Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Hat for Keeping Out the Sun, c. 1780

Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Susan reporting:

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


Anonymous said...

May be it's just Dutch pride, but may I also point out the fabric of the jacket, a reproduction print from

The hat is also very stylish, love it!!!!

Kind regards from The Netherlands,


Nuranar said...

I love that hat! Another reason for lining in black is to reduce glare. When lined in black, there's no reflection off the underside of the brim, which makes it more shady. It's a little like sunglasses!

jan godown annino said...

What an inventive lot those CW ladies were.

Looking at today's current photograph, I wonder how
this shop intern's lovely hat stays on? (Brava to her for her good work there in CW!)
Hatpins? A ribbon under the chin?

Thanks for a beautiful post.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Irene, You're perfectly justified in Dutch pride. I followed your link, and what beautiful chintz fabric! I don't know if this is the source used by the Margaret Hunter shop, but since they do buy reproduction fabric from around the world, it's entirely possible.

Nuranar, I thought of the non-reflection quality, too, especially for those English ladies in the bright sun of Jamaica.

Jan, if you click on the link in the first paragraph (the bold-faced "ribbons and plumes"), you'll see a side view of a similar hat. The flat hats are worn over ruffled linen caps. Wide ribbons are stitched to the flat brims, pulling them into the curve, and the ribbons are tied not under the chin, but at the nape of the neck, over the cap. An 18th c. lady would have had her hair (or her wig, or a combination or her hair and hairpieces) arranged in a substantial style to help anchor the hat. Hat pins could also help for extreme hats. Glad you enjoyed the post - those ladies do make amazing hats!

Historical Reminiscing with Marilyn said...

I adore these frivolous confections of a Hat and the ones with plumes even more! :)

QNPoohBear said...

We love our hats!

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

QNPoohBear, Love the Felicity & Elizabeth photo - Felicity still lives at our house, too. It's a shame that she's been dropped from the American Girls dolls line. I don't think they have any dolls representing girls before 1850 now. That's a whole chunk of American history gone begging. As always, must be marketing....::sigh::

QNPoohBear said...

Felicity and Elizabeth (as played by modern time traveler Susanna) thank you for the compliments. The ribbons are rather slippery and it's tricky to get the hats just right but they look nice! Felicity is quite well known around Williamsburg though she's not longer sold or officially associated with the museum. Next time you go, try to visit the Everard House which was one of the models for her illustrations. American Girl has two pre-1850 characters right now. Kaya, a Nez Perce Indian girl from 1764 and Josefina a Mexican girl from what's now New Mexico. She has some lovely European style clothes, including a spencer jacket. While she doesn't live here, some of the others like playing dress up in her clothes.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Just saw this print on another blog, giving quite a clear view of how the flat-brimmed hats were worn tipped forward, over a cap, and tied with ribbons behind. Scroll down until you see "The Pretty Maid Buying Music":

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