A Springy New Series – Another Look at Millinery

As we move into spring, Oh, Happy Spring, my Saturday posts are going to move from travel to millinery. Don’t worry, I am continueing my travel research. The forthcoming millinery posts will primarily focus on theories, ideas, trends and storys revolving around millinery rather than just straight fashion.

To start, here is a passage from “Aesthetics of Dress” from Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine,  1845. It takes a different look at bonnets than we are accustom.

Bonnets, however, have more to do with women than with men; and we defy our fair friend to prove that these articles of dress, about which they are always so anxious (a woman – a regular genuine woman, reader – will sacrifice a great deal for a bonnet), are either useful or ornamental. And first, for their use; if they were good for anything, they would protect the head from the cold, wet, and sunshine. Now, as far as cold is concerned, they do so to certain degree, but not a tenth part so well as something else we shall talk of by and by: as for wet – what woman ever trusted her bonnet in a shower of rain? What woman does not either pop up her parasol, or green cotton umbrella; of if she had not these female arms, ties over it her pocket-handkerchief, in a vain attempt to keep off the pluvious god? Women are more frightened at spoiling their bonnets than any other article of dress; let them but once get their bonnets under the dripping eaves of and umbrella, and, like ostriches sticking their heads under ground, they think their whole persons safe – we appeal to any man who has walked down Cheapside with his eyes open, on a rainy day, whether this be not true. And then for the sun – who among the ladies trusts to her bonnet for keeping her face from freckling? Else why all the paraphernalia of parasols? why  all these endless patents for sylphides and sunscreens of every kind, form, and colour? why can you never meet a lady in a summer-walk without one of these elegant little contrivances in her hand? Comfort, we apprehend, does not reside in a bonnet: look at a lady travelling, whether in a carriage or a railroad diligence – she cannot for a moment lean back into one of the nice pillowed corners of the vehicle, without running imminent risk of crushing her bonnet: her head can never repose; she has no travelling-cap, like a man, to put on while she stows away her bonnet in some convenient place; the stiffened gauze, or canvass, or paper, of which its inner frame-work is composed, rustles and crackles with every attempt at compression; and a pound’s worth or two of damage may be done by a gentle tap or squeeze. Women, if candid, would allow that their bonnets gave them much more trouble than comfort, and that they have remained in use solely as conventional objects of dress – we will not allow, of ornament. The only position in which a bonnet is becoming – and even then is only the modern class of bonnets – is, when they are viewed full front; further, as we observed before, they make a nice encadrement for the face; and, with their endless adjuncts of lace, ribands, and flowers, they commonly set off advantage. But it is only the present kind of bonnet that does so; the old-fashioned, poking, flaunting, square-cornered bonnet never became any female physiognomy; it is only the small, tight, come-and-kiss-me style of bonnet now worn by ladies, that is at all tolerable. All this refers, however, only to that portion of the fairer half of the human race which is in the bloom of vigour of youth and womanhood; those that are still in childhood, or are sinking into the vale of years, cannot have a more inappropriate, more useless, covering for the head than what they now wear, at least in England. Simplicity, which should be the attribute of youth, and dignity, which should belong to age cannot be compatible with a modern bonnet: fifty inventions might be made of coverings more suitable to these two stages of life.  

I also want to add – Isn’t it interesting what we find inspiring or what spurs ideas for us? This particular passage takes a very different look at bonnets than we are used to. Within it is a basic notion that has been bugging me for some time now in my research. The way this gentleman phrases this concept has planted an idea, more like framework, in my head. Yes, I am being vague on purpose. This framework could either become a facinating conference presentation or blog series. Which is tbd.


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