Fashion history often focuses on what the elite classes were wearing in cities and at court, and overlooks what more ordinary people wore. The 1770s are usually represented by the extremes of high fashion as shown in fashion plates and caricatures, with exaggerated false rumps and hoops and towering hair crowned by elaborate hats and plumes (like this and this).
Yes, there were women - usually young, fashion-conscious, and willing to spend lavishly - who embraced the absolute latest styles. But just as few women today dress in clothes straight from the runways of New York and Paris, the majority of 18thc. women preferred clothes and hats that were not so much duplicating the latest fashion, as inspired by it.
The Lady's Magazine in May, 1775, listed a number of hat styles that were popular that spring. Unlike the detailed fashion reporting from the early 19thc. magazines that Loretta shares, readers of the Lady's Magazine had to use more imagination. There aren't any colored illustrations, or detailed descriptions, but the brief listings were enough for a woman to take to her milliner, and let their combined taste create an attractive hat.
One of the new hats for undress (day wear) for May is described as a "FRENCH HAT: chip, with nothing but Italian flowers." The reproduction hat worn here by Katelyn, a summer intern in the Margaret Hunter Shop in Colonial Williamsburg, fits that description nicely A chip hat was one made of plaited straw, stitched into shape; in the mid-1770s, hats were generally flat or with a very shallow crown, with a wide, flexible brim. Ribbons tied at the nape would not only hold the hat in place over a cap, but also bend the brim into a becoming arc worn low over the eyes. (The hat, along with Katelyn's clothing, was created in the shop using 18thc. methods.)
Italian flowers were not necessarily imported from Italy, but the generic term for artificial flowers of silk or paper. Flowers might have gone in and out of fashion, but I'm sure there were some women who always wanted them on their hats simply because they're pretty.
I like to imagine a young 18thc. woman like Katelyn visiting her favorite milliner's shop and making careful, pleasurable selections of the chip hat, silk ribbons, and flowers to create her own interpretation of 1775's French Hat.
Many thanks to Sarah Woodyard for background information for this post.
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.