How to Sneak Your Wife’s Bonnet/Hat Size

Tis the season of surprise gifting…. Which means the challenge of finding just the right thing… and the right size.

Hopefully, this guide will make it a little easier.

When it comes to 19th century millinery, it is important to understand how a bonnet or hat is supposed to fit before trying to find the right piece. A fashionable bonnet worn from the early 1850s through the Civil War was meant to perch on the back of the head. Take a look at this image:

A fashionable hat of this era was meant to sit high on the head, near the hairline. This is quite different from the modern hat that sits low on the forehead. Take a look:

Now that you have a general understanding of how a bonnet and hat should fit, let’s talk about how to get those measurements…

The Easy Way:

Does your wife/girlfriend/sister/mother already own a hat that fits from me or Timely Tresses or Pam Robles?


Measure around the inside using a flexible sewing tape measure. Lack that kind of tape measure? Use a string and compare to a ruler or metal tape measure.

While you are at it,take a couple photos of the hat. We may remember the piece.

Measure Her

If you think you can sneak a measurement right from her without her knowing, great!

Here is a guide for getting a hat measurement:


This higher, hairline measurements is often smaller than those taken at the eyebrow. A comfortable, period worn hat will be this measure minus one inch less. For example: a woman with a 22.5″ measure at the hairline will wear a hat 21.5″.

For a bonnet, get both the red and green line above. Also, measure from earlobe to earlobe over the top of her head.

If you are indeed trying to sneak a measurement while she is sleeping, be sure she is a sound sleeper or has enjoyed and extra glass of wine. Make certain the tape measure is as even as possible.

Need to Measure Another Way?

This is where it gets a little harder. If you can’t get a measuremement from a hat, you will need to measure another way or get a good estimate. Consider enlisting help from a friend.

  • See if you can get her to try on a friend’s hat or tiara. (Finishing the ellipse of a tiara really can give an idea.)
  • Trick her into measuring her own head or putting something measureable on her head. