The hat was considered one of the most important items of a woman’s toilette. One twentieth century writer noted its importance stating:
“When a clever woman chooses a hat, she is careful that the shadows it casts on her face are becoming to her. Every hat throws it own set of shadows, and I doubt whether any two hats produce exactly the same shadow effect. A woman can alter the whole contour of her countenance by wearing a hat of a certain shape. If her face is thin, she will select a large hat, which will give the impression of plumpness, and a different kind of hat if her face is full. Every woman knows this, and most of them are aware that it is the varying shadows which bring the different effects. Without her hat many a woman loses much of her picturesqueness — or thinks she does, which comes to the same thing [and] that’s why hats are generally worn.”
The first hat is a Young Ladies’ Toque and likely cast the right shadow to make it a hit with Victorian women. It was created with a soft poof of dark-green velvet that formed the brim, and a lighter green velvet was puffed above to form a high crown. Additionally, numerous plain and mottled quills feathers, along with a rhinestone buckle ornament, were added to give the toque a stylish and modern finish.
The hat below is a Ladies’ Bonnet. This was a seasonable hat created from velvet and decorated with “ostrich tips, jet balls, buckles, a velvet loop, and an aigrette.” To keep the hat securely on the head, velvet ribbon tie-strings were attached at the back to be “bowed daintily under the chin.” When tie-strings were not available to secure a hat to a woman’s head, she likely used a hatpin. Hatpins first originated in the 1850s with the purpose being strictly functional: Securing a woman’s hat to her head. By the 1880s, hatpins had graduated. They were extremely popular, elaborate, and longer than the ones from the 1850s, although the hatpin would not reach its full length — 10 to 12 inches — until 1910. The first hatpins were also ordinary looking. That changed and, by the late 1890s, they were often a fashion statement being made not just from metals but also decorated with materials that included tortoise shell, ivory, emeralds, rhinestones, or mother of pearl.
Besides hatpins, Victorians were also discovering new ways to use ornaments in millinery in 1897. This included making unique bows, creating unusual ornaments, and displaying plumage and flowers in new and different ways. There were also many new ornaments that included beaded, jetted, or spangled wings and quills. Roses were another particularly popular feature. They were often mingled with bows, wings, and feathers. Coarse-meshed nets were also sometimes used but nothing rivaled dainty bows or ribbons when trimming a hat. One hat that relied on a variety of new ornaments was the Carriage Hat. Horse-hair lace embroidered with jet, chenille, and spangles covered the hat, and then it was trimmed with roses, feathers, and an aigrette, to create a jaunty stylish look.
Women began wearing hats long before the first theatre was built, but once theatre’s came into vogue, hats were more popular than ever, and supposedly female theatre-goers who wore these hats cared little whether or not those sitting behind them could see. One theatre-goer noted, “Protests were many, but the women were obstinate [and refused to give up their hats].” Women of the Victorian Era also loved their hats. One hat designated as a Theatre Hat was a dainty chapeau created from a shimmering grey velvet. It was also trimmed with willowy curled plumes at the rear, a towering aigrette on the left side, and either a steel, jet, or jeweled ornament pinned on top of the crown in the center. Additionally, at this time, theatre hats were often dominated by jeweled pins, ornaments, or buckles.
The Ladies’ Turban below was intended to be worn for “street and calling wear.” Curled feathers around the outside edge of the turban, gave this millinery piece a unique and special look. In fact, the row of curled feathers almost appears to be a row of blackened roses. To further create a unique turban, the crown was shirred with vari-colored velvet in red and white, and between these shirred layers was placed a narrow band of feather trimming. Additionally, dyed ostrich plumes of black and red, as well as an aigrette of matching colors, were added at the rear to provide a sense of “graceful and harmonious decoration.”
Autumn hats were not only heavily shaped but also heavily trimmed. One of the most popular trimmings at this time was steel ornaments. Cut steel ornaments had been created in the 16th century, but they gained their greatest height of popularity in the 18th and 19th centuries. Sometimes the steel ornaments were “tiny steel rivets used alone, while in others they [were] combined with Rhinestones set in old silver.” Another popular ornament for October 1897 was “large, hollow, cut-jet beads.” These large beads were used to create knots, ropes, and loops and used in a variety of other ways. The autumn season was also popular for a variety of plumage novelties. The selection included full birds, quills, wings, feathers, and impeyan feathers, and often times these decorations were confined to the left side and assumed towering qualities.
One towering autumn hat is the following Stylish Toque had a brilliantly spangled crown that highlighted the plain and fancy velvet of different colors displayed on the brim. The toque was further trimmed with jet balls, a beautiful rhinestone buckle ornament, and several black ostrich plumes made this toque “especially appropriate for theatre wear.”
The last hat for 1897 is the Ladies’ Velvet Hat in blue. Popular blues at the time were “Pervenche … a periwinkle-blue, Clochette, a deeper tone of the same, and Bluet, the hue of the cornflower.” However, the hat shown to the right was created from a color likely considered steel blue. It was created with a soft crown of velvet that was enhanced by a unique brim of jet balls. Additionally, a unique chiffon ornament created from knife pleats was secured in front of a towering spray of black and grey that formed an aigrette.
- “Fashionable Millinery,” The Delineator, Vol. L, No. 4, October 1897
- Hesse, Rayner W., Jewelrymaking Though History, 2007
- “Millinery,” The Delineator, Vol. L, No. 4, October 1897
- The Theatre, Vol. 12, 1910