The fairies of Britain vary as much in dress as they do in appearance and size. Most people, asked off-hand about the colour of the fairies’ clothes, would answer ‘green’ without hesitation, and they would not be far astray. Green is generally acknowledged to be the fairy colour, particularly in Celtic countries, and for this reason is so unlucky that many Scotswomen refuse to wear green at all. Fairies believe that they alone have the right to wear green, and are apt to deal harshly with any mortal foolish enough to infringe this right. this lead to the idea that green is an unlucky colour. Red runs green very close, and in Ireland the small trooping fairies, the Daoine Sidh and the Shefro, wear green coats and red caps while the solitary fairies, such as the Leprachauns, the Cluricaun and the Fear Dearg, generally wear red. William Allingham describes Wee folk, good folk, trooping all together, Green jacket, red cap and white owl’s feather.This seems to be the typical costume of the small trooping fairies.
The Lil’ Fellas of Man, about three feet in height, are described by Sophia Morrison as wearing green coats and red caps,or occasionally leather ones on hunting xpeditions.Their hunting dogs were of all fancy colours, green, blue, red. Red caps were very common for all kinds of the homelier fairies. Even the Merrow in Crofton Croker’s story wore a red cap to enable him to go through the sea to a dry land under it, and gave a similar one to his human friend, which had to be thrown back when he returned to land. Red, blue and white caps were used in various stories of fairy levitation. Grigs, little South Country fairies, wore red caps. A Cluricaune of the Abbey Lubber type is described by Crofton Croker as wearing a red nightcap, a leather apron, long light-blue stockings and high-heeled, buckled shoes. Even the mourners at the Fairy Funeral in Bowker’s GOBLIN TALES OF
LANCASHIRE, though they were sombrely clad otherwise, wore bright red caps. The green-clad fairy ladies enjoyed a touch of red as much as the fairy men, but they introduced it in their slippers, like the little lady in ‘The Fairies of Merlin’s crag’ from Gibbing’s FOLKLORE AND LEGENDS, SCOTLAND, who was eighteen inches high, with long golden hair hanging to her waist, a long green dress and slippers. The tiny fairy gentleman who wooed Anne Jefferies was too much of a dandy to wear a red cap, but he brightened his green clothing by a red feather in his hat. In Somerset the fairies are said to wear red, and the rougher Pixies green. This is the opposite way round to the Irish colour scheme. Elves wear green. Many of the Green Ladies of Scotland were connected with the dead, and so naturally wore green, for green is the Celtic colour of death. The Silkies of the North of England generally wore glistening white silk, the White Ladies of Man wore white satin, and the Tylwyth Teg of Wales wore white. Isobel Gowdie, the self-confessed witch who gave a vivid account of her Traffic With The Fairies, described the Fairy Queen rather prosaically: ‘The Qwein of Fearrie is brawlie clothed in whyt linens, and in whyt and browne cloathes.’
A Fairy Queen whose visit to a Galloway cottage is described in J. F. Campbell’s POPULAR TALES OF THE WEST HIGHLANDS, VOL.II, was more glamorous: She was very magnificently attired; her dress was of the richest green, embroidered round with spangles of gold, and on her head was a small coronet of pearls… One of the children put out her hand to get hold of the grand lady’s spangles, but told her mother afterwards that she felt nothing. This magnificent vision came on a prosaic errand; she wanted to
borrow a bowl of oatmeal. In the Celtic legend of ST COLLEN AND THE FAIRY KING, blue is introduced with red; the king’s pages wear liveries of scarlet and blue, impolitely denounced by the saint as, ‘Blue for the eternal cold and red for the flames of hell.’ Manx fairies sometimes wore blue. In Gill’s SECOND MANX SCRAPBOOK we are told of a little gnomish man seen between Ramsey and Milntown, about two feet high, – ‘wearing a red cap and a long blue coat with bright buttons, white hair and bushy whiskers.
