Hat Fashions for October 1896

Towering crowns, either pointed, square, or well-concealed were once again “modish” in 1896, and as height was an essential for the fall season of 1896, crownless or low crown hats were made high with trimming. Brims remained broad and frequently “cast a shadow over the eyes.” Plumage was as important as ever and hats often looked like “winged things, so extravagantly [was] plumage used in their decoration.” Birds of all sorts were fashionable but New Guinea’s Bird of Paradise and its variations (Black Bird, Jobi Bird, King Bird, Magnificent Bird, Twelve-Wired, Red Bird, Lesser Bird, and Great Bird) was the bird most popular for millinery fashion in 1896. Because of the bird’s popularity, American zoologist and conservationist, William Temple Hornaday, listed the bird as nearly extinct in the early 1900s. Part of the reason the bird was so popular was noted by The Delineator:

“[Its beautiful garb of yellow and brown … [and its] long, full tail, naturally a shaded yellow, is dyed in every conceivable hue and is used alone as an aigrette or with birds.”

The Young Ladies’ Hat below is an example of a crownless hat made towering by an adept use of ornamentation. It was created from dark green felt and had a drooping convoluted brim. “Roses, full blow and half open, nestled amid their leaves … and carelessly waving feathers tower[ed] above them from the back.”

Hat Fashions for October 1896: Young Ladies' Hat, Author's Collection

Young Ladies’ Hat. Author’s collection.

The next hat Ladies’ Large Hat was worn on carriage rides or when attending a reception. The gray felt brim harmonized with the yellow and black decorations. “A plaited ruche of chiffon surrounded the crown and a yellow wing at each side gave it a bright touch against the soft black ostrich plumes [that towered overhead].” At this time, ostrich plumes were one of the more readily available feathers, and the flightless bird also offered three other different kinds of feathers — drab, nandu, and spad. These feathers could be dyed and trim, and besides being used as millinery ornaments, beginning in the 1800s, ostrich feathers were also used to create dusting tools attached to dowels that became known as dusters.

Ladies' Large Hat, Author's Collection

Ladies’ Large Hat. Author’s collection.

Promenade hats were usually worn with Promenade Toilettes and were literally worn when walking or strolling in public places, such as in the park, a public square, or when shopping. The Ladies’ Promenade Hat shown was created using a low crown. It was a wide-brimmed hat and had a varied combination of colors — red, green black, and cream. It also used dyed ostrich plumes, lace, wings, and a jeweled ornament to complete the look.

Ladies' Promenade Hat, Author's Collection

Ladies’ Promenade Hat. Author’s collection.

The garnet colored Ladies’ Felt Hat below was created with a medium high crown and a slightly rolled brim. The soft puff of velvet used was a harmonizing shade of blue that surrounded the crown, and, on the left side, flowers and leaves towered above the crown. An interesting side note about felt is it was created using a process known as “carroting.” Rabbit or beaver skins were treated with a mercury compound and then dried in an oven until the fur turned orange, just like the color of a carrot. The orange pelt was then stretched over a cutting machine and when the skin was thinly sliced off, the fleece was left. This was blown into a cone-shaped colander, treated with hot water, and sent through rollers, thereby causing the fur to felt. The felt was then dyed and blocked to make a hat. Unfortunately, the vapors created during this hat making process resulted in hatter’s suffering from mercury poisoning.

Hat Fashions for October 1896: Ladies Felt Hat

Ladies Felt Hat. Author’s collection.

“An artistic color mixture and disposal of trimming” is demonstrated in the golden Young Ladies’ Hat shown below. The modified sailor hat was created from a medium high crown. Secured between a large broad black ribbon bow situated at the front were purple pansies and leaves. Large bows were particularly fashionable at this time, as were two-toned ribbons. As shown here, the large bow was wired to maintain its shape. Several large black ostrich plumes were strategically placed, with most plumes either being situated at “the back or left side [of the hat] or both.” In this case the black plumes were placed at the back of the hat hoping to provide breadth, as well as height.

Young Ladies' Hat, Author's Collection

Young Ladies’ Hat. Author’s collection.

The last hat is a Ladies’ Velvet Hat and it was created in mauve. Mauve was a color named for the mallow flower and a color that according to the Oxford English Dictionary, didn’t come into use until the late 1790s, and the color was rarely used before 1859 because it was hard to obtain. After a chemistry student accidentally created the color in 1859 it became all the rage. Every Victorian clamored for the color. This mauve hat was  created with a wide, stiff brim and a soft, full crown, a crown that The Delineator maintained was “youthful-looking and dressy” with an attractive shape. A small band of gold braid encircled the crown. Red berries with green foliage decorated the left side and united with willowy black ostrich plumes that towered above.

Ladies' Velvet Hat, Author's Collection

Ladies’ Velvet Hat. Author’s collection.


  • Congressional Serial Set, 1913
  • “Millinery,” The Delineator, October 1896
  • The Kindergarten-primary Magazine, Vol. 2, 1890

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