by Cindy Regnier
I grew up reading Laura Ingalls Wilder books. I read them all, over and over, so many times I practically wore them out. One thing in those books always puzzled me though. What were those things called sunbonnets that so often got mentioned and why did women wear them? Was it considered unfashionable for a woman to be suntanned? Apparently so.
Sunbonnets were considered necessary as well as functional for all ladies during the 1800s, but especially popular for farm wives and country girls. Mostly they were kept hanging near the doorway so they could be easily grabbed any time a lady ventured from the home. In Laura’s case, she disliked the sunbonnet and often left it hanging from its strings down her back, much to Ma’s chagrin. It seems that as long as the sun was up, women even wore the bonnets to do chores or hang out the laundry for it was considered unladylike to have a tan.
Of course, most ladies had everyday bonnets for chores and hanging out laundry and nicer, often fashionable ones for Sunday and special occasions. The bonnets were often made of gingham or calico, even fashioned from the leftover fabric of a new dress so that the outfit matched. Colors varied from dark and drab to pastels and floral prints. Older women frequently wore black bonnets, especially to church and funerals, but ruffles and lace were customary, even on the black ones. Some even had ribbons or bows for decoration. Another common theme was an apron matching the bonnet. No farm-woman was properly attired for an outing to the fishing pond unless she sported her sunbonnet and apron.
So when did the sunbonnet finally fade from popularity? When women's hats began to be manufactured in large quantities in the mid-1800s, they gradually became more common than the bonnets and eventually replaced them for all but the most rural folk. Remember Laura mentioning the milliner’s shops? Even suntans became not only acceptable, but fashionable. Bye-bye sunbonnets.
How did one go about making a sunbonnet? Most consisted of a brim, a crown and a tail or ruffle. The brim was always made stiff to shade the face, either by interfacing or starching. An old recipe for laundry starch instructed one to mix 2 parts flour with one part salt then add a little cold water to make a paste. Add boiling water to the paste until smooth and creamy. Sounds kind of like making gravy to me. Some used coffee instead of water if the fabric to be starched was dark colored. I bet that had an interesting aroma.
The crown was made puffy enough to allow for the buns and braids. The tail hung down the back to protect the neck. Most bonnets had ties to keep them in place. If the bonnet was tied firmly beneath the chin, a strong gust of wind could not carry it away. Bonnets were of many types such as a button bonnet, a snap bonnet, a split bonnet and a gathered bonnet. Terms such as Bavolet bonnet,Staithes bonnet, or Calash bonnet
were also used among the more fashion-conscious.
No one wears sunbonnets today, but we haven’t forgotten them. Sunbonnets can still be found in popular items such as prairie dolls, quilt patterns, fabric prints and decorating items. Sunbonnet Sue anyone? Tell me in the comments if you think you would have liked wearing a sunbonnet. Just between you and me, I’m pretty sure I would have been as guilty as Laura of having it hanging down my back instead of on my head!
Rand Stafford isn't looking for true love. He'd ridden that trail until his fiancée left him with a shattered heart. What he needs now is a wife to help him care for his orphan nieces. Desperate, he sends an advertisement to a Baltimore newspaper and hopes for the best.
Fleeing her former employer who would use her to further his unlawful acts, a newspaper advertisement reads like the perfect refuge to Carly Blair. The idea of escaping the city, the intrigue, and the danger to hide herself on a cattle ranch in Kansas is her best shot for freedom.
But its sanctuary comes with a price—a husband. While marrying a man she doesn't know or love means sacrificing her dreams, it's better than being caught by the law.
Or is it?