Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Birds of a Feather: An Unlikely Pair of Exotic 18th c. Hats, c. 1750-1775

Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Susan reporting:

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


Fanny said...

Gorgeous hats, yes! And they are interesting... is it known if they come from the same town or even the same area? They sure look like they've been made by the same craftsman, as you said! Or they were the result of a short-lived localized fashion? I don't know, but if I come across info on similar hats I'll send you a message! =)

Beckah said...

I am INSANE for these hats! I can see them on Audrey Hepburn, too or even Lady Gaga. I wish they still made them now, I'd buy one in a heartbeat.

Maureen said...

They look like fancy versions of the French beret.

gio said...

Wow, I love these hats. They are so beautiful!

Norma Shephard said...

Perhaps this is what inspired the Dior Dish in 1947.

I wonder if the feathers were dyed or harvested from exotic tropical species.

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