Hat Fashions for December 1896: Popular Styles

Hat fashions for December 1896 showed that medium and high crowned hats prevailed along with large hats that were particularly in vogue. Flowers and foliage were seen on nearly all winter hats no matter what size and were also associated with fur. Birds and feathers were also another important millinery decoration at this time. The Delineator, a well-known fashion magazine, noted this stating:

“[B]irds, supplemented by the graceful tail-feathers of the Paradise bird … are perched on both large and small hats against the crowns or wherever they will appear most advantageously.”[1]

To secure these birds, wings, quills, or feathers to the hat fashions for December 1896, they were tacked in place or inserted firmly into ribbon nests, “made usually with outstretched loops.”[2] 

Turbans were another popular style for this time period, although they had also been popular in the early 1900s when they were worn by people like Madame Récamier‘s dear friend, Madame de Staël. The Delineator noted in 1896 that “this season’s turban … is a counterpart of the Russian head-dress of this character and is much esteemed for its dressy effect.”[3] The ladies’ turban below was created from green and tan miroir velvet, and its dressy effect was heightened by the Impeyan wings. Impeyans were a type of pheasant introduced to England by Mary Impey, wife to the jurist Sir Elijah Impey, and it is from Mary that these birds took their name. In this case the Impeyan wings are placed “at the front, their brilliant color being supplemented by … the large iridescent ornament [in front of them].”[4]

Hat Fashions for December 1896: Ladies' Turban

Ladies’ turban. Author’s collection.

Besides turbans, hat fashions for December 1896 included the capote. Interestingly, the word “capote” was a 1830s French slang word for condom, perhaps, because the condom resembled the capote’s shape at the time. The capote shown in the illustration below has beautiful transitions shown in the shimmering rich green velvet that gives it an iridescent effect. Velvet nasturtiums are massed at the rear of the hat, “and charming gradations of the prevailing tints are seen in the aigrette.”[5] Additionally, rich velvet ribbon tie-strings are used under the chin to secure the capote in place.

Capote, Author's Collection

Capote. Author’s collection.

The young ladies’ hat was created from a gold-brown felt with the border of the brim created from a darker colored velvet. Velvet roses and a fan-like spray of bird wings were used to decorate it. Fan-like arrangements are also created from velvet, as well as velvet roses and rosettes, which were a popular decoration on many hats, although “a smart trimming for the side of a walking hat [was said to consist] of a large velvet rosette.”[6]

Hat fashions for December 1896 - Young Ladies Hat, Author's Collection

Young ladies’ hat. Author’s collection.

Another of the hat fashions for December 1896 was the ladies’ round hat shown below. It was accomplished with two shades of green “interwoven in the fancy braid.”[7] Green was one of the more popular colors at this time and there were numerous hats created from various shades of green. Among the green colors was sap green. It was created from preparing the juice of buckthorn berries and Mitti’s green, a yellowish green that was obtained “by dissolving arsenious acid and 10 crystals of sulphate of copper in water.”[8] The particular green hat shown here has a  “paroquet,” a variant spelling of parakeet, is perched near the rear of the hat and created using “vari-colored plumage [that adds] … brilliancy to the effect.”[9] The birds tail feathers rise full-length curling towards the front of the hat, while the bird’s head is firmly attached near the plain green velvet and white chiffon that are used to surround the hat’s crown.

Ladies' Round Hat, Author's Collection

Ladies’ round hat. Author’s collection.

Toques were a type of hat with either a narrow brim or no brim at all and they were formed in a soft and close fitting shape. They were a popular millinery fashion for winter 1896 and, had, in fact, “supplanted bonnets for theatre wear.”[10] Toque hats were created from a variety of materials that ranged from chinchilla to velvet. The toque illustrated below combines two colors of velvet — rust and peach — and sports a profusion of plumes on the crown. Additionally, a brilliant rectangular jet ornament is fastened on the brim.

Hat fashions for December 1896 - ladies' toque

Ladies’ toque. Author’s collection.

The ladies’ black large hat below is reminiscent of the famous hat worn by Georgina Cavendish, the Duchess of Devonshire, and painted by Thomas Gainsborough. Similar to the most charming of “picture” hats, this hat is decorated with “long, waving ostrich plume[s], the invariable adornment of the Gainsborough.”[11] Although the brim of this hat was not as large as the Gainsborough hat, it is turned against the crown at the rear and its outer edge bound with velvet. Velvet was also laid in its folds and a bow and fancy jet ornament used to embellish the hat, with a wispy aigrette added for height. Speaking of aigrettes, they were as popular at the beginning of 1896 as they were at the end of the year. The most popular of the aigrettes were Paradise aigrettes. The Delineator noted this stating of them, “[the Paradise aigrettes are] the most exquisite … and … are always added with happy effect upon hat or bonnet.”[12]

Ladies Large Hat, Author's Collection

Ladies large hat, Author’s collection.

Another large hat that made a statement and was in vogue for winter 1896 was the violet hue young ladies’ hat shown below. It is a fancy chenille braid with a wide brim. Chenille is the French word for caterpillar, which the fabric was said to resemble. Moreover, according to textile historians, chenille was first produced in the eighteenth century and believed to have originated in France where yarn was weaved — using a Leno Weave — and then cut into strips to make the chenille yarn. The brim is bordered with black velvet and the crush crown created from miroir velvet. Several large, curling, black ostrich plumes are attached on the left side of the hat so that they sweep over the crown and fall at the brim. In addition, two thin vertical rhinestone ornaments are positioned strategically in the center of the shirred velvet to complete the hat’s garnishment.

Hat fashions for December 1896 - Young ladies' hat

Young ladies’ hat. Author’s collection.


  • [1] The Delineator, December, 1896, p. 781.
  • [2] Ibid.
  • [3] Ibid.
  • [4] Ibid.
  • [5] Ibid., p. 778.
  • [6] Ibid., p. 781.
  • [7] Ibid.
  • [8] The New American Cyclopaedia, Volume 8, 1867, p. 473.
  • [9] The Delineator, p. 778.
  • [10] Ibid., p. 781.
  • [11] Ibid.
  • [12] Ibid.

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