1878 Spring Bonnets and Their Popularity in America

The most popular 1878 spring bonnets were, according to the American magazine Harper’s Bazaar, the “French chip, soft English straws, and … rough fancy braids with a piping of velvet between the rows of braid.” Such bonnets were popular because they were supposedly of exceptional quality and much more durable than bonnets of former seasons. White and black bonnets were equally fashionable, with straws being colored primarily in brown, black, gray, or ecru. Additionally, bonnet styles for middle-aged women were usually large with flaring brims filled in with lace frills.

Two chip bonnets for April 1878. The one on the left gray and trimmed with cardinal silk, an old gold ornament, and gray feathers. The one of the right a white chip bonnet, trimmed with moss green satin, flowers, feathers, and ribbon. Author’s collection.

The most fashionable 1878 spring bonnets were also comfortable shapes, moderate in size, large in the head, and close-fitting in front. Crowns tended to be square at the top, low behind, and “finished by a straight curtain band, or one … indented in the middle.” Satin was the primary trimming, and beads were frequently used as a “special feature of spring garniture,” along with a variety of artificial flowers and feathers.

Beads were used in a variety of ways on millinery in 1878. For instance, beads as large as peas were sometimes strung in rows on wires to trim brims. Thy also came in a rainbow of colors ranging from jet black to gold. Beads were also frequently set in passementerie made from mesh-like netting, which laid flat on a bonnet’s brim. Additionally, beads were “strung on flexible rubber grass as [if] fringe falling from coronets of leaves and roses.”

Flowers were also used for trimming spring bonnets and came in “Havana shades” that ranged from gray to brown. Bonnets were decorated with brown carnations, brown roses, and brown buttercups accompanied by “natural real grasses, seed pods, moss, leaves, and pine cones.” Colors such as olive, pale blue, and cardinal red prevailed in clusters and crescent-shaped clusters were used for the top of bonnets in such varieties as “yellow buttercups with dark damask roses and pale blue forget-me-nots fringed with moss or grasses.”

Spring bonnets were also decorated with small bouquets in various colors usually behind the ear on the left side of the bonnet. Thick clumps of roses and green leaves also covered the left side of bonnets, whereas flower wreaths were used to surround entire brims in Havana shades, with only a single rose added to provide color. Additionally, on coronet-shaped bonnets, the foliage from half wreaths drooped onto a woman’s face with “small fruit or flowers, poppies, cowslips, or roses.”

There were also other ways to trim 1878 spring bonnets. One way included adding a large single rosette placed directly on the top of the brim. Strings were also carelessly twined around the crown or across the curtain band at the back. Sometimes large Alsatian bows were used, but the prettiest trim was said to be “Tuvée bows of narrow satin ribbon in short loops tightly strapped … with longer ends cut in tridents or notched.”

Brims varied from cottage-shaped to coronet-shaped to close brimmed. The cottage-shaped bonnets were so close-fitted there was no inside trimming. The Marie Stuart bonnet had a coronet pointed in the middle directly over the forehead, and the Gainsborough bonnet had the coronet pointed slightly towards the left side of the middle, with the front part turned upward, while the sides and rear portion were pressed flat against the hair. There was also a nameless bonnet that had a bell-shaped crown sloping upward with long ears in front and a close brim.

Some of these features are described and shown in the following fashion. The first bonnet is the Beret. It was created from seal brown plush and lined with black lustring. It sported a soft indented crown with two gray feathers that had oxidized silver stems and were positioned on the left side of the beret.

spring bonnets 1878

Beret. Author’s collection.

Next is the Gray Kid Bonnet. It demonstrated a style with a pointed front and a slightly upturned brim on the sides. A shirring of pink satin surrounded the brim, and the trimming was composed of loops and ends of double-faced pink and gray satin ribbon that formed streamers in the back. A gray shaded bird, a silver aigrette, and silver spikes trimmed the front, and a gray ostrich feather fell towards the rear of the bonnet.

Gray Kid Bonnet, Author's Collection

Gray kid bonnet. Author’s collection.

The Black Silk Bonnet sported a high crown and a brim that drooped to the left side. It was caught up in revers on the right side, and faced with a shirring of black and ruby satin. Wound around the crown was a folded strip of black satin finished in the back with black and ruby satin rosettes. Additionally, a black ostrich feather curled over the crown to complete the trimming for this 1878 spring bonnet.

Black Silk Bonnet, Author's Collection

Black Silk Bonnet. Author’s collection.


  • “New York Fashions,” Harper’s Bazaar, Vol. XI, No. 8, 23 February 1878.

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