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Bonnets & Hats


Victorian Ladies’ Headwear

The main type of headwear worn by women of the 1860s was the bonnet. Women’s diaries of the period often contained comments about altering or re-trimming a bonnet to update it. During the 1860s bonnet brims grew taller at the top with the sides curving back to form a “spoon” shape. A curtain, or short gathered piece at the back of the bonnet rested just above the nape of the neck, covering a woman’s bun (the usual daytime hairstyle of the period). Bonnets tied under the chin with long, wide ribbons and were trimmed with an assortment of ribbon, flowers and other fabrics.

Most bonnets served the purely decorative purpose of framing a woman’s face. But one style of bonnet worn by women working outdoors was truly functional. The sunbonnet made of a variety of fabrics, shielded a woman’s face and neck. Stiffened slats sewn into the brim of the bonnet projected over the face. A cape on the back of the bonnet covered the neck, keeping the sun’s rays at bay. Sunbonnets could be plain or decorated.

Hats were also worn by young women and girls of the period. Most had low crowns with brims extending completely around the hat. Material used could be fur, felt or straw depending on the season. Straw was popular when visiting the seaside. Most hats were trimmed with ribbons, flowers and sometimes veils.

In the home, a hat or bonnet wasn’t necessary for receiving company, as long as the hair was neat and confined, but a lady never ventured out in public without a hat or bonnet.

For more on women’s hats and bonnets consult: Who Wore What? Women’s Wear 1861-1865 by Juanita Leisch

Thomas Publications 1995 ISBN 0-939631-81-4


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