English ladies in the second half of the 18th c. loved their extravagant hats, especially when combined with extravagant hair (such as Daughter Ann wore in these prints here and here.) By 1780, the most fashionable hats had such low crowns as to have been little more than large brims – all the better to pile on the ribbons and plumes. As impractical as these hats may seem to us, they could act as a kind of sun-visor.
Here Amber Mendenhall, left, an intern in the Margaret Hunter shop in Colonial Williamsburg, wears one such fashionable hat. The hat is woven straw, covered with pleated white silk gauze and green striped silk ribbons. Worn low over the face, the wide brim would shade the face, and offer a certain amount of protection from the sun.
But this hat offers double protection: the underside of the brim is lined in black silk. (The photograph, right, shows the hat in progress, with the black lining pinned in place.) The black silk would have absorbed reflected sunlight, further protecting a lady's delicate complexion. While this might not have been much of an issue in England, the transplanted ladies living in the southern American colonies or on a Caribbean island would have definitely appreciated this added feature, and 18th c. advertisements show that such hats were in fact sold and worn in Jamaica.
Of course, every fashion could go to extremes – at least the way the 18th caricaturists show it. This lady, left, out for a stroll in Bath with her tiny dog under one arm and a book in her hand, seems ready to protect herself from the sun with a hat as large as a modern beach-umbrella. (Click on the image to enlarge.)
Lower left: A lodging house lady of Bath (detail), published by MDarly, London, 1777. Copyright Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University. Photographs copyright Susan Holloway Scott
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.