Getting Pokey


I’ve had this thing about poke straw bonnets lately. It is sort of a curiosity. Looking from the mid-century back…They aren’t the prettiest of bonnets. They aren’t the most fashionable of bonnets. They aren’t the most flattering of bonnets. wpid-2015-05-01-13.37.43-2.jpg.jpegBut, there is something about the lines the straw makes as the shape develops. There are curves and bends in this family of shapes that are just fascinating to me right now. I have oodles of images in my phone that I zoom in on as I play with my straw.wpid-2015-05-01-13.37.34-1.jpg.jpeg The illustrations to the right are some of them. They are from an 1841 French advertisement with several illustrations.


Let’s look at what a poke bonnet is. Modern costume dictionaries tend to define a poke bonnet with reference to a round brim and/or a brim that projects forward.

“Poke bonnet, poking bonnet (F)

Period: 1799 to end of 19th century

A bonnet with an open brim projecting forward over the face. The term was applied to a large variety of styles, the ‘poke’ often very slight.” (The Dictionary of Fashion History. Cumming, Cunnington & Cunnington.)

Turning to the nineteenth century, this definition from Bartlett’s appears to be a common definition in 19th century dictionaries.

Poke-Bonnet. A long, straight bonnet, much worn by Quakers and Methodists. (Bartlett’s Dictionary of Americanisms, 1859.)

Later in the century, we have an additionally descriptive definition.

Poke-bonnet , n. A bonnet having a projecting front of nearly conical form, worn about the beginning of the nineteenth century and later.” (The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia.1897)

Variations of the ‘poke’ run through much of the century, from the beginning into the mid and drizzling out as bonnets and hats got smaller. This article “Bergere and Bonnets” has several nice examples of Regency era in the first half of the post. Here are examples as we proceed through the decades – 18151815-18201845, 1848, 18501850, 1865 (I have this theory on the development of poke styles I am still sorting out.) In many stories, the poke bonnet seems to be a go-to descriptor for Quaker women. It is also frequently used for describing young women from the country.The frequency in use of the poke bonnet in fictional writing seems to peek from the latter 1820s through the 1840s.

I’ve been working on a couple poke bonnets.Two I can not show you yet because they need to make their debute. I should be able to show one of those next week. This one is an early Regency shape. It was my first. The straw is a fine Milan plait. The crown has a flat tip that rounds to the sides. The crown to brim transition is flat with a very minimal lift. The cheektabs are barely there being a very slight dip on each side. The front of the brim is flat.

wpid-2015-02-08-09.20.36-1.jpg.jpeg wpid-2015-02-08-09.20.21-1.jpg.jpegwpid-2015-05-07-08.26.42-1.jpg.jpegHere is one of the poke shapes made with the later 30s and early 40s in mind, looking at the illustration to the left, out of coarse straw due to the abundance of 1830s references to coarse straws being worn for morning attire. I made this bonnet with a large flat tip. The crown rises at the slightest of angles to the brim. The cheektabs are short and wide with a nice rounded curve wrapped by the rows of plait that create the straw curtain at the back of the neckline.

[[[[[PHOTOS AS SOON AS IT DRIES]]]]]] I’m in patient. Here is one shot as it is still wet:

wpid-2015-05-07-06.15.28-1.jpg.jpegClose Cousin or the Same??

The phrase coal scuttle bonnet is also used to describe a bonnet with a deep brim. Looking at both nineteenth century references and modern ones, at times poke bonnet and coal scuttle bonnet seem to be different and at other times seem to be used interchangeably. According to the Merrieam-Webster dictionary, a coal scuttle bonnet is  “A woman’s bonnet with flat back and stiff projecting brim somewhat resembling a coal scuttle.” This definition seem quite like that of the poke bonnet with the description of the tip as a “flat back” being added. The 1897 A Dictionary of Slang, Jargon & Cant  has an even more similar definition: “Coal-scuttle (American), a nickname for the peculiar bonnet worn by Quackeresses, which was exactly the shape of an old-fashioned coal-scuttle. Some years ago coal-scuttle bonnets were worn in England.” Here is an example of an original coal scuttle. In that 1840s example, the slight difference appears to be the shaping of the brim’s edge, the coal scuttle having a little curve reaching forward on the sides rather than the arching curve of the poke of the same era. In fictional texts,the phrase ‘coal scuttle bonnet’ seems to appear most frequently in the 1830s and very early 40s.

Another word I saw used in place of poke, was Neapolitan. I have to look into this more. Considering the first passage to come up when I started looking was an 1850s fashion description about a “Neapolitan bonnet made of Leghorn”, my head quickly angled sideways. (the later 60s and 70 Neopolitans are quite small & very different than poke bonnets.)

They are calling it poke….

….but I don’t think so. You know how we now like to put names on things but we don’t always agree with each other or with the original time period? Well, this is one of those cases. The way I wrap my head around ‘poke’ conflicts with some of the other bonnets being called ‘poke’. In the 1830s there was a bonnet with a high, tallish crown and large dramatically diagonal brim. Some refer to this as a poke. Here is a Victoria and Albert Museum example. Technically, the brim does project forward over the face. But, it is not a long straight bonnet by any means. Similarly, the MET is calling this bonnet a poke as well. To me, those are leghorn bonnets which is a whole other complication because technically leghorn is a type/variety of straw.

My thoughts & perspective

This has been a post with much of my own speculation. It is highly likely well other well researched individuals will have a different perspective and different thoughts.

Published in: on May 5, 2015 at 5:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

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