When the Victorian Era began in 1837, bonnets with large, hooded coverings that framed the face were made out of satin and silk. That was for indoors, but when women went outside, they often wore wide-brimmed straw hats that were typically trimmed with handmade fabric flowers.
By the 1850s, circular bonnets became more sculptural and stiff. Sometimes they were made of braided cotton but other bonnets of the day were built of straw and trimmed with silk chenille. A decade later, these popular drawn bonnets had become oval, framing the face more naturally than the round ones that had preceded them. Known as spoon bonnets, these charming hats were decorated with ribbons, lace, and flowers made of organdy and silk.
Straw skimmers, also known as rounds, were worn outdoors—the best of these had patterns of silk braids, real feathers, and other decorative embellishments sewn onto their tops. A...
Throughout the Victorian Era, particularly after the death of Prince Albert in 1861, mourning hats to go with mourning jewelry and similarly somber attire were common ways for women to express their grief. Some of these mourning hats included veils to hide the face. Most were black, with dyed ostrich plumage to match, but colors like lilac and gray were considered acceptable for women in the later stages of mourning.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the Panama hat was finding an audience in Ecuador. Unlike boaters and bonnets, which took their shapes in part from the structural properties of their materials, Panama hats were more like straw versions of felt hats, from fedoras to derbies. They were woven from Toquilla plant fibers, which could be blocked and shaped into styles such as the Optimo, a straight-sided crown, with a ridge running down the length of its top.
As the 20th century dawned, boaters were the hats of Vaudevillians, yachtsmen, and horseracing enthusiasts, while politicians favored Panamas—Theodore Roosevelt was famously photographed wearing one in 1906 on a visit to the Panama Canal. By then, many of these hats featured black bands, which had graced Panama hats since the 1901 death of Queen Victoria.
By the end of the century, hats were moving in two directions. Some were demure, almost too small for the heads they were perched on. Others had high-domed crowns and were piled high with loops of ribbon and drapes of rich velvet. Wide Gainsborough hats, sometimes called cartwheels, were the exception to this general rule. These showy chapeaux were decorated with so many feathers that laws had to be passed to prevent entire species of birds from going extinct.
In the Edwardian era, the Gibson Girl dominated fashion. The hallmark of the look was an hourglass figure and a big hat up top. Gainsboroughs were still worn, thanks to their popularization in the 1907 musical “The Merry Widow.” Smaller, but no less ornate, pompadour hats were a mirror of the popular hairstyle of the same name. By the end of the century’s first decade, Edwardian fashions were in full swing, producing black velvet hats trimmed with ostrich feathers and velvet-and-silk flowers.
In the years before and after World War I, gigantic garden hats remained in vogue, but other trends were having an impact. Hats resembling berets and turbans began to appear, as did Musketeer hats. Tricorne hats, motoring hats, and straw boaters all had good runs toward the end of the decade. And as a precursor of the 1920s and the flapper era, close-fitting cloche hats were introduced.
Interviews & Articles
When I was about eight years old, I went up into my grandma's attic one day and found a little bonnet and a red plaid dress in a t… [more]
We have more than a thousand hats here at The Hat Museum. It’s the largest hat museum in the United States, and has twice as many … [more]