Hello, from the great state of Oklahoma! I’m Carla Stewart, and this is my debut post on CFHS. When Vickie McDonough, one of the founders here, told me she had an opening, I jumped at the chance to be a part of this lovely community of fellow lovers of history. I’m a little intimidated because I’m a newcomer to the traditional “historical” genre with my recent book The Hatmaker’s Heart. Until now, I’ve been writing nostalgia (1950-1970) where I learned the value of researching my subject well and getting my facts lined up as well as ferreting out those hidden gems that make stories jump off the page. I hope you enjoy my “take” on history and some of the things that fascinate me. And to mark this “first” for me, I have a surprise for you at the end of the post.
As the title of my book implies, one of my current passions is hats (see my Pinterest board for my virtual collection). All kinds, but in particular, the way hats have evolved over time and their role in fashion in the last four hundred years. Prior to then, head coverings were used for protection from the elements or as a symbol of respect, reverence, or royalty. Hats were also indicators of social standing or profession.
In 1529 AD, The word milliner, meaning a maker of hats, was first recorded in reference to the products for which Milan and the Northern Italian regions were well known (i.e. ribbons, gloves and straws). The haberdashers who imported these highly popular straws will called 'Millaners'. Since then, hats have been cherished, celebrated, and even occasionally scorned.
"A hat is a flag, a shield, a bit of armor, and the badge of femininity. A hat is the difference between wearing clothes and wearing a costume; it's the difference between being dressed and being dressed up; it's the difference between looking adequate and looking your best. A hat is to be stylish in, to glow under, to flirt beneath, to make all others seem jealous over, and to make all men feel masculine about. A piece of magic is a hat." ~ Margaret Sliter
I love this. Magic. That's what hats are to me, and that magic has taken on many forms among ordinary women as well as posh, fashionable women for centuries. So let's have a look.
18th CenturyShepherdess hats with varying brim widths were worn throughout the century for protection from the sun primarily, but pretty ribbons and other decorative elements were sometimes added. In the last quarter of the century, huge wigs and hairstyles were fashionable so the calash was invented to protect them from inclement weather. These had whalebone or wood strips sewn into silk fabric to give them shape and hold them in place. Cotton was introduced near the end of the century, so bonnets tied under the chin became popular. Turbans came into their own during this period as well and remained in fashion until the 1820s.
|A Calash - from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art|
19th CenturyStraw bonnets were favored, but supplies weren’t easy to come by, so the “bonnet board” came into being – cardboard pressed in a roller machine to shape it and covered with cotton or silk. By the 1820s, feather plumes and silk bows were introduced, and hats became more and more lavish with towers of panaches (the plumes) and wide brims that hid the face. They often had veils which further hid the face.
|Woman's Bonnet, circa 1870. Silk taffeta and lace- from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art|
|Silk Velvet Bonnet, Circa 1862. Courtesy of Los Angeles County Museum of Art|
By the mid-1850s, brims were narrower and the face and hair more visible but hats often featured a ribbon frill – a Bavolette – at the back of the bonnet to cover the neck which was considered an erogenous zone, and it would be improper to view the neck except with evening dress.
The last half of the century sported many different styles. The bonnet came back, but with a smaller brim (called a spoon bonnet and had a peaked crown often decorated with a nosegay).
Hats in general became smaller, and in 1860 the parasol was introduced to take care of protection from the elements and women wore the diminutive Franchon, a triangular piece of decorated straw or silk with wide ribbons that tied under the chin. Other styles in the latter part of the 1800s were Glengarry highland caps, circular pork pie hats, Tyrolean style peaked crown hats, and little doll hats decorated with cockades of feathers. Women who wanted to appear more modest still preferred bonnets and this eventually associated them with a matronly appearance. The more adventuresome women wore towering hats known as “3-story” or “flowerpots.” Boaters first became acceptable for women near the end of the century and are known by many names: Skimmer, a Katie, a Cady, a Basher, a Sommer, a Sennit Hat and a Can-Can Hat.
1875 brought the biggest hat fashion event in history to date – the Kentucky Derby hat. The over-the-top sunhats were designed to attract attention and were adorned with flamboyant embellishments including ribbons, flowers and feathers. Even to the present day, a lady who attends the Kentucky Derby and doesn't wear a hat is almost considered scandalous.
|One of the hats on display at the Kentucky Derby Museum|
20th CenturyDuring the Edwardian period from the turn of the century until the close of WWI, hats were an essential part of every woman’s wardrobe. They were lavish and some even cantilevered over the face to complete the popular “S” shape of a woman’s silhouette.
|Billie Burke, prior to 1914, Wiki Commons|
Dramatic changes were about to take place, though, with the advent of the Roaring Twenties. Brims became smaller and the hat crown deeper, and cloches became all the rage. They hugged the head from just above the eyebrows to the back of the neck, and while the embellishments weren’t as massive as they been a few years earlier, they were still spectacular with intricate bead work, woven ribbon, feathers, and lush fabrics. Glitz and sparkle marked the cloche style which has become synonymous with the Flapper image of the era and worked well with the bob hairstyle that many younger women wore.
|Joan Crawford in flapper hat, 1927|
By the 1930s, the crown became shallow again and wide brims more popular. There was more variety in the shape and style, and even mannish Fedoras weren’t off limits. The 1940s had a wide variety of styles that were popular and were used to brighten the drab wartime fashions. Interestingly enough, hat making supplies were not rationed during the war so popular styles included feathers, artificial flowers, and netting. By the end of the decade, hat wearing, in general had declined, a trend which continued until the mid-1960s when it was rare for women to wear hats at all except for special occasions. Some of the styles of the fifties and sixties were pancake and cartwheel hats which often had a tuft of veiling, turbans, and pillbox hats.
|Lana Turner in picture hat. 1951.|
Only recently have hats come back into the spotlight with the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, who re-introduced the “fascinator” to the world. I think it’s a step in the right direction, don’t you?
|Kate Middleton at the Garter Procession, 2008|
January 15 is the unofficial National Hat Day. You might want to mark your calendar.
GIVEAWAYNow, as promised, I have a surprise for you. I’m giving away a signed copy of The Hatmaker’s Heart. To enter and get your name in the drawing, please click on “comment” below and tell me what your favorite hat style is and the last time you wore a hat. The winner will be chosen by random.org. US mailing addresses only, please. And thanks for taking this little hat journey with me!
Carla Stewart is the award-winning author of five novels. With a passion for times gone by, it is her desire to take readers back to that warm, familiar place in their hearts called “home.”She launched her writing career in 2002 when she earned the coveted honor of attending the Guidepost’s Writers Workshop in Rye, New York. Since then she’s had numerous magazine and anthology articles published. Carla has been an Oklahoma Book Award finalist four time and was the 2011 trophy winner of the Oklahoma Writers Federation Inc. “Best Book of Fiction”. Other awards include the 2012 Inspirational Reader’s Choice Award (Faith, Hope, and Love) for women’s fiction, an INSPY finalist in 2013, and a two-time ACFW Genesis winner. She and her husband live in Tulsa and have four adult sons and seven grandchildren.The Hatmaker's Heart is Carla's newest release - In New York City’s Jazz Age, a naïve, but talented young hat designer must weigh the cost of success when the rekindled love with her childhood sweetheart is lost and her integrity in the cutthroat fashion world is tested.Learn more about Carla at www.carlastewart.com