France: Alsatian woman

Front view

General description: Alsatian woman in traditional clothing. Her black headdress means she is either a young Protestant woman or married.

Dimensions 14.5 x 11.5 x 5 cm

Date when acquired 2016

Original Date Unknown

Source Göttingen flea market; present from Fritz W.


Back view


Plastic doll with painted features. Her arms and legs are movable. Her long black hair is pulled back from a central parting to a bun at the back.



The doll has a very wide long red silk skirt. The material and the generous cut are typical of the later style of the Alsatian costume and especially of the towns, where the people were able to buy material rather than make it themselves. Its red colour is symbolic for fire and life. A three-threaded black and gold braid is used to decorate the skirt about 2 cm above the hem. This is very similar to the braid used on the Alsatian woman Santon doll.

This young lady is not wearing the typical blouse, collarette or corselet but just a pale lilac silk shawl over her shoulders edged with white lace. The shawl falls to a point at the back just below her waist and is tucked into her apron at the front. As is typical for this region the black silk apron is plain, though it is edged with black lace on all three sides. It is gathered at the waist and tied at the back. A glossy gold and red label with the word Alsace written on it is stuck to the bottom of the apron.

The doll is wearing none of the underclothes, stockings or shoes usually worn in this region but she has the typical headdress made of black silk used by young girls and married protestant women after 1830. A tricolour ribbon is attached to the left wing of the large bow. This bow is more generous than that of the Alsatian Santon as are the lappets which hang down to her waist at the back.


Side view




Background information

The Alsace is a cultural and historical region in eastern France now located in the administrative region of Grand Est. Alsace is located on France’s eastern border and on the west bank of the upper Rhine adjacent to Germany and Switzerland. After the break-up of the Holy Roman Empire, the region was taken over by France. In the 19thcentury it was ceded to Germany. It then became part of France after the First World War, but was overrun by Nazi Germany during the Second World War. After that war, it was returned to France but has its own legal structures (local law) and nowadays the Alsatian language and culture are having a renaissance.

What is called the traditional Alsatian costume today developed slowly throughout the 18th century. It was suited to local conditions, varying from one area to another, and even from town to town. Like so many European and French costumes, it is characteristic of its time, the religious and political beliefs. Elements of the prevailing fashion in the urban centres were incorporated into the rural style. The material, colours and cut define the Alsatian costume. The straight cut and rectangular forms characterise the early period when clothes were made at home out of linen, hemp, etc., and care was taken not to waste any material. Later, the Alsatians were able to buy manufactured material. The larger pieces of material enabled them to make folds and more generous cuts. Brighter colours were chosen: bright white, brilliant red (the colour of fire and life), blue, green, purple and black were used.

The women’s costume consisted of a large, long-sleeved cotton blouse, a long, ample skirt covering the calves down to the ankles, a corselet attached to the skirt and a long, plain apron worn over the skirt, tightened round the waist and fastened with a big bow in the back. The shawl, often matching the apron and initially worn on the head is, at present, worn round the neck and over the shoulders. The stockings, made of wool, were crocheted or knitted. The women wore hardy, heavy dark chestnut clogs (sabot) during the week, and light-coloured or painted, lightweight lime-wood clogs on Sundays and festive occasions.

The blouse evolved from the long linen blouse worn by peasants in the 17th century to one with a stiff collar to a soft, turned-down collar. The sleeves were long and pleated, usually tied with ribbons in the 18th century.

1) Picture showing collarettes and corselets of two Alsatian ladies

The collarette was knitted or made of linen, it covered the open collar of the blouse. It had a lace-knitted border which matched the sleeve ends. The collarette has a square or rounded shape.

The corselet (bodice) was made of fine material and was attached to the skirt. Worn snug over the blouse, it was laced up in front, hooked at the base or knotted with a silk ribbon.

The skirt was usually worn over the blouse and is wide with many folds. Peasants wore it mid-calf length while city dwellers wore one down to the ankle. Originally two-toned (top to bottom), it was solid-coloured (green, red, purple or brown) after 1830. It was made of silk, cotton or flannel. The Protestant skirt was usually decorated with one or more flowered velvet ribbons at the bottom, while the Catholics had no decoration.

2) Alsatian woman with a highly decorated ornamental front and an Alsatian man

An ornamental front was tucked into the corselet’s neckline. Originally, a simple piece of red cloth to keep warm and cover the blouse’s opening, it became one of the most sumptuous elements of the costume. It is richly decorated with ribbons, flowers, colourful glass, sequins or stamped metal bits at the top where it is visible above the corselet. Seamstresses achieved true works of art decorating them with flower motifs, trees of life, solar wheels, stars, fruit cornucopia, curved motifs, rosettes, etc.

The apron, worn over the skirt, is an integral element of every Alsatian costume. Originally, it was made of simple white linen, but after 1870, it was made of flowery, silk, satin or taffeta. It is pleated and tightened at the waist by two ribbons that cross in the back and tie into a big bow in front. The bottom of the apron can be decorated with ribbons and lace.

The stockings were white and hand-knitted or crocheted, with varying patterns.

The flat-heeled shoes were decorated with either a ribbon or a buckle.

The shawl is both decorative and useful as it keeps the wearer warm. It is made of silk with a long fringe, and is flowered, checked, sparkling or embroidered. It is usually worn knotted or overlapping.

The headdresses are typical of the Alsatian costume, and are either knotted bonnets or “beard” bonnets. Embroidered with silver and gold, with sequins and motifs, made of damask or printed cotton, decorated with small glass pieces or stones from the Rhine. Often lined with lace. Around 1830, this headdress had a frontal knot, which kept getting larger, reaching 1 metre in diameter in the 1890s, the so-called schlupfkàpp (a bow cap). The colour of the ribbon depended on religious beliefs: black for young Protestant women, red or multi-coloured for young Catholics. Married women of both religions wore black headdresses. This unique form of headdress lasted into the 1940s before mostly disappearing.

Source(s) of information


1) Picture showing collarettes and corselets of two Alsatian ladies –

2) Alsatian woman with a highly decorated ornamental front and an Alsatian man –



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