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'Shelf life' of local Dutch costumes only twenty years from expiry

Staphorst traditional-garb wearers still most numerous

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

SCHEVENINGEN/ARNHEM, the Netherlands - The traditional, often colourful costumes worn by a diminishing number of Dutch men and especially women has no future left. Experts say that the costumes will be history in twenty years - in one generation - after which they only will be on display in museums such as the Netherlands Openluchtmuseum of Arnhem. The largest group of traditional costume wearers lives in the conservative Eastern Dutch village of Staphorst where 1,000 people regularly don their traditional garb, down from 2,000 in the 1980s.

Renewed attention to the disappearance of the costumes was prompted by the recent publication of "Mooi-Tooi," ('tooi' means 'garb,' 'dress-up' or 'plumage') a 312-page in-dept book on Scheveningen's traditional garb. The costumes worn by Scheveningen's women are easily recognisable by their laced headgear and in the past often could be seen on the streets and markets of adjoining The Hague. Now the number of wearers has dropped below 80, mostly elderly women, the Scheveningen costume thus is less evident around town. In 1986, the number wearers was estimated at about 460.

The same trend can be seen in the former fishing town of Spakenburg. The Utrecht town near Amersfoort ranks with approximately 525 costumes wearers second in the Netherlands. Just like the Staphorst folk, wearers often can be found on the public markets in the region. While the Staphorst men and women largely go bargain hunting at the markets in Zwolle, some of their Spakenburg counterparts peddle fish and bakery products at some markets, adding folklore and colour wherever they go.

Two other places until recent years were known for their local costumes: Zeeland's Arnemuiden and the former island of Urk, now part of Flevoland, the youngest Dutch province and reclaimed from the Zuiderzee. According to the latest surveys, Urk only counts about eighty people who daily wear in their traditional dress. The demise of the custom also suggests that the trades and services which helped to keep the dresses in good repair also are disappearing.

The costume of Volendam, to many people abroad the Dutch national garb, is nearly exclusively worn during cultural and folkloristic events, often in far-away places where Dutch identity is promoted by one group or other. In reality, the Volendam costume has gone the way of all other local costumes of which there have been hundreds, all with their own special design, fabric, colour ranges, cuts, buttons and numerous side rules for events or amily circumstances. Most of these, certainly the better known ones, can be viewed in exhibits at Arnhem's largest museum complex and a sixty or so other, often specialized costume museums in the country. Many local museums limit their costume exhibits to the one of their specific area.

Books like "Mooi-Tooi" and some works by popular illustrator Rien Poortvliet which highlight aspects of garb customs, also keep alive this segment of European textile industry history. In recent years there has been a renewed interest in folklore and traditions which is bound to generate attention for dress and fashion of the past. However, it is unlikely to revive it.