Victorian women wore hats year round and summer hats of 1898 were “well-dressed in a wealth of blooms that, if reproduced by the florist, would ensure his fortune.” Roses, violets, poppies, and other brilliant colored flowers were popular for the season and often placed high in the back, graduating to nothing in the front. Transparent textiles were one of the most popular ornamentation for the hot summer months, although feathers still held a prominent role and were “adjusted with an air of lightness extremely pleasing to the artistic eye.” Hat shapes did not have much variation in 1898 but two of the more fashionable shapes were the sailor and the English walking hat. As to how hats were worn, the wearing of hats up and off the face was just beginning to take hold, although the fashion did not supplant “the much-favored dipped shapes … [because they protected] the eyes from the glare of the sun.”
The Chiffon Hat below suggests the English walking hat in shape, but the roll of the brim is more modified than those of similar shaped straw hats. The chiffon formed a frill at the edge, and it was decorated with narrow velvet ribbon rosettes composed of long loops held together by circular rhinestone ornaments. Lilies of the valley and its foliage, along with a Paradise aigrette, completed the hat. (One side note about the lily of the valley. Christian legends are associated with it and legends claim that it sprang up when the Virgin Mary wept at Jesus’s crucifixion. Moreover, the lily of the valley has long been considered a sign of Jesus’s second coming.)
The Ladies’ Carriage Hat was described as a “large Leghorn bent to suit the face.” It was trimmed with bleeding hearts and three large curling yellow plumes. Yellow silk muslin with a crisp finish was used, and mousseline de soie was folded and caught near the front by a fancy unique-shaped rhinestone buckle. The underside of the hat was trimmed with flowers and tulle. (One side note about bleeding hearts. These were an Asian plant first introduction to England in the 1840s by a Scottish botanist named Robert Fortune, and Fortune is best known for having introduced the tea plant from China to India.)
One of the most popular hats of the summer season in 1898 was the sailor hat “because of its almost universal becomingness [sic] and variety of ways in which it [could] … be trimmed.” Additionally, sailor hats were popular because it was claimed a woman could adapt sailor hats for any and all purposes. The Sailor Hat to the right was a fine straw narrow-back hat adorned with a twist of tinted velvet and a profusion of velvet-dotted tulle that draped artistically around the brim. A spray of fine flowers with foliage was also placed at the left side and provided “height … essential to a good effect.”
Because of their intrinsic beauty, feathers and quills were added to hats almost as soon as women began wearing millinery. As feather and quills became more popular, complaints began to surface about the threat such usage caused to bird populations. W.H. Hudson, British author, naturalist, and ornithologist, summed up his thoughts on the subject in the late 1800s stating,
“[N]o man who has given any thought to the subject, who has any love of nature in his soul, can see a woman decorated with dead birds, or their wings, or nuptial plumes, without a feeling of repugnance for the wearer, however, beautiful or charming she may be.”
However, Hudson’s statement did not deter or stop Victorian women from adorning their millinery with feathers. One example of how feathers were worn is illustrated in the Ladies’ Walking Hat below. It is created from black straw combined with taffeta silk. The brim has a deep roll, and decorating the hat are a pair of wings and two quills, which are of the curled variety. Additionally, the quills provided extra height rising behind the wings.
Another hat with a profusion of feathers and popular during 1898 was the unique Ladies’ Hat below. Folds of rich black silk helped to give it “a stylish shape” and an aggressively towering arrangement of coq or coque feathers of greenish-black were placed on the left side in a “decidedly novel [way].” A coque or coq was a tuft of rooster feathers combined together with glue or tape. Rooster feathers were used in the hope that milliners and consumers would stop the decimation of wild bird populations. Coq or coque feathers came in as many colors just like roosters did, but rooster feathers could also be dyed. Unfortunately, there was problem when dying rooster feathers: They lost their natural iridescence. To finish off this hat, a horizontal, gold and green buckle was placed on a slant near the base of the coque feathers.
The most valuable straw hats were Leghorns, and part of the reason why was that the straw was grown in Italy’s Tuscany region with “only the pipe of the upper joint … used for plaiting … [and] the plait … of the highest quality [taking] … from 6 to 9 months [to make].” Whether the Leghorn to the left was of the highest quality or not is unknown, but this particular Leghorn Hat was said to be best styled and suited for “youthful faces.” It was trimmed around the moderate height crown with ribbons that matched nosegays of forget-me-nots. Forget-me-nots were five-lobed flowers that bloomed in spring and were worn by women as a sign of their faithfulness and enduring love. Additionally, a checked band of fancy straw was used to surround the crown and brim.
The last hat is a Toque. Toques first came into fashion in thirteen century Europe, being particularly popular in France. In 1898, many toques were made from “alternate rows of ribbons of different width and rows of straw upon a net foundation.” Toque brims were also often underlined with rows of stitching or folds of tulle, straw, or crepe with the edges finished by ribbon. This particular Toque was designed for dressy wear and was a “Frenchy little toque … [of a] convoluted shape in fine fancy straw.” Black chiffon ruching edged it and gave it a subdued look while “full-blown pink roses with a few leaves nestled in the folds of the silk [were placed] at the left.” A black aigrette, which got its name from the tufted crest or head-plumes seen on the egret, rose from the center of the hat and a unique-shaped gold pin was secured at the base.
- Black, Charles Bertram, The Riviera, Or the Coast from Marseilles to Leghorn, 1898.
- “Millinery,” in The Delineator, August 1898.
- The Selborne Magazine and ‘Nature Notes,’ Vol. 4, 1893.