Friday, March 26, 2010

Spring bonnets at Old Sturbridge Village

Friday, March 26, 2010
Loretta reports:

There was a time, not so very long ago, when a woman (or man) wouldn’t think of leaving the house without a hat. Some of us may remember the collection of hatboxes in our mothers’ or grandmothers’ closets—or the thrill of going out to buy a new outfit for Easter, complete with hat. But nowadays even the Easter bonnet has become an endangered species.

Old Sturbridge Village, a living history museum dealing with life in a New England village of the 1830s, wants us to know that it didn’t matter whether one lived out in the sticks in a community that didn’t really celebrate Easter. The ladies still cared about what went on their heads, they were far from immune to fashion, and with spring’s arrival, they burst out in new or at least spruced-up bonnets. You can read the story here.

According to the newspaper article that caught my attention, “Mid 19th century women typically owned four types of bonnets: a decorated silk or straw one for spring, a folding cotton calash* for rain or travel, a winter velvet-lined bonnet or quilted hood, and a cotton or linen bonnet for outdoor work.” This took me completely by surprise. I’d no idea they went in for ribbons and feathers. Just goes to show the assumptions one makes about New England country folk.

For a short time—because the items are so fragile—some of the museum’s collection of bonnets will be on display. On Easter weekend, costumed interpreters will hold bonnet-making demonstrations. You can take an online tour of their bonnets here on the website.

Above left is a Straw bonnet with silk pleated lining, circa 1830, from the Old Sturbridge Village collection.

*collapsible bonnet, illustrated at right.


Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

I love the bonnets in the link, Loretta--makes me think of Jessica and Dane in "Lord of Scoundrels." I particularly like that green velvet one with the mauve ties. Gorgeous! Also makes you realize even in rural Massachusetts, women were determined to be stylish.

La Modiste said...

Good to know about the Sturbridge show. The bonnet at the bottom is a Calash or caleche. This is named for the French carriages with folding tops that they resemble. This style originated in the eighteenth century to accommodate the towering hairstyles then in fashion in London & Paris. Here is a link to a surviving example.

Here is another later one from the nineteenth century.

Rowenna said...

In some ways it makes sense that they would go in for decoration on their hats--it's relatively inexpensive, and can be redone easily to keep up with fashion or change your style. Even if I, too, thought of NE rural folks as kind of stodgy and non-ribbon-y in that time!

It's crazy how far some of the brims protrude! I think their complexions were more than safe--all in the name of fashion, I suppose.

nightsmusic said...

I LOVE that straw bonnet! I want one,though where I would wear it in this day and age, who knows? I definitely remember when I was little, being outfitted in gorgeous silk dresses and bonnets at Easter. I would never have been allowed out without one, though my grandmother always tsk'ed at me any time I was out without one.

Coincidentally, Victoriana Magazine also posted a story on Bonnets at Old Sturbridge Village.

Great timing there. :D

LorettaChase said...

Susan, I was amazed at the collection, especially the number of original bonnets--and yes, I do try to keep the headwear in mind when writing the stories.__ La Modiste, thank you for the links. Now I'm wondering why green silk was so popular... __ Rowenna, eventually I'll post some of the caricatures of those extensive brims. I'm not a clothing expert but instinct tells me that they're meant to be alluring--the woman's face is partly hidden; the man has to peer under the bonnet.__ Theo, as one who _must_ wear sun hats, I do regard that bonnet wistfully.

Two Nerdy History Girls. Design by Pocket