Victorian hat fashions for November 1896 were substantial and large, and women like American socialite Alva Belmont or the miserly Hetty Green embraced these big hat fashions. Big hats also gave milliners an excuse to decorate with large frills and massive puffs of velvet or ribbon. High crowns, some in bell shapes and others almost cylindrical, were combined with broad brims and an occasional roll in the front or the brim upturned at the rear. Soft crowns were also in vogue and often associated with felt or fancy braid brims. Feathers, plumes, and full birds remained popular and almost every fashionable hat sported one or more of these elements.
According to The Delineator, a women’s magazine founded by the Butterick Publishing Company in 1869, flat-brimmed hats were still worn, and pearl-gray colored hats considered to be the “season’s prettiest fancies.” Additionally, hats were created to serve different functions. These included visiting, walking, shopping, taking carriage rides, or attending the theatre.
When it came to ornament hat fashions for November 1896, frills, puffings, and bows of velvet or silk were some of the more popular ornaments at the time. The Delineator also noted:
“The newest veils … are of chiffon – brown, blue, black, white or gray – with large chenille dots. They are cut rounding and bordered with a very narrow frill of the chiffon edged at top and bottom with the very narrowest of ribbon matching the tissue or the dot, which sometimes contrast with the ground. Thus, a white veil may have black dots and be trimmed with black velvet ribbon.”
Hat fashions for November 1896 also included the popular trend of plummage. Ornaments also included spangled quill feathers, horse-hair decorations, and jeweled creations. Furthermore, hats, such as promenade hats, were said to benefit from quill, owl, and coque feather trimmings as they added height or gave a wing-like appearance to the overall style of the hat.
One winter hat that sported brilliant plumage and had a wing-like effect was the fancy felt hat shown below. This hat was designed in shades of brown and green and elaborately trimmed with the same colors in silk. Added atop the hat were wings and feathers, and to increase the overall width and height, a large, soft knot of green, silk ribbon was added at the brim.
Hat fashions for November 1896 also included the following young lady’s felt below that sported plumage. It was described as having a “coquettish air” and was made from silver-grey felt, with black velvet facing. Note how the wings and the tail feathers spread well over and beyond the crown and how they were used to add height to the hat.
Hat fashions of November 1896 also included bird-of paradise plumes. In fact, the plumes of the bird-of-paradise became so popular that hunting for them resulted in the destruction of the bird’s habitat and endangered their status. The bird’s popularity first began in the sixteenth century when specimens were brought back to Europe from trading expeditions with the first Europeans to encounter their skins being voyagers in Ferdinand Magellan’s circumnavigation of the Earth. The bird-of-paradise specimens were prepared by native traders who removed their wings and feet so that they could be used as decorations. At the time explorers did not know this and the absence of information about them resulted in many erroneous beliefs about the birds. For instance, they were briefly thought to be the mythical phoenix. The often footless and wingless condition of the skins also resulted in the belief that the birds never landed and were held permanently aloft by their plumes. Moreover, Antonio Pigafetta, a Venetian scholar and explorer of the late 1400 and early 1005s, wrote that “The people told us that those birds came from the terrestrial paradise, and they call them bolon diuata, that is to say, ‘birds of God,'” which is thus the origin of the name bird-of-paradise and their specific name apoda – without feet.
The promenade hat below is another of the fashionable hat fashions for November 1896. It was created from rich shades of brown felt. It was then decorated with cream felt that was embroidered in gold. Large bird-of-paradise plumes were also used at the back and black wings placed directly in front caused the eye to rise above the crown.
Another winter hat that also had plumage was the ladies’ theater hat that follows. This hat sported an open-work jet crown, which was artistically decorated with a chiffon rosette, rose velvet, and a corn-colored aigrette. Elaborate jet ornaments and the jet bandeau at the crown made the hat perfect for the theatre or for a dressy night out.
In case you are unfamiliar with jet, it is easy to carve and has been used since prehistoric times. However, supposedly, it gained real popularity when Victorians transitioned from lighter Regency dresses to heavier, larger Victorian styles. Part of the reason for jet gaining popularity at that time was Victorian dress styles required larger pieces of jewelry, and as jet was lightweight, it was perfect to create these larger pieces. Moreover, Queen Victoria added to jet’s popularity because after her husband Albert died in 1861, she ordered only jet jewelry be worn at court. To learn more about jet, click here.
Another of the popular hat fashions for November 1896 is the gray promenade hat shown below. This hat was meant to be worn by fashionable ladies when they went outdoors for a walk. It was made from fine French felt in dark shades of slate-gray. Ostrich plumes were used to trim the crown, as were two ribbons of different tones strategically placed in front of the large ostrich plumes. One interesting side note about ostrich plumes is that they were not just used to decorate women’s hats during Victorian times because they also became popular on stage with female performers. Actress found that the plumes enhanced their stage presence and over time, this resulted in ostrich feathers evolving into the fan dance of the twentieth century.
-  The Delineator, November 1896, vol. XLVIII, p. 638.
-  Emma Helen Blair and James Alexander Robertson, eds., The Philippine Islands, 1906, 1493-1898, p. 63.