Millinery Fashions for 1881

Millinery fashions for 1881 were based on varying materials and styles depending on the season. For instance, straw was the popular springtime material for hats, and, in general, hats were large, whereas bonnets were small and worn close to the head. This close-fitting bonnet shape was still in vogue when summer started, and hats for the seaside were coarse straw, lined with velvet or plain or gathered satin, trimmed with flowers and worn large “so as to shade the face thoroughly.” For fall, bonnets remained small and close-fitting. Many were composed entirely of one material, such as leaves, feathers, or beads. Some fall bonnets were also created from plush and trimmed with flowers or beads, arranged en diademe.

Millinery Fashions: Winter Caps of Foulard Trimmed with Lace, Author's Collection

Winter caps of foulard trimmed with lace. Author’s collection.

Similar to bonnets, hats were created from plush and then trimmed with feathers. In fact, a rage existed in 1881 for “feathers of all kinds, from the close pheasant’s breast to the long graceful plumes of the ostrich” Fall hats were opposite of bonnets in size and because hats remained large and picturesque-looking, when it came to winter hats, the most fashionable material was plush. In addition, during the bitter winter months, many women wore long black lace shawl veils on top of their bonnets to keep their ears and necks warm.

As mentioned, straw bonnets were in fashion for spring. Illustrative of this are the three bonnets shown in the illustration below. The first is a white straw bonnet shown on the far left. It was trimmed with red and gold-striped ribbon, chenille flowers, and white feathers. The bronze straw bonnet, shown in the center, was trimmed with a fold of olive-green satin, a bronze-colored feather of olive, and a steel buckle attached to the side. The last millinery fashion was a steel feathered-covered bonnet. It was ornamented with pink roses and steel-woven strings.

(Left to Right) White Straw Bonnet, Bronze Straw Bonnet, and Steel Feather-covered Bonnet, Author's Collection

(Left to Right) White straw bonnet, bronze straw bonnet, and steel feather-covered bonnet. Author’s collection.

The following illustration shows some of the popular summer styles for 1881. As shown, most of the styles included flowers as decorations. Starting at the top left is a style known as the favorite capote formed from a white chip close-fitting bonnet trimmed with forget-me-nots and roses. Additionally, blue satin ribbons are tied in a bow under the chin. The Jenny hat, shown on the top right, was a black straw trimmed with  two pompoms and several flower tufts. In the center is a Henry III baby hat. It was created from white satin, and trimmed with two large pompoms. On the bottom left, is the Sylvia bonnet. It was a white chip bonnet trimmed with white satin and black silk. Additionally, roses and May flowers were used to decorate it. The last bonnet, on the bottom right side, is a Regina leghorn bonnet. It was trimmed with gauze, Marguerite daisies, and cherries, and it tied under the chin. Additionally, bonnets for concerts, theaters, and carriage rides were worn with flower garlands of either lilac, roses, or poppies, and these garlands were laid across the bonnet’s brim with the trailing garland mixed with jabots of lace that fell across a woman’s breast.

(Left to Right and Top to Bottom) Favorite Capote, Jenny Hat, Henry III Baby Hat, Sylvia Bonnet, and Regina Leghorn Bonnet, Author's Collection

(Left to right and top to bottom) favorite capote, Jenny hat, Henry III baby hat, Sylvia bonnet, and Regina leghorn bonnet. Author’s collection.

Fall millinery fashions echoed the spring and summer fashions as straw was still popular, and feathers and flowers remained a popular decorative trim. The illustration below shows a grey chip hat known as a chapeau viscontis. It was trimmed with black velvet, corn flowers, and poppies. In the center is a mourning bonnet of Albert crepe, folded and laid en torsade, with ruching inside. The chapeau excelsior was created from bronze straw and trimmed with long ruby feathers and black velvet.

(Left to Right) Chapeau Viscontins, Mourning Bonnet, and Chapeau Excelsior, Author's Collection

(Left to right) chapeau viscontis, mourning bonnet, and chapeau excelsior. Author’s collection.

The winter hat fashions below include a Joinville toque of black plush trimmed with golden pheasant feathers and point d’Angleterre lace (a bobbin lace comparable to Brussels lace). The grey Chartres hat, named after the French commune of Chartres, was also created from plush, but trimmed with red satin and shaded feathers. The brown felt Van Der Bosch hat was trimmed with white lace embroidered with ruby beads and ruby feathers.

(Left to right) Joinville Toque, Chartres Hat, and Van Der Bosch Hat, Author's Collection

(Left to right) Joinville toque, Chartres hat, and Van Der Bosch hat, Author’s collection.


  • Thomas, Mrs. Edward (Jane), The London and Paris Ladies’ Magazine of Fashion, Literature and Fine Arts, London: Kent & Co. 1881.

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