Cottage Shack Articles Museum Articles

Cottage Shack Articles: All About Ladies Hats – Oct. 28, 2021

You can read the original article and others in its series at the Cottage Shack magazine

My name is Patricia Turnour and I have been involved with CCHM for the better part of 16 years. Although my role has changed many times, my dedication and commitment to this amazing place has remained steadfast. As curator, I have the opportunity to work alongside many wonderful volunteers. Whether outdoors building a fence or guiding a tour; or indoors arranging a display or greeting visitors, the work is always rewarding.

Each of us who write here about our particular interests in CCHM brings a unique perspective that, we hope, adds to the museum’s charm.

Through my articles, my passions and interest will become apparent. I have done extensive research into the history of millinery and, therefore, my first article is about hats. Not only am I a keen collector, but the museum also has a large assortment of headwear. A number of our hats were recently on display during the Coldwater Fall Fair.

Headwear has been in use since cave dwellers wore pelts to protect their heads. Through ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman times, some sort of headdress was worn. Eventually hats even became symbols of fashion, wealth and status.

Mop caps of the 17th and early 18th centuries, like those worn by Martha Washington, were used simply to keep hair clean. Pioneer-style bonnets served the same purpose and provided protection from the sun. These simpler fashions seldom needed the skills of a milliner. By contrast, the wealthy of the day, sported fancy, and often plumed, hats and powdered hair. “Rats” were made using collections of hairs from one’s combs and brushes gathered together and sewn into a piece of netting which was then placed under a hat to increase the hair’s volume.

During Victorian times many ladies’ hats were regarded as artistic masterpieces. But hats also came to have a variety of practical uses. For example, the light-weight lingerie hat that emerged out of the Edwardian era was typically worn in summer. Frequently, at garden parties and weddings, the wealthy class adorned these simple hats with cabbage roses, daisies, poppies, ribbons and even bird’s nests.

The widow’s weeds, which is comprised of widow’s cap, weeping veil and black dress, worn during mourning became the trend when Queen Victoria wore it while mourning the death of her husband Prince Albert. We are most fortunate to have a collection of grieving clothes at CCHM. These clothes were supposed to have been burned at the end of Mrs. Woodrow’s mourning period. She being frugal, as many women in her circumstances, saved them for later use by others in the family should the need arise.

At the onset of the 20th century, although many hats shown off by ladies were still plumed and worn with matching high collar fashions, shorter hair styles began to emerge and smaller, close-fitting hats were designed to accommodate the change.

During the First World War, fashions in general were much simpler. Hats lacked the plumage and other adornments of pervious decades. Unfortunately, too many women wore black hats with netting in mourning a soldier’s death.

This fashion trend prevailed through the Second World War during which other hat designs were inspired by the military.

By the 1950s many new and creative styles were emerging. Designers were commissioned to create unique headwear for famous celebrities. For example, Jackie Kennedy popularized the pillbox hat. Paris and Milan designers created masterpieces made of glass, fruit, tule (netting), etc. Mr. Bunn, a famous Harlem milliner is quoted as saying, “Buy the hat first and the outfit to go with it is merely an accessory.”

since the 1960s hat wearing has become much less fashionable, though.

Queen Elizabeth continues to wear beautifully designed hats matching her attire on every occasion. And at some event such as the Royal Ascot Derby it is customary for ladies to be seen flaunting exciting original designs. The Hampton hat, sported by wealthy, vacationing ladies summering in the Hamptons of Long Island, New York is a brimmed straw hat decorated with ribbons, bows, and flowers.

Smaller sculptural hats called fascinations are less cumbersome but still allow women to be socially appropriate. Several have worn these unique fashions at recent royal weddings.

At CCHM we are fortunate to have a large collection of hats worn by local women in days past.

We hope this story will inspire you to visit us at Coldwater Canadiana Heritage Museum when we reopen in the Spring.

Stay tuned for Part 2, titled Widow’s Weeds.