Monday, October 25, 2010

A Fantastical Feathered Hat, c. 1777

Monday, October 25, 2010
Susan reporting:

As promised yesterday, we'll be showing you some of the pieces inspired by the 1777 print The Spruce Sportsman, and recently reproduced by the tailors and mantuamakers of Colonial Williamsburg. And what better place to begin than with this amazing feathered hat?

Sarah (the mantuamaker's apprentice, and our fav and most obliging model) is wearing the hat here over her dressed hair and a ruffled, beribboned cap – not quite the super-fashionable "big hair" of the 1770s as in the print, but still handsome enough to support the hat.

The hat began its life as a simple circle of flexible woven straw, covered in yellow silk. (Imagine a flat-brimmed straw hat without a crown.) Then, like a pastry chef layering on the whipped cream, the mantuamaker embellished the hat with poufs of blue silk gauze and loops of silver silk satin and black velvet ribbon.

Last, though certainly not least, came the plumes. While 18th c. fashion pages do mention tinted feathers, these were created with another technique. Several ostrich feathers were tied closely together so that their barbs mingled and overlapped to make the colors appear to shade into one another: white, silver grey, pink, and dark crimson.

(N.B.: Something we didn't realize, at least as it pertains to 18th c. millinery: a single feather is always a feather, but bundle two or more together, and they jointly become a plume. And here we'd always believed that it was the fluffiness that differentiated a feather from a plume!)

When the ribbons  tie the hat on the head, the brim takes on the distinctive curved shape of the period. And, of course, no trendy 18th c. lady would ever dream of tying those ribbons beneath her chin – they always go to the back, tucked beneath her hair, so the brim tips enchantingly over the eyes. You know, the way the Gainsborough ladies wear them whilst strolling The Mall in St. James's Park.

Even so, maneuvering down The Mall or any other street in a breeze more fierce than light airs could be perilous, and long hair pins, thrust through the brim or crown and hair with the pin-heads buried in the ribbons, may be necessary to keep the whole concoction from taking off.

7 comments:

Alannah said...

Wow, that is a truly mad hat!

Chris Woodyard said...

Makes the lady look rather like a Houdan chicken--the ones with the mop of feathers over the eyes. A fine French hen!
A lovely confection and they did such a good job bringing it to life. Reproductions often lack that certain something, whether it's proportion, color, texture, or what have you. That's not the case in this hat or the entire ensemble in the previous "Spruce Sportsman" post. When I first saw a thumbnail of the group posed in front of the green screen, I thought it was a copy of the actual print, unusually well-preserved, with very fresh coloring. A real triumph for the milliner's shop!

Sylvan Lady said...

Love it! Any lady would be a flirt with that on her head.

Monica Burns said...

So how heavy is that hat? It looks like it could weight several pounds. I'm not sure I'd want all that weight on my head, which would thus put pressure on my neck and spine.

Just give me a small tricorn and a veil and I'm thinking...oooh that is really mysterious, sexy and intriguing. *grin*

nightsmusic said...

How delightful is that?

I take it the hat begins at the yellow and below is the cap? So when the hat comes off, it lies flat on a table? And did they ever take the hat off once they'd gotten it on except when they returned home?

Mme.Tresbeau said...

Very beautiful. I can picture Marie Antoinette wearing such a hat, too.

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Monica, the hat wasn't heavy at all. The base was light straw, and all those feathers were, well, feather-weight. But because of the sheer volume, I'd expect it to be unwieldy in a breeze. A lot of resistance topsides...

Theo, the hat does in fact begin with the yellow part. The cap is the white ruffled affair beneath, trimmed with pink ribbon. And yes, the hat sits flat as a pancake on the counter. I believe if you were visiting, you'd keep the hat on, and only take it off when you returned home - if for no other reason that that it must have been quite a production to get it properly secured on top of all that hair. *g*

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