“Portrait of a Woman Seated Beneath a Tree” by Merry Joseph Blondel, 1830
I love hats! The right hat can complete an outfit in a way no other accessory can. For women in particular, hats, caps, bonnets, and veils were indispensable until about 1980 (in the USA, that is. Many countries still wear hats much more frequently). Today, hats have became more ceremonial– like wearing a lux hat to the horse races— or a quirky fashion choice.
If you are costuming historically, an excellent hat or similar topper is one of the most useful, striking additions to a wardrobe, especially at outdoor events. Besides looking pretty, hats with brims provide precious shade to keep ivory complexions from darkening and smooth decolletage from becoming dappled in the harsh sun! No respectable woman went out during the day without some sort of covering on her head for both protection and modesty. Besides their practical applications, hats look fantastic and even the simplest hat can take an outfit to the next level.
Detail from “Voila les Anglais!” Illustration, March 1817
Lately, the romantic period between 1820 and 1840 has been piquing my interest. The highlight of these two lost decades has got to be the wild hairdos like these…
…which required equally large hats to fit around them:
Bonnet, circa 1830
Bonnet, circa 1815-1820
Bonnet, circa 1830
Hat, circa 1825
But the hat that inspired me that most is this early 1830s beauty:
Bonnet, circa 1830-1832
When I was at the local thrift shop, I ventured back into the craft supply section where a selection of florist baskets caught my eye. One particular type– called a hat basket, of course– looks just like a inverted hat. No doubt you’ve seen one before, or even own a few. They often come wrapped around poinsettia plants at Christmas and are lined with plastic.
The straw flowerpot cover I found caught my eye because it’s bottom/top was intricately woven, much like this 1820s straw bonnet:
Bonnet, circa 1820-30
In the same dusty corner was a bag full of fabric scraps, including over 8 yards of gorgeous antique silk ribbon! The total cost for the woven cover and ribbon? Only $1.15 (and that’s after tax).
So I went home and put on one of my many eBay dresses (which reminds me of this dress from the Tasha Tudor collection) and did my hair in a very simplistic mock-up of an 1820s hairstyle:
The key element of a Romantic-period hairstyle is height, so I mounded my hair on top of my head as best as my meager hair talents would allow.
No amount of curling would get my front bangs to poof correctly, otherwise a period-appropriate hairstyle would have little curly swags at the front rather than smooth wings (a later 1840s-50s style). However, I was going to cover it with the hat anyhow, so no one was going to see it anyway (she said coyly, attempting to justify herself).
That horror over and done, the next steps proceeded with relative ease. In fact, all this was done in under 20 seconds sans mirror and in 15mph wind.
1 woven flower pot cover
2-3 yards of wide ribbon
Take woven flower pot cover and place it over your bun and snugly around your head.
Put the ribbon over the crown (top) of the basket and tie the ribbon in a bow under your chin.
Really. That’s it.
It’s an instant poke bonnet, just add your face!
I had some leftover paper flowers from the 1850s headdress project, so I tucked a nosegay under ribbon for a little extra pizzazz.
Poke bonnets got their name from the need to tuck or poke the hair back up inside of them to properly frame the face. They were popular for much of the 19th century until about 1870 when the fashion began to die out except if you lived out in the country where bonnets offered protection from the harsh sun and wind.
“Hey, Minnie! I’ve doing a photoshoot of my flower pot hat. Do you have any props I can use?”
“Well….I have this giant ball of wool yarn…”
So now that you’ve used up the straw flower pot cover, what can you do with the leftover naked flower pot? The answer is: MAKE MORE HATS!
Silk Poke Bonnet, circa 1835-1845
The 19th century not your cup of tea? Try this 18th century hat tutorial at the Thread-Headed Snippet which is equally cheap and has much more entertaining commentary than I could muster:
As with all my articles, all of the images in this article are either linked to larger versions, articles explaining them, or other fact-filled sites to help you explore, so please feel free to check them out!