Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Woman Reads, Wearing a Bonnet Indoors—Really?

Tuesday, August 21, 2018
Blacklock, A Quiet Read
Loretta reports:

A short time ago, this image appeared on social media, with a question about women wearing hats indoors while reading. This sort of thing leads to my putting on my deerstalker hat and sticking the pipe in my mouth—but not the needle in my arm—and sleuthing.

My collection of historical dress images includes a goodly number of early 19th century ones in which women are indoors, reading, wearing a headdress. They are usually in morning dress, and the headgear is a cap. Some caps are so elaborate, though, that at first glance they seem to be hats, like the English lace cap on the left in this image.

This fashion plate, of a promenade dress, definitely shows a hat (straw), and the woman is holding a book open. Since she’s wearing a rosary and cross,  she could be in church, and that could be a prayer book she’s holding. Or not. We often see Regency-era fashion plates of women wearing crosses with evening dress: It’s jewelry.

However, the painting in question is not from the Regency era. It comes from the late 19th/early 20th century, during a period of Regency nostalgia. In the early 1800s, Jane Austen was liked in some quarters, dismissed in others, but essentially no big deal. It wasn’t until the 1880s that she became a rock star. At this time editions of her books illustrated by the likes of Hugh Thomson and C.E. Brock begin to appear, and we start to see a Regency revival in painting. The image in question is from this Regency revival/nostalgia era, when artists like Edmund Blair Leighton, Frederick Morgan, Frédéric Soulacroix, Giovanni Boldinim and many others created their versions of the Regency (and Empire) eras.

Kennington, Lady Reading by a Window c 1900
Looking into this later time period offered a little more enlightenment. William Kay Blacklock’s painting is dated circa 1900. In the late 1800s/early 1900s, I did find a few images of women reading, indoors, wearing hats, like this one by Frederick Carl Frieseke, and this one by James Guthrie.

In conclusion, I can’t altogether explain it, but the image might be historically inaccurate only for the era it’s conveying. Or maybe not. Maybe the lady is sitting in the dentist’s office, waiting her turn. Or maybe she's waiting for her boyfriend to come and collect her for a drive in Hyde Park. Or maybe, as author Caroline Linden suggested, "She's getting ready to go out but just wants to finish one last chapter..." What do you think?

If you've seen other images with this reading-indoors-wearing-a-hat theme, please feel free to share.

My thanks to Lillian Marek for sending me on this very interesting and educational investigation!

Images: William Kay Blacklock, A Quiet Read, possibly circa 1900; Thomas Benjamin Kennington, Lady Reading by a Window; Gandalf’s Gallery via Wikipedia.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.


Unknown said...

One of my pet peeves is guys wearing hats indoors -- cowboy hats, baseball hats... A fellow is supposed to uncover his head when he steps across the threshhold.

Lil Marek said...

Thank you—this was fascinating. I really was intrigued by the painting. Did you by any chance come across who the artist was?
(Aren't rabbit holes fun?)

Unknown said...

I dug up this from Emily Post on the etiquette of wearing hats -- http://emilypost.com/advice/hats-off-hat-etiquette-for-everyone/

Caroline Linden said...

I'm just sayin'.... It's happened more than once that I was ready to go before everyone else, so I sat down and snuck in a few pages of reading, wearing my coat and boots--if you take them off people accuse you of not being ready to go, and one mustn't cede that moral high ground.

quiltingcats said...

I agree with Caroline Linden all the way! Many a time I have been all ready to go and waiting on someone else; the most natural thing in the world for an avid reader to do is to pick up her book again, however briefly. I am so pleased to see that artists have captured some of these moments in time; they bring back pleasant memories.

Unknown said...

When paying a call, a lady is not required to remove her bonnet. She usually visits for only 15-20 minutes, and may make many calls in one morning, so it would ruin a woman's hair to Don and doff a bonnet so often. It seems odd, however, to read during a visit, unless the woman is reading aloud. She may be sharing a favorite psalm, prayer, or other writing. Reading aloud was a common form of entertainment, especially for the elderly who might have poor eyesight.

I also see that this lady is wearing a bonnet and dress from 1830-1840, not the Georgian era.

Merrian said...

William McGregor Paxton painted two pictures of women wearing hats and reading. A lady in a wonderful green hat with cherries on it, reading/looking through a picture album and another of a blue hatted lady in a kimono jacket with a blue book http://readingandart.blogspot.com/2015/01/william-mcgregor-paxton.html

Banshee said...

The hat might make it easier to read in conditions of glare. Also protects the complexion.

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