At the Sea Shore and Watering Place

For those friends who will being enjoying the sea shore or other watering places this year….

In looking at the millinery selected for wear at the sea shore, beach or watering place, it becomes obvious there are those women in attendance who wish to enjoy the water visually and those who wish to get a little closer, be it relaxing near the water or in the water. The former group seems to wear bonnets and hats fashionable for the day. I am focusing on those in the latter group who appear to be dressed to enjoy the water or spend a time in close proximity.I am looking at images, illustrations, paintings and photographs, from the 1850s and 1860s.

This group leans towards wearing hats over bonnets. Those in the late 1850s seem to have more hats that have wider brims. Yet, while there are more hats with narrower or moderately wider brims appearing in the 1860 images, this does not exclude the wider brimmed hats.

Simple ribbons around the crown, as bows, and/or as ties seem to be the most common for those hats meant to be worn in or very near the water. (*I recommend testing any trim for color fastness if it will be worn in proximity to water. I also recommend not using paper flowers for this purpose.)

Let’s look at some images.

Details from August in the Country, the Sea-Shore, by Winslow Homer, August 1859:

This first close-up shows two women wearing similarly shaped hats with shallow, oval crowns and shaped moderately wide brims. The on on the left is trimmed with a ribbon around the brim, bow at back and a narrower ribbon to tie beneath the chin. The woman on the right has lace encircling the brim of the hat as will as a ribbon for the crown, and one to tie under the chin.

This next close-up shows the back/top of the hat. It has a shallow crown and an moderately wide brim. The illustration is vague about the decoration, suggesting a ribbon on the exterior.
Details from The Bathe at Newport, by Winslow Homer, September 1858:

On the left mid-ground a woman stands in arm with a man. Her shortened skirts suggest she may intend to bathe/swim. Her hat does not show the crown. I surmise it is shallow. The brim is quite wide with some shaping causing a dip in the front and back. THis hat ties under the chin.

Further to the fore-ground, two women are bathing with what appears to be a type of net or cap upon their heads. Several women in the water are similar. No hat.

Just past the mid-ground off to the right of center is a woman swimming with a tube. To the right of her is an individual of interest because this person is wearing a hat. It is debatable whether this person is a man or woman.
The New York Public Library has a very nice feature where it groups images thematically into digital “book” for easy viewing. They have one such “book” for “Bathing Beaches, 1899 and earlier.” (They also have one called “Resort life.” This gives several additional illustrations to examine for head-wear.

Details from A Day in the Country – At the Sea Side, by Alfred Fredricks, August 1858:

In whole, this illustration has more of a comical sense to it, with a “come as you are” sense to the scene. In the center of this illustration is a mother with two children. She is wearing what appears to be a straw bonnet with minimal trim. This is more of an every day selection rather than a special piece for the beach.
Details from The Mermaids’ Haunt, by Joseph Swain circa 1854-69:

This illustration offers us a wide assortment of hats. It is unclear who in this group has or intents to enjoy getting in the water and who will remain on shore. This first close-up shows three hats. On the left is a moderately wide brim hat that has a fashionable curve to the brim and a low crown. This hat is decorated with a feather plume. (this may not do well in the water.) In the middle is a hat with a shallow brim, a moderately wide brim and a simple ribbon. To the front right is a very different hat with a turned up brim and round crown. This is a fashionable hat.

This nest illustration close-up shows two hats with curved down dome style brims with shallow crown. This style is nice for shading the eyes. Both are decorated with ribbon. In the back ground is a shapely hat as well.
Details from Bathers, by Joseph Warren. I approximate late 1860s-early 1870s:

In the front, a woman hold a rather large hat for the fashion of the time. The crown appears to be shallow and round, while the brim is quite wide. It may or may not have shape to it.

Standing upon the rock, a woman with braids looping by her ears, holds a hat with an oval crown that may have flat sides, and a moderately wide brim. The brim appears to have the slightest curve down.

Additional Information


Looking at the upcoming Christie’s auctions, I came across Frederick Ifold’s A Day at the Beach. This painting, or another version, appears to have also been called At the English Coast. The 1858 painting has several woman and children depicted with straw hats and bonnets.

To the left, a woman wrapped in a green paisley is wearing a straw bonnet trimmed in white or cream. The bonnet appears to have fring or lace draped from the bavolet as well as brim decoration.

In the center middle ground, we see a woman and child sitting upon a what may be a boat or short wall. She appears to be in what may be a bathing costume with a light color skirt and blue sacque. Her darker brown straw hat has a moderate, domed crown and curved brim with lace draped around the edge.

Children play in the sand in the foreground, the four girls each with hats, three being straw.

*Another painting in the same sale that may be of interest for the same era is George E. Tunson’s The Embarkation.


I find William Powell Firth’s 1859 Life at the Sea-Side (Ramsgate Sands) to be an interesting and frustrating image. There appears to be numerous scans and photos of this painting on the internet of vastly varying quality and color tone. It seems it is a painting that must be seen in person – with a magnifying glass – and utter silence.

The vast majority of the women in the painting appear to be wearing bonnets rather than hats. Many look like they are straw, but I would not say it is the majority. A number of parasols and umbrellas speckle the painting. 12 by my count. The brown one left of center reads as an umbrella in size compared to the others. Some women wear shawls, including the woman to the far right who has a border plaid shawl in blue with brown and gold. The chairs I see are not folding chairs.

To the far left along the shore line, there are three people with what appears to be a calash style visor on their straw bonnets. The black seems to fold out reaching forward of the brim to shade the eyes. A similar piece is seen just to the right of center on a green bonnet and a bonnet of undetermined color. I know I have seen one of these in a collection before. I am trying to recall where.


Eugène Boudin enjoyed painting and drawing seaside scenes. Among his work are several pieces of Trouville, such as Beach Scene at Trouville, 1863, which support a variety of millinery, hinting at both hats in bonnets. A further investigation of his work may tell more about the head-wear as well as attire and culture. (I do suspect that with the number of whome wrapping their shawls rather fully around themselves in some paintings (right) and the wind shown in others, that few ventured into the water in this area.) The National Gallery of Art has a nice article about him with a sampling of work. Many other pieces come up in a web search (I rather like the ones at sunset.) It is tempting to order a book.


I have a few on my evolving Pinterest board for “Seaside, Watering places, and Watercure.”


 “This hat may be made of straw or leghorn. The trimming consists merely of a band and bow of ribbon.


Jest by Punch regarding the sea side.



Published in: on March 16, 2017 at 4:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

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