The bondagers wore a very distinctive costume, which for the period was very practical. It also made the bondagers stand out as a very attractive addition to the landscape.
The costume consisted of a shady hat, usually with a wimple or ‘heid hankie’ beneath. This kind of head covering had a long history as the wimple and straw hat had been worn by country women for centuries in Britain and Europe. The long sleeved blouse was of printed cotton and over this was worn a woollen shawl or tweed waistcoat. The skirt, reaching to just over the knee, was made of striped drugget and covered by an apron. Black woollen stockings and heavy boots completed the outfit.
The costume was worn very much as a uniform for work, but despite this, the bondagers liked to lavishly decorate and individualise their hats. There was quite a competition to see who could have the prettiest hat.
The bondager costume was still worn long after the Bondage System had died out. In some places it was worn right up to the beginning of the Second World War in 1939. The women were still called bondagers and referred to themselves as bondagers although the term ‘women workers’ was also used.
Another shady hat, called the East Lothian Ugly, was also worn by the bondagers. Latterly this was worn, in particular, in East Lothian, hence its name but there are references to the ugly being worn in Northumberland in the 19th century. The ugly was a cotton bonnet of a very distinctive shape. The unusual shape of the bonnet was supported by canes, sometimes as many as 20, which were slotted through channels stitched into the cotton. It had the shape of a pram hood or covered wagon. In the photographs Sarah is wearing the East Lothian Ugly and Shannon is wearing the Berwickshire Hat.