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While bonnets were the most common choice throughout the early Victorian era, a wealthy lady could purchase hats of countless varieties. I don’t intend to cover them all here. Likewise, I think it’s safe to speculate that while in the countryside or travelling abroad, especially wild places, women of the times adopted men’s head wear for practical purposes. Certainly by the mid and late Victorian eras there is photographic proof of this. However, most ladies generally wore feminine items, and this article will reflect those tastes.
Broad brimmed straw sun hats were very popular in the 1700s, and remained so throughout of the 1800s, ranging from simple to elaborate, rather like bonnets. The straw hats were often held on with a ribbon or veil. Hat pins had been used for decades, but were expensive and somewhat heavy. It wasn’t until the 1850s that inexpensive thin hat pins became available for the masses (because of an American machine invented in 1832). This led to women’s head wear becoming something that would just perch on top of their hair, usually worn tilted over the forehead. By the 1880s bonnets had vanished, and little jaunty hats replaced the early and mid Victorian styles. This was true of most types, including straw, which became little boaters, but the broad-brimmed straw sun hats never disappeared and are still favoured today.
The two images above are of portraits done before the early Victorian era, but the styles are accurate for the times. Unfortunately I haven’t found many good quality examples to post here; I’ll keep looking. There were lots of different styles done in straw, the weavers being almost as creative as the felt shapers. Milliners worked as skilled craftsmen and catered to their customers’ desires.
Many women enjoyed travelling by horseback, and did so whenever the opportunity arose, or just as exercise and for sport. Riding outfits (known as habits) generally included a matching headdress. The bonnets up until the second half of the 1850s wouldn’t do for equestrian pastimes because it robbed them of their peripheral vision. The top hat worn by men was adopted by the ladies, generally in the form of a straight cone and small brim. These were of beaver felt early on, but switched to silk. There was also a number of other brimmed head wear to choose from, in many different styles, and it appears the modern fedora may have evolved from these.
If you’re interested in purchasing an authentic bonnet or straw hat like I have written about in these last two articles, please consider visiting Mrs. Parker’s Millinery and Mercantile and check out her selection: Victorian Bonnets
Part 3 will cover some unique headdresses.