Regency,  Research

What’s Haute, What’s Not, Part II

When I was putting together last week’s post on best and worst Regency dress fashions, I also ran across many…um…inspiring images of headgear. As with the dresses, some were gorgeous and flattering (just what we like to see on a proper Regency heroine) and some were downright ridiculous (let’s save them for comic villainesses, please!)

Some of my favorites:

Best #1 (upper left): 1810, from Ackermann’s. This style was called a “cottage hat”. I think it’s nice and simple and just the thing to go with the elegant dresses of the time. It also strikes me as a bit 1920’s ish, but I’m no expert on that.

Best #2 (right): 1811, also from Ackermann’s. For me, this is the right way to use flowers. Not too many (even though it does look rather as if she has a bee in her bonnet!) and the asymmetry is cute.

Best #3 (left): A gypsy hat, popular for country wear throughout the early 19th century. Nice and casual and, in the days before SPF 45, good protection for that delicate skin. I also saw a portrait of a somewhat older woman wearing one of these, and it looked great on her, too.

Best #4 (right): Gilmore’s portrait of Sarah Reeve Ladson, 1823. Turbans often look ridiculous to me, but this one struck me as kinda cool, exotic, maybe a bit Byronic. Not everyone could pull this off, but if you have this sort of sultry dark coloring, I think it works.

Now for the sublimely ridiculous…

Granted, some of these are caricatures of contemporary styles, but they give us an idea of the results of a trend gone wild!

Worst #1: “Lady Godina’s Rout — or — Peeping-Tom spying out Pope-Joan. Vide Fashionable Modesty”, a March 12th 1796 caricature by Gillray. OK, this one speaks volumes on its own. But I’ll add that feathers do appear to have their use as a hiding-place. Also, perhaps, to balance out wide hips????

Worst #2 (right): French satire on the poke bonnet (“Invisible”); No. 16 in the series of engravings, “Le Suprême Bon Ton” from the second half of the 1810’s. More proof that outrageous millinery has its uses. Any guesses as to what they’re actually doing in there? But of course, these people are French. Need I say more?

Worst #3 (left): 1810 turban. I’m rather surprised she can stand upright under that thing. Looks like she’s wearing a miniature beanbag chair on her head, and the feathers look like they came from an anemic rooster. If you’re going to wear dead bird feathers on your head, at least invest in some good peacock or pheasant!

Worst #4: 1817, The Lady’s Magazine. Everything I’ve heard about carriages of the time indicates they were rather small. Did the lady wearing this have to crawl in on hands and knees? Just think about what she might have exposed in doing so! OTOH maybe this is a style adopted by petite women in a vain attempt to look taller. You’re not fooling anyone, dears, just embrace who you really are!

Worst #5: 1818, from La Belle Assemblée. These bonnets trimmed with a profusion of flowers and/or fruit make me wonder. Imagine you’re wearing the latter out for a drive with a rakish gentleman, and then unexpected weather drives you to seek shelter in some secluded cottage or barn (of course that never happens in novels!). Perhaps you could disassemble and eat it.

Actually, I have to admit this last one is kinda fun, the sort of thing that would be a blast to wear to a costume party, for laughs. I think it would be fun to wear a turban sometime, too, though most of them seem a bit . . . dowagerish. For now, I’d rather see myself as a stylish matron.

So, Riskies and dear guests, which hats do you like, or think you would most enjoy wearing?

LADY DEARING’S MASQUERADE, RT Reviewers’ Choice Award nominee

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Megan Frampton
16 years ago

What does it say about me that I like some of the awful ones? I really liked the Worst #5. I like the Best turban, though, too.

I know I’ve said this before, but I really can’t stand some of the Regency hairstyles, so I think some of these hats–even the awful ones–are an improvement.

16 years ago

I would go with best#3 followed by best#1….

Amanda McCabe
16 years ago

I like Best #3 and #4 (though I probably couldn’t pull it off!). I actually kind of like the really tall bonnets that are in “worst”–maybe because I think they would make me taller???

I love hats (and shoes and purses!), and have a couple reproduction bonnets, as well as some wide-brimmed straw hats I picked up in Williamsburg. Just need a place to wear them…

Elena Greene
16 years ago

Actually, I think those tall hats are sort of fun and theatrical but you need a really pretty face to pull them off. Come to think of it, I feel the same way about at least one of the gowns in my earlier post; it could look good on someone with a model’s figure. Not me! 🙂

Actually, though, my favorite hat is that poke bonnet francaise. You can hide in it. Maybe you could even get compromised in it. No need to have a carriage break down or “accidentally” get locked into a conservatory anymore…

Elena 🙂

Cara King
16 years ago

Yes, Elena, I agree that Best #1 does look sort of 1920’s! Charming.

I must say I don’t much like Best #2 — the way the brim curves up in front looks silly to me — and what’s the point of a bonnet that doesn’t shield your face from the sun??? (I’m a hat girl anyway — I HATE the sun in my eyes, and I try to avoid too much sun exposure, so I wear hats a LOT — probably one reason I noticed that Lizzy in the new P&P movie wasn’t wearing bonnets!! — hey, how’s that for a run-on sentence???)

Best #3 is delightful — probably my favorite.

The rest, including the worst ones, I think I would like fine (okay, the feathers might not be my favorite, but so hard to tell how they’d really look! I really need to drag out my movies to take a look at the feathers) except the very last one, which even I think is TOO MUCH! 🙂


16 years ago

Strangely, I wear a hat just like Worst #3 all the time! Should I be worried about my fashion sense?


Elena Greene
16 years ago

So Todd, what do your students think of your headgear????

Inquiring minds want to know.

Elena 🙂

Cara King
16 years ago

You know, I bet if he asked them what they thought of his headgear, they would say:

1) Is this going to be on the exam?

2) Could you repeat the question?

3) You took off a half point here, and I don’t think you should have.

4) I know your section is supposed to be full, but could I join it anyway?

5) I know your section is way overfull, but could I PLEASE join it anyway? I promise not to complain that you deducted half a point when you shouldn’t have.

6) You deducted half a point here. I need that point!

Cara :-p

16 years ago

Cara has accurately summarized 90% of my interactions with my students. Or at least, it feels that way sometimes. 🙂

She did leave out:

7) I know that this information is printed on the syllabus, has been announced several times in class and is available on the web, but could you tell me when the final exam is anyway?

On the other hand, the one benefit of academia is that you can dress as bizarrely as you like and no one would dream of taking notice. Unless, of course, they thought it was going to be on the exam.


16 years ago

Oh, I hope those never come back in style. haha! I don’t really like any of them.

Laurie Bishop
16 years ago

Elena–I always got such a kick out of the bonnet styles! Thanks for the chuckle. I just love the French satire of the Poke Bonnets.

Men–and women too, I’m sure–have long suffered with fashion…men complained of having no room in a ballroom full of hoop skirts…or bustles…the name of the 18th century style where the frame went East-West escapes me…and then, women had to sit down in them! That was an art in itself.

I like hats, but I am fussy about them, just as I am with glasses frames. I have one of those strong faces, and the wrong one makes me look like a bulldog. It gets worse as you get older…No, no poke bonnet for me!


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