Hat Fashions for March 1897: Foreshadow for Summer

The glory of the summer was foreshadowed in the new hat fashions for March of 1897. According to the women’s magazine, The Delineator, flowers were one sign spring had arrived, with “both natural and art colors … in the season’s blossoms.”[1] The most popular flowers for spring, were “field flowers, roses, garlands of lilacs, bunches of daisies, forget-me-nots, … geraniums, poppies, and, of course, the persistent violet.”[2] In fact flowers were so important it was reported:

“Flowers burden every hat and illusion contributes its share to the airy lightness which is an element of Spring chapeaux. Very large roses, geraniums, poppies and, of course, the persistent violent are the flowers oftenest seen. Both natural and art colors are shown in the season’s blossoms and unique color combinations are frequently achieved by the union of two or more kinds of flowers on one hat. “[3]

Flowers were also important enough that Victorian women sometimes became inventive in their use. For instance, there was this report from America:

“A steamer design which attracted marked attention the other day when a Cunarder sailed was an umbrella of flowers, which the lady held over her head to shade her face as she sailed out of the harbor. The top of the umbrella was composed of Springfield carnations and the stick was made of alyssum. On one side the umbrella top was a spray of daises and forget-me-nots. A frail fringe of scarlet begonia bloom finished the piece.”[4]

Styles of hats for March of 1897 ranged from turbans to toques and the always reliable round hat. There were also many novel ways to tie bows, with special bows for high crown hats. High or low crowns were also decorated with circlets or feather tips, and hats with broad or narrow brims were often styled with a dainty choux of tulle. Additionally, contrasting colors and bright colors were popular, particularly for straw hats, and, of course, many hats favored the ever popular ostrich plume no matter the size or color.

The ladies’ large hat below is similar to the one made famous in Thomas Gainsborough’s painting — now known as the “portrait” hat — and fashioned by Georgiana Cavendish, the Duchess of Devonshire. It is a fancy straw hat with a rolled brim faced with black velvet. Wings, feathers, an aigrette, a fancy buckle, and a new hue of violet velvet adorn the hat. Additionally, a bunch of pansies are nestled against the hair at the left side of the rolled brim. (One common Victorian fashion was to use tight masses or clumps of flowers to decorate the hair or ornament millinery worn at this time.)

Hat fashions for March 1897 - Ladies' Large Hat

Ladies’ large hat. Author’s collection.

The following ladies round hat is one of the straw hats fashioned for early spring in 1897. Victorian women liked straw hats because they were light, cool, and comfortable. Victorians also liked contrast and variety when it came to colors, and the colors found in hats ranged from rich, intense shades to subdued colors. The hat below is a bright spring color and has a moderately high crown. It is also surrounded with lace, flowers, and black ostrich plumes. The brim is turned up at the back.

Hat fashions for March 1897 - Ladies' Round Hat, Author's Collection

Ladies’ round hat. Author’s collection.

The ladies straw turban displayed below has golden-brown velvet arranged in upturned folds that encircle it. Tall sprays of yellow flowers, on either side, rise above the crown and there is a unique braid that crosses the center between the sprays. On the right-hand side is a velvet dog-eared bow.

Hat Fashions for March 1897: Ladies' Straw Turban

Ladies’ straw turban. Author’s collection.

Hat fashions for March 1897 included the ladies’ spring toque below. It has lace covering the entire toque. Wide ruched ribbon forms the brim and several tall loops from the same ribbon have been wired to stand erect. Wispy sprays of rosebuds are placed strategically at the rear and at the center front is a brilliant bird of Paradise and its tail feathers. These birds are fascinating as noted in Johnson’s Universal Cyclopaedia in 1897:

“The name was originally applied to the Paradisea apoda, which was supposed to be destitute of feet, because the skins, which are exported to Europe, are usually deprived of wings and feet. The older naturalists imagined that they passed all their lives floating in the air and feeding on ethereal food or nectar. For these fabulous and fanciful ideas science substitutes the prosaic truth that they are nearly allied to the Corrida (crow family), and are omnivorous. The value of these birds arises chiefly from the extraordinary development and light and beautiful structure of the plumes which grow from the scapular and lateral portions of the body. The plumage of the males is remarkable not only for brightness of tints, but also for a velvety texture and brilliant metallic reflections. Tufts of feathers growing form the shoulders are so prolonged that they extend even beyond the tail, and the constitute the most beautiful part of the plumes of the bird of paradise. … Birds of paradise are generally gregarious, and they sometimes fly in flocks from one island to another. It is stated that they can fly more easily against than with the wind.”[5]

Ladies' Spring Toque, Author's Collection

Ladies’ spring toque. Author’s collection.

Another the hat fashions for March 1897 included the round ladies’ blue straw hat below. It is decorated with white ribbon and Coque feathers (a term usually applied to rooster feathers) to give this hat height and contrast. Sprigs of field flowers are also tucked between the ribbons. Field flowers were probably used as they would have been readily available and although field flowers may have not had a special meaning to Victorians, most flowers did: For instance, hyacinths stood for constancy; lilies denoted beauty; and snowdrops symbolized hope. 

Ladies' Blue Straw Hat

Ladies’ blue straw hat. Author’s collection.

The last of the hat fashions for March 1897 is another ladies’ round hat made from straw. This hat has great height and was a hat that would definitely be noticed by other fashionable women. It is trimmed with large pink roses and small rose buds and the foliage is arranged on either side of a black ribbon bow. The crown is banded with matching ribbon and several ostrich tips tower high above the crown at the back of the hat. A chenille dotted Empire veil is attached at the top of the brim, tied discretely, and covered by a wide wrinkled ribbon at the neck.

hat fashions for March 1897 - Ladies' round straw hat

Ladies’ round straw hat. Author’s collection.


  • [1] “Millinery,” The Delineator, March 1897, p. 343.
  • [2] Ibid., p. 340.
  • [3] Ibid., p. 343.
  • [4] The American Florist, 1886, p. 396.
  • [5] Johnson’s Universal Cyclopaedia, Vol. 1, 1897, p. 632.

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