The Netherlands: General information and jewellery

The Netherlands, or the Kingdom of the Netherlands, is a small, densely populated country located in Western Europe. It has three island territories in the Caribbean (Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius), which have their own type of traditional costumes. The Netherlands had an estimated population of 17,093,000 as of January 2017, with the majority being ethnic Dutch.


The oldest human (Neanderthal) traces in this region have been found near Maastricht, from what is believed to be about 250,000 years ago. At the end of the Ice Age, various nomadic tribes roamed the area. It was then subsequently settled by various Mesolithic and later prehistoric cultures. From 800 BCE, Celtic tribes came to the region, followed by Germanic tribes and then the Romans (till 410 CE). The Franks, the Burgundians and then the Hapsburgs (Spanish) took over the region for various lengths of times. The Dutch Republic was formed in 1581. It became the Batavian Republic in 1795 and then the Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1839. The south gained independence in 1830 as Belgium, as it had been culturally separate from the north since 1581, and had rebelled.

1) Voledamm

Traditional clothing and jewellery

In the Netherlands, themselves, regional – or traditional – costumes have long played an important role in everyday Dutch life as they reveal the wearer´s origins and the group he/she belongs to. However, around 1800, these costumes started becoming gradually more and more specific according to the region or locality. Many aspects of Dutch costume can be traced back to the fashionable dress of the 18th and  17th centuries. The history of these costumes, like those in other parts of Western Europe, is linked to the dress of the peasant class of earlier centuries with refinements reflecting the taste of the upper classes. Wool, linen and cotton are typically used to make the clothes, which can be ornamented with printing or embroidery. The bib-like kroplaps worn by women can also be ornamented with painting (see Volendamm doll). Leather is typically used for shoes or wood for the iconic Dutch clog.

Although the term “national costume” implies an unchanging costume, such costumes in the Netherlands have changed with time, so that a variety of local traditional costumes with distinctive headwear for women came into being in the Netherlands during the 19th century. Other than region, professions (farmers versus fishermen) and religious backgrounds (Catholic versus Protestant) also determined elements of the costume. In addition, children had their own costumes and (un)married people, widows and widowers could be distinguished by their clothing, too. The costume for young girls was relatively simple and consisted of a matching skirt and bodice, and lacked embroidery or adornments. In addition, young girls did not wear the kroplaps (see Volendamm).

Like so many people, I was brought up to believe there was only one type of costume for the Netherlands: that worn by the lady advertising Dutch products such as Edam cheese. This is because not only the Dutch advertising industry but also the tourist industry use costumes from a few fishing villages around the former Zuiderzee (Southern Sea) region, such as Volendam. The Zuiderzee no longer exists as it was closed off from the North Sea in the 20th century and the salt water inlet changed into a fresh water lake called the IJsselmeer (IJssel Lake).

Even nowadays, in a number of villages, such as Scheveningen, Spakenburg and Staphorst, women can still be seen wearing their traditional clothing. However, most of these women are elderly and their number is declining year by year. As a result, regional costumes are disappearing from the Dutch street scene. They are no more the “living clothing” they were in the past. Instead, such costumes are used by folklore groups or for the entertainment of tourists. Some towns have special annual events where these costumes are still worn to help maintain the tradition (e.g. Marken, Spakenburg, Urk and Volendam).

2) Scheveningen
3) Spakenburg
4) Staphorst

Oorijzer (ear irons)

A special metal headdress for women, the oorijzer (ear iron) covered by a lace cap is a very common part of traditional dress in many parts of the Netherlands. In the 16th century, the oorijzer was an iron wire that secured a cap to the head, over which another lace cap was attached. Such oorijzers then developed into ornate jewellery made of more costly metal such as silver or gold. Between the 16th and 19th centuries, its shape changed from a frame to a helmet. There are regional differences in its present-day form but it usually consists of a band of metal with knobs on the ends. The lace bonnets attached to the metal were also continually modified to keep up with fashion and to show the latest lace designs.

Dutch oorijzer 1830—1870
5) Dutch oorijzer 1830—1870

Kissers (head ornaments)

Square kissers typical of Zeeland
Square kissers typical of Zeeland

Kissers are metal ornaments worn at the side of the head in the Zeeland region. These pieces of jewellery are made of gold and can have a square or spring-like form (see the Staphorst ladies above). Traditionally, ornaments were attached to the kissers to indicate the wealth of the family. There are various stories about these ornaments attracting the boys to the girls — hence the name kissers — or even preventing kissing, but these are just myths.






Edelkraal (necklace/choker)

This is a special type of choker consisting of several strands of coral beads with an ornamental metal buckle at the front. These became popular in the 19th century as people commonly believed that coral had healing powers.



6) Young Dutch girl with spiral kissers with gold and pearl ornaments and an edelkraal around her neck

Zijzak (pocket)

These are a sort of pocket attached under the apron. This was used instead of reticules or handbags.

7) Zijzak


Condra Jill (2013) Encyclopedia of National dress. Traditional clothing around the world. Volume 2. ISBN 978-0313-37635-8




1) Vollendamm:

2) Scheveningen:

3) Spankenburg:

4) Staphorst:

5) Dutch oorijzer 1830—1870:

6) Kissers:

7) Zijzak:





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