Hat fashions for June 1897 were piled high with trimmings of “flowers, tulle, chiffon and other dainty and delicate decorations.” These all conspired to create an airy summer-like look, but for this time period, one of the most popular of the summer hats was the straw hat. That was because straw was light and airy but also allowed for ornamentation.
Of all the summer hats, large hats held first place. Large hats “when not laden with blossoms [were] enriched with plumes … flowers and feathers.” Large hats were also popular because they were great at shading a woman’s tender skin from the sun and this encouraged women like Hubertine Auclert, Alva Belmont, or Olive Langdon Clemens to wear large hats.
As far as millinery ornaments, one new feature for the summer of 1897 was a ruche-like arrangement of flowers, but there was another popular ornamentation. That was bows. According to the famous Victorian fashion magazine, The Delineator,
“[Bows sometimes stood] erect in many loops above the crown … or arranged in fan fashion or full rosettes. Light, airy-looking aigrettes and Paradise feathers [also remained popular], while ostrich tips, stiff wings and brilliant buckles unite[d] in forming becoming adornment[s] for [the] chapeaux intended for promenade, carriage, reception or theatre wear.”
The following Young Ladies’ Hat was one of the most popular hats for June as it was created from straw. It was green, a color that in the 1850s became very fashionable resulting in everyone having a “green room” created from wallpaper in either Scheele’s Green or Schweinfurt Green. Unfortunately, at the time, Victorians did not realize that manufacturers were creating the green wallpaper by using arsenic to color it. The green hat shown here fortunately was not green because of arsenic, but it was styled to frame the wearer’s face. The hat was also trimmed with chiffon and black velvet, and one side of the brim was turned sharply upwards with a large clump of bird wings attached beneath it.
The Ladies’ Fancy Straw Hat below had its foundation formed from blue straw. That brim was rolled up next to the crown, and it also had a fancy twist of straw around the crown. Because birds remained popular in millinery, two sea-gulls of moderate size with variegated wings were poised as decorations on one side of the hat.
The following Ladies’ Bonnet was created in black and white colors and noted by The Delineator to be “lady-like.” It was trimmed with jet and a plethora of other ornaments that included rhinestones. Originally, rhinestones were rock crystals gathered from the river Rhine, thereby resulting in their name. (Today rhinestone is the term used to describe a variety of lead glass, known as crystal glass.) In the eighteenth century, rhinestones suddenly became more available after an Alsatian jeweler named Georg Friedrich Strass found he could imitate them by coating the lower edges or undersides of lead glass with a metal powder, which resulted in Europeans frequently calling rhinestones, strass. Besides rhinestones, this bonnet, similar to the other popular styles of 1897, also contained white bird wings placed in the center which added height to the overall look.
The following Ladies’ Large Hat was black and profusely trimmed with lace, violets, and numerous large curling feather plumes. The Delineator suggested that this hat was equally appropriate for either a young lady or a matron. Speaking of matrons, did you know that in the 1870s and 1880s, women who wanted to appear more modest wore bonnets? Unfortunately, this modest appearance ending up becoming associated with a matronly look, which in turn made it even less likely that any young woman would wear a bonnet.
As to the Ladies’ Violet Hat below, it was designed to be worn for “charming … summer gayeties [sic], a wedding, dressy reception, for carriage wear, or indeed, for any occasion that requires handsome dress.” The rear of the hat’s brim was sharply turned up and laden with small-flowered violets and green foliage clumps. Additionally, another violet clump was placed behind the bent up brim. One reason Victorians liked to add fresh violets to hats was the violet’s ‘flirty’ scent. Apparently, the flower has what is known as ionone and that affects people’s sense of smell. It also makes the violet’s scent come and go, thereby giving the flower a flirty reputation. Moreover, because the violet was so popular in Victorian times, it resulted in the violet being the 88th most frequent girls’ name in 1900.
While violets might have been common, the Ladies’ Soft Crown Hat was one of the more unusual straws for the summer season of 1897. Wrapped around the straw was a green-checked ecru ribbon, and, to further decorate it, a striking green ribbon, with a white eye, was mixed with the ecru ribbon and then fashioned into a series of bows, one bow being the unique upright bow that rises from its center. A bunch of small delicate four-sepal bluets were also placed strategically near the left side of the bow and a profusion of them spilled down from behind.
The Young Ladies’ Hat below was another of the more fashionable hats for the 1897 season. This hat was made from Dunstable straw, which became popular during the war with Napoleon Bonaparte caused the importation of Leghorn straw hats in England to practically cease. Home manufacturing in England then took off, and among those manufactured was the Dunstable straw. While people liked the Dunstable straw hats, Leghorn straw hats were known for their “superiority in fineness, colour, and durability.” So, when Leghorn hats returned to market, the preference for them was speedily resumed, but the return of Leghorn hats did not end the popularity of Dunstable straw. That was because many people had gotten into the habit of wearing Dunstable straw and the demand for these hats remained intact.
The Dunstable straw hat shown below has a wide brim of white straw that was stylishly rolled against the crown at the back and underneath it a bunch of beautiful pink roses sat. A hatband of rich velvet was tied around the crown and a brilliant rhinestone buckle secured the ribbon at the center front. Long, willowy ostrich plumes were also arranged in the front, with one drooping over one side and others artistically arranged to rise above the crown on the opposite side.
The last hat is a Ladies’ Geranium Hat. Geraniums were designated as “the fancy flower … [for] this season.” One reason geraniums might have been deemed the fancy flower is that geraniums have always been available in a variety of brilliant colors and easily found throughout the world: They are found in temperate regions, in mountain tropics, and in eastern parts of the Mediterranean. Moreover, geraniums were also called cranesbills because some species of the geranium reportedly looked as if it were shaped like a crane’s bill. Staying with the geranium theme, this straw hat made sure to match its color to the vivid red found in the geraniums. Then to subdue the red, the hat was decorated around its crown with a generous amount of green foliage and black chiffon. In addition, the hat has an upturned brim at the rear with a towering black aigrette that adds height to the overall arrangement.
-  The Delineator, June 1897, p. 711.
-  Ibid.
-  Ibid. 708.
-  Ibid.
-  McCulloch, John Ramsay, A Dictionary, Practical, Theoretical, and Historical, of Commerce and Commercial Navigation, 1850, p. 740.
-  The Delineator, p. 708.