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A Year in Fashion:1870

"History of the Bonnet"

Page 2

This website contains a fashion article from Lady's Friend Magazine, June 1870.



A bonnet originally was the name given to a man's head gear. There were the bonnets of priests, the bonnets of nobles, which were of velvet and ermine, or of velvet surrounded by the coronet, and which we still see pictured in their armorial bearings, and the bonnet of Bluff King Hal's time, which beef-eaters yet wear.

Shakespeare, writing about that period, is our witness that a bonnet was a man's covering, when, in "Coriolanus," he makes one of his puppets say, "Go to them with thy bonnet in thy hand." And again in "Hamlet," "Put your bonnet to its right use; 'tis for the head." And Shakespeare's puppets were so life-like, they never transgressed the natural, even in an epithet misplaced. The Scotch to this day call their caps "bonnets," and Scott, writing his stirring war song--

"March, march, Ettrick and Teviotdale, March, march, Clydesdale and Lidesdale," adds, "All the blue bonnets are over the border." Not only is bonnet of masculine meaning but, in England, it has been appropriated as a title for part of a lady's walking costume. In France, "bonnet" has been usurped by the femme-de-chambre, but only to be laid on the pillow and slept in. Madame and Mademoiselle may use a bonnet de nuit, but they are seen in the Champs Elysee or the Bois de Boulogne in a chapeau. Should any miss or her mamma there venture forth in her "bonnet," she would be probably forwarded to Charente as incurable; for is not that pretty little white article her nightcap, as we term it? In Germany, too, a bonnet is known as a hut or hat, though, indeed, they more frequently adopt the French term, chapeau or capote, and now and then it is a toque; but a toque specifies what we call a hat for a lady-- a sort of coronet-shaped Scotch cap.

The original meaning of the word bonnet was applied to a fortification, a sort of parapet erection without a moat. In sea language a bonnet is an addition to a sail -hence is the head covering called a bonnet: it is a fortification for the head, and, in the case of a lady, very like an addition to a sail, especially when her garments are ample and flowing. The first bonnets introduced for ladies truly were fortifications -towers in size, and amazing in strength and amplitude. To deem a bonnet the correct and only meet covering for a woman's head, betrays very great ignorance. For the huge blinkers known under the name, and now happily discarded -we sincerely hope never to be resuscitated- are of very modern origin. Scare a hundred years old, dating only from the end of the eighteenth century, at a period of bad taste and bad morals in the French court -that is, soon after the Revolution had turned society topsy-turvy, and scarcely skimmed off the first rough scum of the new settlement. A veil is really the only entirely feminine head-covering ladies have ever possessed.

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Article Bibliographical Information:

"History of Bonnets," Lady's Friend Magazine, Vol. VII, No 6, June 1870, pp. 405-408.

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