Wednesday, April 22, 2015

When Hats Defined an Era

Here’s an interesting tid-bit. Ladies of the nineteenth century wouldn’t have considered themselves properly dressed to go in public without a hat. 

That sounds ridiculous in this age of casual dress, but on a bad hair day I wish hats were back in fashion. Alas, wearing a hat today anywhere except at the beach or garden will get you labeled strange. Fashion hats disappeared in the 1960s in that hole that ate up nearly everything in genteel culture.

The Victorian era has always been my favorite to read and write about, and one of the reasons is the fashion. Like nearly everything about that time, fashion was over-the-top, starting with the hat. The basic hat was simple—narrow, flexible brim; short, flat top—meant to be worn atop an elaborate hair-do, since it was two sizes too small to fit the head. The proper Victorian lady dressed it up with fabric, feathers, flowers, birds, nests, netting, ribbon, lace, just about anything she could find.  And the more the better.

I love crafts of all kinds, but making a Victorian hat has never been on my bucket list.

Last month I blogged about how I was sewing an 1880s costume for a photoshoot. Well, I decided it needed a steampunk hat, which is surprisingly well known in pop culture, and lots of patterns were available. Here's the layout. Three pieces--brim, curved cylinder side, and crown.

Steampunk is so named for the sci-fi genre emphasizing the steam-powered machinery and industry of the era.

My genre is western romance, not steampunk, but the hat fits the Victorian era. Imagine a man’s top hat with half of the top chopped off and made small enough to fit a six-year-old. My pattern was simple. Just cut two of each piece and glue together, using wire for shaping. Mine is made of canvas, though something called Buckram is recommended.

I decided to keep my decoration simple. This is the finished hat.

Though I like Victorian fashion, I’m a casual dresser. I see no need for a hat except to protect my head from the sun. While the dress of a by-gone era is an interesting topic, the idea of actually wearing those elaborate dresses isn’t something I’d like to do.

But I can’t help thinking that maybe we’re getting too casual. People are going to the grocery store in their pajamas these days.

It isn’t only fashion that’s gotten too casual. Behavior once considered scandalous is now accepted. Hopefully, we’ll never forget that propriety in dress and everything else is not determined by the mores of the day, but by the eternal word of God.

Do you like hats?

Comment to win an e-book copy of Mountain of Love and Danger by Gail Pallotta.


  1. I have to wear a hat for work. It's a Sun Smart Kindergarten & I must set a good example for the children. I like to look at pretty hats, but I don't like to wears hats. They make my head hot.

    I do like to carry a sun umbrella. Now, if they just bring back pretty parasols I would be happy.

    1. Oh now you've got me thinking about parasols, Mary. They are pretty. I'll have to make one of those next.

  2. Great post! I love hats. When I was living in the Washington DC area in the 80's (1980s that is!) hats were in, so I often wore a hat to church. I miss them.

    1. Thanks Linda. When I was growing up, the only time hats were required to dress up was for Easter Sunday. Now only older ladies wear them for Easter. Some do. I'm in the older category now.

  3. Thank you for your interesting post. I am not a hat person myself. Even as a child with a brand new Easter bonnet, I didn't like it at all!!!!!

  4. I love the Victorian era fashion, but I'd much rather wear the dress than the hat. Still, one without the other wouldn't be chic. I wear hats when they're necessary, for warmth or to keep my face out of the sun.

    And I agree that casual dress leads to casual behavior that sometimes misses the biblical mark. I enjoyed your article very much, Elaine.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Deb. I'm with you.

  5. My mother made me wear hats to school in cold weather but as soon as I got out of her sight I took it off. I was never a hat wearer they just feel very uncomfortable on my head. Funny thing is though my grandmother made me a night hat when I was a child and I would wear it to bed in the cold weather. I couldn't believe how much warmer my head was with it on. As far as wearing hats now for casual wear or dress or even cold weather it's no go with me !

  6. I had a hat I wore in high school that was sort of Robin Hood-ish. So cool. For a Victorian era play I was in once we had to make our own hats. I created a huge monster of a hat! So fun. My mother also used to make us paper nurses hats out of newspaper. Wish I could remember how she did that.