Behind the scenes, the wenches wandered into a discussion about hats and fell into a deep vat of fascinating history. Jo Beverley will bring you more about the origins of hats and carry her research up to the Regency period. I’m diving into the later eras where my shallow Leo can play with pretties, because after the Regency, hats were designed almost entirely for fashion and not necessity.
Originally, in the Middle Ages, the church required that women cover their hair. (what is it with religion and hair anyway?) But by the Regency era, ladies covered their long coils of possibly messy hair under frilly caps indoors and protected their fair skin from the sun outdoors with large brimmed bonnets. A “bonnet” generally has no brim in back and ties under the chin. The huge brimmed hats of the 18th century had disappeared with the Revolution—until very roughly the 1820s. Here’s a fascinating page of polite little Regency bonnets and caps.
Through the 1820’s and into the 1830’s, bonnets were still popular but the brim grew to an extent that if a gentleman wished to steal a kiss, he endangered his eyeballs and his own headgear as seen on this pinterest page and the image to the right–hence the name poke bonnet.
The minimalist fashions of the Regency gradually became more extravagant over the next few decades until we have gowns with sleeves and skirts so large it’s a wonder they didn’t fly like kites in the wind. Hats grew accordingly, although when I hunt for actual images, I see the insane fashion plate images, but no actual examples of these excessive chapeaux. (that's a rather modest example at the top of the blog) Basically, one needs straw to create a wide brim all around, and those had to be hand woven—a lot more work than a silk bonnet adorned with silk and velvet roses. There was a kind of cardboard that could be covered with cloth to create a brim, as they did in the poke bonnets, but an entire hat with a curved brim in cardboard probably wouldn’t last through a wet summer, and the trimmings would be removed and added to another piece. (or perhaps they stuck twigs in them as below?)
So hats changed with fashions, with hair styles, with materials available (by the 1900s, they had gone from a few osprey feathers to using an entire bird until laws had to intervene to keep ladies from obliterating the avian population). In the 1920s, when women began bobbing their hair, they didn’t need enormous hats to cover enormous hair, and the tight-fitting cloche became popular to show off their pin curls. In the 1950s, no lady went outside without a hat.
By the 1970s, however, many women had started working and didn’t have time to change hats and dresses three times a day as their mothers had. Young people cast aside hats as the product of an older generation. And sadly, the tradition of colorful, eye-catching hats died away. I say sadly because I look with envy at those hair-covering, face-concealing bonnets and wistfully imagine going outside without make-up or hair-styling, or popping a mobcap over my unruly hair so no one has to look at it. I think shampoo products did hats in! Would you bring back hats if you could?