A long dress made of floral or other patterned material, a prettily draped scarf with a silver brooch and a lace-trimmed cap – there’s nothing really distinctive about the traditional costumes worn by Heligoland women. In that, they’re unlike such famous traditional costumes as those found in the Black Forest, for example.
These are folk costumes worn on special occasions, and the style changed regularly over the centuries. The oldest surviving local costume here is from 1870. It’s the black dress with the light pinstripes.
If you look at the hemline, you can see the underskirt, which is called a Paik in the local language. This item is still a regular part of the traditional Heligoland costume. It’s always made of red woollen material and trimmed with a golden yellow border made from a different fabric. There’s a practical reason for that – the border stops the woollen fabric becoming saturated with water in bad weather.
Again, for very practical reasons, the dresses aren’t made of the same identical fabric. The material would have been bought at a shop on the mainland by the fisherman, after he’d sold his catch. There was no room in the boat to take his wife along, nor, presumably, did the men want their wives to get a taste for life off the island. As to which material the husband ultimately brought home with him – well, that depended on what he was prepared to spend, and the selection available in the shop.
The heart-shaped silver brooch worn on the breast is called a Hartjen, and the women of Heligoland have been wearing them for generations. It’s their way of revealing a little secret. If the pin in the middle of the brooch is fastened, the woman is unavailable. But if it’s left unfastened, she is happy to be approached. The motifs on the little pendants on the brooch provide information about the woman’s family and its trade.
All depictions: © Nordseemuseum Museum Helgoland