Friday, November 9, 2007

It's What's on Top That Counts

I’m working in Washington D.C. this week, and the weather has turned chill. All around me, hats are popping up like daffodils in the spring. Most look snug and warm. I imagine that the beaver or silk top hats worn by young men in the nineteenth century might have offered some warmth as well.

I’m not so sure about these lovelies, from 1818. While these bonnets might offer protection from the sun, they were more likely worn for show. As you can see, the basic shape was the same, but the feathers, flowers, lace, and ribbon used made each bonnet a work of art. And the more fashionable you were, the more original the item covering your head.

I’ve often read of a chip bonnet, which I assumed was a small little thing. But books from the 1800s talk about “tremendous” and “huge” chip bonnets, so I admit I’m a bit mystified.

For evening, you had turbans, caps, and the perennial favorite, ostrich plumes. One young lady in this picture from 1808 even has a top hat trimmed in ermine, matching the ermine lining of her evening cloak. Now she looks warm!

I wonder if they still sell those here in D.C.?


Sarah Prineas said...

I wonder if a chip bonnet refers to material and not to size? I always thought it was a straw hat...

Off to check the OED. Be right back, if it's got anything.

Sarah Prineas said...

Ah-ha! Not straw, exactly. "Chip," from the OED:

4. a. As a material: Wood (or woody fibre) split into thin strips for making hats and bonnets.

1771 [see 9]. 1784 COWPER Lett. 21 Mar., A fashionable hat..a black one, if they are worn; otherwise chip. 1866 Treas. Bot. 270 Chip, a material used for plaiting into various articles of ornament and use, and obtained from the leaves of the palm called Thrinax argentea. 1888 Bow Bells 22 June 3 Some of these [bonnets] in chip or crinoline.

Regina Scott said...

Wonder, Sarah! Nice job! So these were bonnets woven from palm leaves, sort of like a basket. Interesting!

Thanks for letting us know!