or “stamped paper” revolution started. The Bretons, women first, rebelled. It was unheard of, crazy at the time: priests rang the bell and people gathered around the church with sticks, hay forks, flintlock guns. Then priests attacked their bishops, farmers attacked the nobility. People from the country attacked cities, because they were too mild and had links with Paris and the abhorred king who thought he was the sun! Nothing less! Of course Louis XIV’s trained armies came and the repression was terrible. Between Quimper and Bénodet, each tree carried a hanged man in
Cosquer wood. Songs and ballads were written for the Bretons not to forget. There were also sentences to hard labour in… Versailles. The convicts didn’t understand French and were so badly treated that many died of sheer exhaustion. But the worst humiliation was yet to come. As HE knew the Bretons were fervent believers, the king ordered them to destroy six steeples of churches and chapels and forbade them to build them up again. They are still visible today. Well, nowadays, a lot of people think the Bigoudènes defiantly chose to build up those head dresses to symbolize these steeples . I am sorry to tell you it is untrue.
In the 1960s factory closed in the region. They didn’t pay enough, and the workers protested too often. So people supposed the ladies defiantly again raised their head dresses to symbolize the factories chimneys.
That’s wrong again.
At the beginning of the XX th century, the Bigoudènes only wore a small bonnet covering the top of their pretty skulls.
Then it became more beautiful. They proudly wore a superb velvet or silver square finely embroidered with flowery motives. On top of it was a small linen triangle.
Later on, the white head dresses went up and up. They reached from four to eight inches (ten to 20 centimetres) in about 1930 , and after 1940 they stopped at thirty, thirty-five centimeters ( twelve, fourteen inches), exactly as you can see them now at folkloric festivals. At the time, all the able-bodied men had gone to the front (it was WWII) or sailed to Great Britain as “résistants”. So the women had to run everything and were as efficient as their husbands and fathers, and even more sometimes. So, there are people who affirm quite seriously that the head dress is a phallic symbol, like a gigantic white penis on their heads!
Ridiculous! That is MY opinion. Women in Brittany never had to prove they were men’s equals. They had always known it and been recognized as such.
But the Bigoudènes are very “coquettes” and that’s all. Consider the states that want to build the highest tower in the world and spend a fortune for that. It’s exactly the same state of mind , if I dare say. Pride. Red, orange, yellow prevail on their shimmering costumes. Their embroideries represent peacocks, ram horns. They want to shine like the sun.
That white Bigoudène’s head dress is really beautiful. At first it was made of muslin and tulle. Nowadays, the dancers and musicians wear organdie. It is carefully starched, finely and richly embroidered with very flat white stitches so that the wind should glide on its surface.
But why have people stopped wearing it, exactly at the time when it has become so popular that it appears in ads, movies, funny and serious postcards, biscuit boxes? Well, it is quite easy to understand. Imagine how long it takes to fix it, to flatten your hair, introduce pins at the right place because it must be quite straight, make an elegant bow under your left ear with the two long lace ribbons fixed all along…
Imagine the stiff neck when you have to travel in a car with your head bent for hours!
One of my grandmothers wore her Breton head dress to the end. It was a small one because she came from Quimper, but it took her an hour to fix it every morning. Per Jakes Helias, our Bigouden poet and novelist told that his own mother would never have accepted to be seen without her head dress, not even by her husband, or her children. She waited until they were in bed, all of them, to take it off… and got up a long time before them, to fix it again properly, as she put it. I supposed she would have felt lowered in their eyes!