Hat Fashions for October 1896: Stylish Trends

Hat fashions for October 1896 that were once again considered “modish” included towering crowns, either pointed, square, or well-concealed. Height was essential for the hat fashions in the fall season of 1896 and thus crownless or low crown hats were made high with trimming. Brims remained broad and it was frequently reported that they cast a shadow over the eyes. Plumage was as important as ever and the popular fashion magazine, The Delineator, noted that hats often looked like “winged things, so extravagantly [was] plumage used in their decoration.”[1]

Birds of all sorts were fashionable on millinery at this time. However, 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 cited as the most popular for millinery fashions in 1896. Because of the bird-of-paradise’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 why was noted by The Delineator:

“[I]ts 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.”[2]

William Temple Hornaday. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

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.”[3]

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

Young Ladies’ Hat. Author’s collection.

The next of the popular hat fashions for October 1896 is a Ladies’ Large Hat. It 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].”[4]

Ladies' Large Hat, Author's Collection

Ladies’ Large Hat. Author’s collection.

At this time ostrich plumes were one of the more readily available feathers for decorating millinery. 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.

Another the popular hat fashions for October 1896 was promenade hats. These 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 below 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.

Hat fashions for October 1896 - Ladies' Promenade Hat, Author's Collection

Ladies’ Promenade Hat. Author’s collection.

The following felt hat was another of the stylish hat fashions for October 1896. It is shown below and 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.

Some of the steps in the manufacture of felt hats are illustrated in this image from 1858. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

This carroting process was used regularly into the mid to late nineteenth century. However, in 1869, the French Academy of Medicine demonstrated the health hazards this process posed to hatmakers. Alternatives were investigated and became available by 1874 and in France legislation was passed in 1898 to protect hatmakers. Nonetheless, U.S. hatmakers continued to use the risky carroting process until as late as 1941. 

As mentioned, the garnet colored Ladies’ Felt Hat is below. This chic hat sports 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.

Hat Fashions for October 1896: Ladies Felt Hat

Ladies Felt Hat. Author’s collection.

Demonstrated in the golden Young Ladies’ Hat below is “an artistic color mixture and disposal of trimming.”[5] This modified sailor hat was created from a medium high crown and secured between a large broad black ribbon bow situated at the front were purple pansies and leaves. Large bows were particularly fashionable in hat fashions for October 1896, 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 at this time being situated on both sides, at the back, or on the left side of the hat. In this case the black plumes were placed at the back of the hat hoping to provide breadth, as well as height.

Hat fashions for October 1896 - Young Ladies' Hat, Author's Collection

Young Ladies’ Hat. Author’s collection.

The last of the hat fashions for October 1896 is a Ladies’ Velvet Hat. It was created in mauve, a color named for the mallow flower. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first use of the word mauve as color happened in 1796, a year or so after Anne-Marie Grosholtz married François Tussaud and became Madame Tussaud. Despite the discovery, the color was difficult to obtain and rarely used until a chemistry student accidentally created the color. Apparently, William Henry Perkin, then eighteen, was attempting to synthesize quinine so that it could be used to treat malaria. Unexpectedly, a residue caught his eye, and this turned out to be the first aniline dye. Perkin then marketed his discovery and became extremely successful with his mauve color because it became all the rage and every Victorian clamored for it.

The mauve hat shown below was created with a wide, stiff brim and a soft, full crown, a crown that The Delineator maintained it was attractive, “youthful-looking and dressy.” 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.

Hat fashions for October 1896 - Ladies' Velvet Hat, Author's Collection

Ladies’ Velvet Hat. Author’s collection.


  • [1] The Delineator, vol. 48, no. 4., October 1896, p. 493.
  • [2] Ibid.
  • [3] Ibid., p. 490.
  • [4] Ibid.
  • [5] Ibid.
  • [6] Ibid.

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