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A Year in Fashion:1870

"History of the Bonnet"

Page 3

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



In the Middle Ages their caps resembled the bonnets of men when more than a veil was needed; and even to these a veil usually was added. Afterwards hats were assumed. Later, hoods mantled fair heads. But the hood is not exclusively feminine ornament. Kings, commoners, and priests have worn it. In the days of Queen Anne, Addison complains in his Spectator of the distracting influence of the ladies' gay colored hoods at church, and censures their coquetry. They were just then introduced, and the height of the fashion; previously, towers of hair, sometimes covered with lace caps, or ornamented with little hats, alone rested on the head.

So it is obvious enough that whatever ladies may choose to wear, every new fashion will get roundly censured by the sarcastic or witty old fogies of the day, who are nevertheless ready enough to do homage to a pretty woman and to slight a plain one, till some misfortune, perhaps, teaches them the value of a good heart over a good complexion, whether the idol or the scarecrow is disguised in a bonnet or not. To our notion, a single hood of blue or cherry color must have been far more decent than a fantastical coiffure uncovered and bedizened.

When the French Revolution first occurred, the still fermenting society assumed everything upon a Greek model (soi-disant) and made a fancied resemblance to the classic a pretext for bad taste and a lack of decency. As matters subsided a little, and a consulate, afterward an empire, was established, extremities of scanty toilet vanished. Still, dresses were gored-- as narrowing them toward the top is termed-- close to the figure; the skirts were of the scantiest and shortest dimensions; and, as a wit of the period said, "They commenced too late and ended too soon." An inch was all that was accorded to the length of the waist, and the neck and arms were entirely exposed; whilst the lightless of the other garments revealed the whole contour of the figure. To make amends for this brevity and compression, the surplus material expanded like a huge excrescence in bonnets.

Close observers will notice that meanness in one direction is almost accompanied by the extravagance in another, not only in character, not only in household and personal expenses, but in matters of the toilet. When, recently, huge crinolines were adopted, the head was compressed into the smallest outline, and the bonnet, slung round the head by ribbons, was suffered to hang like the unused hood of a mantle upon the neck behind the head.

Now that crinolines are invisible and skirts shortened, heads have become huge in chignons and other expressions of fancy. The latest fashion being a kind of helmet of hair, equal in size to Minerva's and formed of rich, loose plaitings from the very brow over the ears to the poll, high in altitude, and as much as possible in appearance like two large braided chignons united on the head, one toward the face, the other toward the back, and both perpendicular. Of course, bonnets are as betting men say, nowhere. The superfluity to make up for deficiency of skirt and bonnet juts out in hair.

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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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Disclaimer: This article is being presented as an educational resource of women fashions during this time era. The Costume Gallery, or its owner, Penny E. Dunlap Ladnier, does NOT sell or make sewing patterns. This publication's text is in its original format. Spelling or grammar may not appear to be correct, but were standard for the original publication date.

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