To look at portraits and fashion plates from the second half of the 18th c., it seems that every lady's hat had at least one plume sprouting among the trimmings, and generally the more the better. Feathers fit the rococo sensibility for curling extravagance, as we've seen here and here before, with towering plumes wafting overhead.
Which is why these two hats are so extraordinary. Here the feathers aren't rising high, but stitched onto a basic flat covered hat, lined with silk. This low-crowned style of hat was called a bergere by the French, but there's nothing extravagantly French about these feathers. Instead of costly imported ostrich feathers, the feathers used here came from ordinary cocks and guinea fowl, dyed in bright colors. The feathers were arranged in an almost mosaic-like pattern, completely covering the linen brim and crown with lavish pattern and texture. These hats are unquestionably 18th c, and yet as is often the case with the best design, there's a certain timelessness to them, too. They'd look every bit as stylish on Doris Day's head in a 1950s film as they would strolling through Vauxhall Gardens in the 1750s.
In an era when all hats were "bespoke," with every lady having her hat styled and trimmed to suit her personal taste, how was such a unique style produced twice? Likely they are the work of the same milliner (thanks to the ever-astute Hallie Larkin for this observation), but what two ladies would wish to have the same distinctive style? Could two sisters or friends have ordered a pair, or did one lady wish to copy the fashion savvy of another, and request a duplicate? Or was the milliner so fashionable that she made many of these hats, knowing her customers would clamor to wear them? Alas, we'll never know, any more than we'll know how two such fragile creations have managed to survive nearly 250 years in such wonderful condition. But aren't we glad they did? Many thanks to Cate Crown and Becky Fifield for spotting these two hats on-line and sharing them on the 18thcWoman message boards. Top: Women's feather hat, English or French, 1750-75, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, photograph copyright MFABoston. Bottom: Hat, Great Britain, 1750-1770, Victoria & Albert Museum, photograph copyright V&A
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.