Hats Off !

The late 19th and early 20th century was a golden age for headwear. Etiquette dictated that one never went out without a hat. There was a hat for every occasion to the point that a high society lady would sometimes change her hat several times in the same day: for the garden, going shopping, visiting a friend or attending a party.

Fashion rapidly took charge of this common item of clothing. Hat makers and designers created hats whose extravagance makes us smile nowadays. In the 1880s and up until World War I (1914-1918), hats grew ever larger and were adorned with a plethora of ribbons, tulle, flowers and feathers. The feather-workers, who collected the feathers for decoration, were much in demand. It went as far as even using stuffed birds as ornamentation. The use of wild ostrich feathers and dead birds eventually caused such a controversy that their use was banned.

Some hats were so enormous that one wonders how they stayed on the head. Not surprisingly we see the introduction of long hatpins. Some could reach 18 inches (45 cm) in length, making them, it was joked, a weapon against unwelcome male advances.

In its archives, Heritage Sutton has found portraits of women wearing hats. For the most part the sitters are anonymous but these women demonstrate how life was lived at the end of the reign of Queen Victoria and during that of her son, Edward VII.