Articles of History: Bonnets and Hats

For many hundreds of years a hat or bonnet was part of a woman’s everyday wear. It has only been in the last hundred years or so that wearing a hat when you went out or a bonnet or head covering at home has become seemingly a thing of the past as one would say. Hats and bonnets however have a long and fascinating history.

George Dunlop Leslie

Since ancient times, women have covered their heads with veils, scarves or cloth, but it was not until the Middle Ages that you began to see the actual hats and bonnets that we think of today worn. Hats and bonnets were worn by women of every level of society and their styles have been long and varied. Wearing a hat or bonnet was most popular for women from the beginning of the 1700s to the beginning of the 1920s. There was even a profession for women that sprang up around the creation of hats and bonnets in the 1800s known as millinery.

So what were all these beautifully fashionable and practically simple hats and bonnets made of? It all depends on the time period you lived in! The styles and designs of hats were constantly changing, but what they were made of has not changed through the years. Hats made of straw, cotton, silk, velvet, fur and the like were worn sometimes with boning or wood in them to help them hold their shape. A soft bonnet might be worn at home and was generally made of cloth whether it be cotton, linen, lace or some other material. Often, especially at the turn of the centuries, hats were decorated or trimmed with all manner of things from nosegays of flowers to ribbon or feathers to fruit! Here are just a few examples of this accessory of an earlier day.

Sailor Hat    1883    The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Straw Sailor Hat

1862 ... Bonnet ... Silk velvet ... at LACMA

Silk Velvet Bonnet

Cap 1850-60

Cap 1850-60

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