Jessamyn's Regency Costume Companion: Hats, Bonnets, &c.

~ Hats and Bonnets ~

In which we look at various styles of caps, hats, bonnets, and turbans.

White frilled cap from Reflections of the Past.

These ruffled white caps were worn indoors by most married women and spinsters; when such ladies went out, they simply put their hats on over the caps. You could see the caps peeking out, the ruffles filling up some of the underside of the bonnet brim. These older ladies were not required to wear them all the time, though, and generally didn't to balls and other fancy events.

This particular cap seems to have a peculiar construction, with a triangle of fabric from the back folded over the top and stitched down, but it would be simple to made a little skull-shaped cap of white cotton, add a very full ruffle around the front, and sew on ties.

Mrs. Bennet from the A&E/BBC Pride and Prejudice.

Here is Mrs. Bennet from Pride and Prejudice sporting just such a cap. The publicity people seem to have decided to take the actors outside to photograph them in various costumes; if the "real" Mrs. Bennet had gone out, she would have put a hat or bonnet on over her cap.

This cap is more of a mob cap than anything else, and therefore extremely easy to make: just a circle gathered to fit the head.

Hats from Sense and Sensibility, set in 1797.

Marianne's excellent hat could qualify as a bonnet, since it ties on, but I've seen plates of this type without any ties, and it obviously doesn't need the ribbons to stay on. Mrs. Dashwood's hat is a little old-fashioned for 1797 (though appropriate for her age); these giant, poofy crowns were designed to accomodate the wigs or teased hair of not long before.

Marianne's hat is simply a large-brimmed straw, wetted and dried into shape; the ostrich feathers add a lot. Mrs. Dashwood's involves cutting the brim away from a straw and gathering a large round of fabric into the crown.

Elinor Dashwood from Sony's Sense and Sensibility.

This is done as a hat, but I've actually seen more examples as bonnets--the only difference being ribbons to tie under the chin. I think the Sense and Sensibility costume designer just didn't like bows under the chin. They do make one look less serious. She also hasn't used any trim here, which is elegant, but not really the norm. In the plates and descriptions one almost always sees either feathers or ribbons.

An antique bonnet or hat from Reflections of the Past.

Thought to be Quaker because of the complete absence of trimmings, this hat's shape and manner of construction are still very educational. The vertical pleats on the crown are an interesting way of following the curve of the head. Note how much the little ruffle in back does to dress it up, make it look finished.

This appears to be a hat, but ties could easily be added if desired.

1797 plate.

This bonnet is astonishingly like the one above, but trimmed with pink sashing and (it's a little hard to tell, but I think) tied under the chin. Also, the crown looks like it's gathered with some sort of horizontal ruching rather than vertical pleats.

Marianne from Sony's Sense and Sensibility.

These head-encasing scoop-shaped hats and bonnets were popular in the early Regency. Called capotes, their shell-like shape is rather flattering (especially if you're Kate Winslet). Slightly less delicate versions are available from Amazon Drygoods and Bradley Company of the Fox; see my Creating Costumes page.

Hats are always shaped to accommodate hairstyles. In the early period, hair was short or bundled up at the back of the head. Later, it began to be piled more and more on top, and hat crowns shifted and rose to make room for it. Keep in mind what you'll be doing with your hair when you choose a hat style.

Mrs. Robert Liston by Gilbert Stuart, c. 1800.
National Gallery of Art.

1800 is the year, but I've seen this bonnet more than a decade later. It's the very simplest kind of bonnet to do: Take a straw hat and tie it firmly under the chin. To make the shape permanent (easier to put on and off), tack the ribbon to the top of the crown and the sides, tie firmly, and let sit for about a week. When you untie it, the shape should hold. It's faster if you wet the straw first.

Mrs. Liston has added a ribbon cockade and a matching fabric lining. Cockades went out of fashion a year or two later, but silk flowers and feathers are always a good bet. This smooth lining is just a donut-shaped piece of fabric--very simple. By the way, note the very edge of a small frilled cap peeking out.

Amy Reeves, clothed by Jessamyn.

So here's the version I made, modeled by my sister. I bought this hat very cheaply at New York fabrics, where I also found the grograin ribbon and the artificial flowers. I've sewed the ribbon on so that it stays put and helps hold the desired shape.

One of the advantages of this style of bonnet, besides cheapness and ease of construction, is that it will go on over almost any hairstyle. The closer-fitting ones are more limiting, and mess your hair up more.

1818 fashion plate.

Here's yet another flat-crowned straw, but somehow the rakishly tied-on scarf reminds me of Grace Kelly. Tied on this way, they were called "gypsy" bonnets. The veil would be easy to reproduce, but just remember it's hard to eat--or do anything--in a veil and look dignified at the same time.

Nice turban her friend is wearing, too, although it's a little hard to see the details; it's a reminder that less dressy styles of turban were worn for daytime. (More on turbans further down.)

1812 plate.

This fabric bonnet has a very small brim and a deep, soft crown. The crown is a simple circle, gathered or pleated and joined to the fabric-covered brim. Note the trimming: 2 ostrich feathers, and some sort of foliage around the brim, and ribbon ties. Yet it manages to be fairly elegant anyway.

This plate and the two following are courtesy of the Regency Fashion Page.

Bonnet by Jessamyn Reeves-Brown.

Here's a similar bonnet I made from a $10 off-the-shelf hat. There's a fad right now for women's baseball caps with gigantic brims--perfect for bonnets. This particular cap had a straw brim, so I didn't have to cover it. I just covered the cap part with gathered strips of leftover pink silk duppioni, trimmed it with a few artificial flowers, and added a ribbon so I could tie it on. However, I plan to redo it--I need to remove the canvas crown completely and make a bigger, puffier crown, so it will go more easily over my hair and sit further down on my head. I'll also change to a wider ribbon, for comfort under the chin.

1797 plate.

Here is another bonnet along the lines of the straw on Marianne Dashwood, above. The scoop shape is very sheltering--indeed, in France, fashionable women were referred to mockingly as "The Invisibles," because you couldn't see their faces unless directly before them.

1817 plate.

Over the course of twenty years, the bonnet above gradually turned into this bonnet. Its verticality absorbs a high hairstyle, and makes up somewhat for the widening and ever-more-trimmed skirt hems and shoulders.

As the 1820s progressed, this style became predominant but slipped back somewhat on the head, becoming by the 1830s the familiar old-fashioned "poke bonnet."

1823-25 hat from the Gallery of English Costume, Manchester.

This bonnet is starting to slip backward, poke-bonnet fashion. Still, it's marked as a Regency bonnet by its fairly large, cylindrical crown; later headwear had crowns that were more like cones with the point chopped off.

The plaid fabric plastered to the back is an odd trim, carried on by plaid ties in front.

Gilmore's Sarah Reeve Ladson, 1823.

Turbans were quite popular during the first decade of the 1900s, especially for evening dress, and especially with arty people, as Sarah evidently is.

Turbans were really hats. They were sewn into shape, so it's not as if you had to wind strips of fabric round your head every time you put one on. With the right fabric, a turban could be pretty simple to make. Just wrap and stitch into place. This example has a particularly arty fringed loose end hanging down; usually they were tidier, and in less exotic silks.

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