Face very wrinckled. Very bright, very kind eyes, carrying a small but very bright lantern.’ In Jenkinson’s GUIDE TO THE ISLE OF MAN, 1876, he reports being told by a farmer’s wife that her mother always maintained that she had actually seen the fairies, and described them as young girls with ‘scaly, fish-like hands and blue dresses’. The little mouse-sized fairies in the Suffolk story of Brother Mike wore blue coats, yellow breeches and little red caps. The fairies described by a friend to Walter Gill as seen in Glen Aldyn were greyish all over, something the colour of a fungus, a foot to eighteen inches high. The earthbound Trow in Shetland was also grey. A sombre note is struck too in Hugh Miller’s account in THE OLD RED SANDSTONE of the departure of the fairies: the horses ‘shaggy diminutive things, speckled dun and grey, the riders stunted, misgrown, ugly
creatures, attired in antique jerkins of plaid, long grey cloaks, and little red caps, from which their wild, uncombed locks shot out over their cheeks and foreheads’. This confirms Kirk’s much earlier statement that the fairies wore the costume of their country, as tartan in the Highlands. John Beaumont’s fairies, whose visits to him he describes in A TREATISE OF SPIRITS (1705), were dressed in a most unusual fashion:
They had both black, loose Network Gowns, tied with a black sash about their Middles, and within the Network appear’d a Gown of a Golden Colour, with somewhat of a Light striking through it; their Heads were not dressed with Topknots, but they had white Linnen Caps on, with lace about three Fingers breadth, and over it they had a Black loose Network Hood.
A rather engaging dress on little people of three feet high, but not at all the kind of costume one would expect to see on a fairy. There were other eccentric costumes. The Gunna, a Highland fairy boy who had been banished from the court, wore fox skins; the kind, solitary Ghillie Dhu dressed in leaves and green moss; the sinister Northumbrian Duergar wore a coat made of lambskin, trousers and shoes of moleskins and a hat of green moss decorated with a pheasant’s feather. The BROWN MAN OF THE MUIRS wore
clothes of withered bracken. In the more literary descriptions of fairies from the 16th century onwards, they are said to wear clothes made of flowers, of gossamer spangled with dew and of silvery gauze, but these clothes are not so often found in the traditional accounts, though we can quote the foxglove caps of the Shefro. Beyond these there are a number of fairies of all kinds who were naked. The Asrai, the water-spirits, were beautiful, slender and naked, only covered by their long hair.
Many of the nymph-like fairies danced naked in their rounds, as the witches were said to do, a fashion imitated by the modern witches. Many of the Hobgoblins were naked. Brownies generally wore ragged clothes, but other hobgoblins were often hairy and naked. The Fenoderee is one of these hairy monsters. There is Lob-Lie-By-TheFire, Hob, or Hobthrust, the Bogan, and the Urisg who was like a satyr in shape. The Shetland Broonie ‘King of the Trows’ was presumably naked, since he was laid by a gift of clothing. One
naked little hobgoblin, however, was not shaggy, if we may trust his own pathetic description of himself: ‘Little pixie, fair and slim, Not a rag to cover him.’
It is no wonder that the lament called forth the gift of clothing that laid him, but he did not go weeping away like the Grogach of Man, but ran away merrily, as Mrs Bray tells us, chanting:
‘Pixy fine, Pixy gay!
Pixy now will run away.’
Some fairies wore clothes indistinguishable from those of mortals, fine and fashionable like those of Cherry’s Master in the tale Cherry of Zennor, or homely and old-fashioned; or sometimes archaic, like the costume of the market people seen at the fairy market at Blackdown: Those that had occasion to travel that way, have frequently seen them there, appearing like Men and Women of a stature generally near the smaller size of Men; their habits used to be of red, blew or green, according to the old way of Country Garb, with high crown’d hats.
The descriptions given by Katharine Briggs in AN ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FAIRIES of fairy clothing and appearance have not dealt with those skilled in shape-shifting, who can change their size and appearance at will, nor do they make allowance for the power of glamour possessed by most of the fairies, which can only be penetrated by the use of the fairy ointment, or a four-leafed clover.