Monday, February 24, 2014


If you want to get ahead and get noticed, get a hat!
We all know about the nineteenth century gold and silver rushes, but have you ever heard of a plume rush?  It all started when feathered hats became the fashion rage. The avian hat craze was so great that during the 1880s, five million birds a year were killed by the millinery industry to keep up with demand.

Egrets and herons provided the most popular feathers, especially the “bridal feathers” grown during mating season. But even tree sparrows and woodpeckers weren’t safe from plume hunters. 

Things became so bad that when ornithologist Frank Chapman walked down the streets of Manhattan in 1886, he documented forty species of birds—not in the trees or sky—but perched upon women’s heads. 

Milliner: A designer who creates geometrical shapes unknown to mathmaticians.


 In 1886  bird feathers were selling for more than $20 an ounce (more than five hundred dollars in today’s currency). This increased to $32 an ounce during the start of the twentieth century, which made them worth twice their weight in gold.

 “That there should be an owl or ostrich left with a single feather apiece hardly seems possible,” Harper's Bazar reported on the winter hat season in 1897

The feather trade wasn’t confined to the East. Much of it occurred in the American West and Oregon, California and Texas were prime hunting grounds.  
Her hat is a creation that will never go out of style; it will just look ridiculous year after year. – Fred Allen


Women were called a “bird’s worst enemy” but in time they became advocates.  Alarmed by the decimation of birds Boston socialite Harriet Lawrence Hemenway held a series of teas to discuss the problem.  She then organized a boycott of feathers and helped form the Massachusetts Audubon Society, the oldest in the nation. 

 Eventually, the society was able to get the feather trade outlawed in Massachusetts and the first wild life protection movement spread across the country.  Hats still remained high and wide, but they were trimmed with ribbons, lace and flowers instead of feathers.

Why did women go overboard with hats?


According to a recent news release hats make women feel more powerful.  It's interesting to note that large, unwieldy hats went out of favor about the same time as women got the right to vote.  Coincidence?  Maybe not.   

I'm a hat person myself, though mostly I wear cowboy hats.  Anyone out there like to wear hats?

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But with careers and lives on the line, love will have to wait—perhaps forever.



  1. I love your post, Margaret. I have worn a few hats in my time but I have to confess, I am just not a hat person. I always feel very self conscience in a hat. I have decided that women either are hat people or they are not!

    mauback55 at gmail dot com

    1. Hi Melanie, if everyone wore a hat you'd probably feel more comfortable. But if there is such a thing as a hat person that would describe me. Every once in awhile I wear a hat to church just to make things more interesting (or to hide a bad hair day).
      Take care!

  2. Margaret, Enjoyed the post. I can't imagine wearing some of those hats, I would have been one of those people who were grateful when they outlawed the feathers!
    No I am not a hat person but on bad hair day's it would be nice to be one!!
    thank you

    1. Hi Jackie, it's hard to imagine wearing a bird on your head. Of course I look back at those silly bouffants and torpedo bras I wore during my high school years and find those hard to believe, too. Do you suppose future generations will laugh at what we wear today?

  3. I like to wear hats too, but usually only wear them to church in the spring. I always get a lot of compliments when I do, but one man asked me last year why I was wearing one, if I had a bad hair day, as if wearing the hat wasn't intentional! What a shame all those birds were killed for their feathers. In my newest WIP, my protagonist is a milliner, so this post really whetted my appetite to dive in with details! Thanks, Margaret.

    1. Marilyn, a milliner protagonist--what fun! I have a heroine with a similar vocation. It's hard to find historical information on women's occupations. Good luck!

  4. Hi, Margaret! What an interesting post! I can just imagine all of the feathered finery! I was surprised by the prices of bird feathers during the plume rush. Wow! Hats are not for me, but I do think they are quite fun and stylish on others.

    texaggs2000 at gmail dot com

  5. I love this on hats. I never knew that about feathers, but then I don't use them much on hats in my books. I used to wear them all the time to church before teased hairstyles came in. My maternal grandmother never left the house without one one and in almost every picture I have of her, she's wearing a hat.

    As to future generations, my kids really made fun of my high school pictures until the '50's became popular. Then they wanted to know all about that era and the clothes we wore. They had a good laugh when I told them I washed my petticoats in sugar water to make them stiff to hold out my skirts.

    1. Martha,

      My granddaughter wore a poodle skirt for Halloween and thought that was the best. I'll have to tell her about the sugar water. I love that!

  6. Her hat will never go out of style, year after year; it will always look ridiculous!!!! I love this! Did you notice the ridiculous hats at Wm and Kate's wedding several years ago? I am not a hat person, so a hat has to look very, very good before I will try to wear one. Thanks for your interesting post. sharon, CA wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com

    1. Hi Sharon, oh, yes, I remember some of those ridiculous hats. Kate sure knows how to wear a hat, but then she'd look good in a pickle barrel. I can't say I look good in hats, but I don't care.

  7. Hi Margaret! What a sad yet fun post! I'm a member of both the ASPCA and PETA and it brought a tear to my eye and a wrench in my gut what happened to millions of birds for some tacky hats back then. It just hurts my heart that innocent creatures have to suffer so horribly for man's crazy whims! But off that soapbox and onto dry ground I truly enjoyed your post and all the comments after! I like hats but have to be in the mood to wear one and then only a baseball cap or girlie simple straw hat -bowler-ish! (And you're right about Kate! She'd probably even look good in a potato sack!)