Hat Fashions for October 1900: What was Trendy

Hat fashions for October 1900 included wide-brimmed hats and birds were once again in great demand for millinery with ornamentation including “fancy fathers, plumes and birds of almost every description … [were] worn.”[1] Some of the more popular birds proudly displayed on hats at this time were the head or breasts of pigeons, doves, and pheasants. Ostrich plumes also remained in vogue, as did “quills of every imaginable length, width, shape, and color.”[2] Yet, hats supposedly did not require much trimming, at least that was the claim by The Designer, a women’s fashion magazine founded in the late Victorian Era:

“[F]ancy braids … felt, cloth, velvet, and panne, [were] … so arranged upon the foundation as to form a portion of the decoration, making requisite nothing else save a fancy feather breast, a wing, a plume or a pompom to complete the trimming.”[3]

Among the popular hat fashions for October 1900 were tall or high hats, such as the hat below. It was created from a stiffened cinnamon-brown felt. It also had a low crown with a medium brim turned up at the outer edge and then the edge was faced with brown velvet. A drapery of light brown velvet concealed the crown and formed the background for the attachment of three large quail wings on the right hand side of the hat.

hat fashions October 1900 - cinnamon brown felt

Cinnamon brown felt. Author’s collection.

The origin of the turban is uncertain. However, it was popular in the United Kingdom as early as the sixth century. This hat fashion became more common in the 1650s and was worn mostly by men for less formal occasions. That was because heads were closely cropped or shaved to allow the wearing of the elaborate wigs. So, when wigs were not worn, the turban became the perfect head covering for a gentleman.

The hat shown below, however, was a modern Victorian Era version of a turban for a woman. It had a bowl-shaped crown and was covered with shirred mauve chiffon dotted with green spangles. Its brim was concealed by a loose drapery of green velvet. At the front, a hand-made bird’s head and an oddly-shaped ornament — formed from shaded bird feathers that was iridescent and peacock in color — took the place of a bird’s wings. The bird’s eyes were topaz, and an aigrette of mauve feathers rose from the back of the bird’s head.

Turban, Author's Collection

Turban. Author’s collection.

In 1785, artist Thomas Gainsborough was commissioned to paint Georgina Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire. She wanted a striking painting and created a sensation when she selected an enormous black hat to which she added ostrich feathers to pose in. When the painting was hung at the Royal Academy, women dashed to their hat-makers demanding a similar hat, and Gainsborough’s painting became thereafter known as the “Gainsborough,” “portrait hat,” or “picture hat.”

The Designer considered the following hat to be a “Gainsborough” copy. Although somewhat smaller than Georgina’s original hat, this hat was a medium-brimmed steel-blue felt with a high crown and draped with velvet and studded with iridescent spangles. What is interesting about velvet it that because it was unusually soft and had great appearance it became regularly associated with nobility from earlier times. For instance, King Richard II of England thought so highly of velvet he put a special clause in his will ordering that his body be clothed “in velveto.” Besides the velvet used in this hat, a huge knot of scarlet panne was “attached in front under the heavy black plumes,”[4] and the hat was worn on a slant just like the Duchess of Devonshire wore her hat years earlier.

Hat fashions for October 1900 - Gainsborough

Gainsborough. Author’s collection.

The turban first became a fashion sensation in the late eighteenth century and it became even more popular in the Regency Era largely due to trade with India. As a matter of fact, Madame de Staël, friend to the famous French socialite Madame Récamier, often wore a turban. Similar to earlier turban styles, the turban below tended to embrace the hairstyles popular at the time. This one was a brilliant blue turban and designated by The Designer as a “Hindu or Aryan turban.” The crown was a dull blue panne strewn with Roman gold spangles. A blue aigrette was attached towards the rear and corded folds of blue crepe decorated the brim. In addition, soft folds of blue chiffon were crossed in front and held to one side by a gilt oblong buckle. Although jet buckles were more popular than cut steel ones, gilt buckles as ornaments were unusual for any daytime millinery as noted:

“Now and then a handsome buckle or hat-pin is seen, but the gilt jeweled and rhinestone ornaments are reserved for the dressy afternoon and evening hats.”[5]

Hat fashions for October 1900 - Blue Turban

Blue turban. Author’s collection.

Another of the trendy hat fashions for October 1900 is the hat that follows. It was noted by The Designer to be “a most attractive hat on the ‘Amazon’ style.”[6] It was made of and trimmed with ruby-colored velvet. Besides velvet, a roll of spangled tulle also decorated the outside of the brim and was drawn through the velvet drapery on the left side. A square pearl buckle ornamented the front of the hat, an enormous wired velvet bow rose from the center, and on either side of it were attached two long ostrich plumes. Rosettes of ruby velvet were also placed under the brim on the left side, and a dotted Empire veil of soft black fell over the face and was discretely tied at the back of the neck.

hat fashions for October 1900 - amazon style

“Amazon” style. Author’s collection.


  • [1] The Designer, October 1900, p. 62.
  • [2] Ibid.
  • [3] Ibid.
  • [4] Ibid., p. 65.
  • [4] Ibid., p. 62.
  • [5] Ibid.

Oh hi there 👋
It’s nice to meet you.

Sign up to receive awesome content in your inbox, every month.

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

Leave a Comment