Hats were worn year round by Victorians and so hat fashions for March 1898 appealed to women such as Hubertine Auclert, Esther Howland, Olivia Twain, Nellie Bly, and Consuelo Vanderbilt. That was partly because, according to The Delineator, a women’s magazine founded by the Butterick Publishing Company in 1869, the cold winter was giving way to a balmy spring and that meant that warm-looking felts and somber velvet hats were being replaced by a “profusion of flowers, gay ribbon, bright silk, and fancy-colored straw hats.”
This change of season was shown in the March millinery fashions of 1898. Victorian hat fashions were a combination of winter and springs colors, ranging from black to green and from warm browns to purple. Fabrics used in these hats were also attempting to bridge the change in season, as they ranged from velvet and silk to chiffon and straw, with garniture being feathers, veils, velvet, aigrettes, and flowers.
The first of these “balmy spring” hat fashions for March 1898 was the all black young ladies’ hat shown below. It was made from chiffon, with a decorative shirred brim turned off the face and bent in volutes. It was lavishly decorated with spangles, feathers, a pompom, and an aigrette. On the right side of the hat a chou of silk was placed against the upturned brim.
The next spring hat was the green ladies’ toque. Made from taffeta silk and velvet, it was skillfully manipulated over a toque shape and decorated with an aigrette and ostrich feathers in two tones forming a chapeau. The Delineator designated this hat as being “appropriate for the promenade or for calling or church wear.”
The young ladies’ round hat with the Empire veil below was made from straw and was another of the hat fashions for March 1898. It had a combination of scrunched velvet with feathers on either side, and was worn so that chenille dotted veil was knotted at the back with its ends drawn forward where they were tied in a careless bow.
One interesting side note about veils in the late 1800s was the belief among physicians and oculists (this was the term used to describe an ophthalmologist or optometrist) that damage could occur to a woman’s eyes if she wore a veil. For that reason many doctors advised women against wearing them, but their warnings went unheeded. According to The House and Home, women continued to wear veils for two reasons: They were becoming and kept a woman’s hair in place. Because women refused to stop wearing veils, doctors suggested, they wear “plain tulles and net … [which] are always pleasant to wear, [and are] better for the eyes than the coarser meshes.”
The color purple was not available to the common person until it was discovered in 1856 when an 18-year-old British chemistry student named William Henry Perkin accidentally produced the first synthetic aniline dye, a purple shade called mauveine, shortened to mauve. The color took its name from the mallow flower of the same color, and the color became even more fashionable after Queen Victoria wore a silk gown dyed with it to the 1862 International Exhibition (or Great London Exhibition), a world’s fair like the earlier Great Exhibition in 1851.
This young ladies’ hat shown below definitely had to be a favorite for early spring partly because of its purple color and “jauntiness.” It also sports a profusion of two-tone violets partly because violets were a prolific bloomer in springtime. In addition, clumps of leaves and satin ribbons add to the springtime and sporty quality of this hat, as does the jaunty upturned brim.
The ladies’ walking hat was another of the hat fashions for March 1898. It was made from black straw and was particularly popular in warmer weather because straw is considered lightweight and cool. The hat’s upturned brim was faced with velvet to form the foundation for the long, graceful ostrich plumes that started from under the velvet ribbon loop-bow in front. (One interesting side note about ostrich plumes and feathers. Although they had been used for a long time in headdresses or hats, beginning in the 1800s, ostrich feathers began to be attached to wooden dowels and sold as dusting tools.)
-  The Delineator, March 1898, p. 336.
-  Ibid.
-  Abbott, Lyman, The House and Home, 1896, p. 229.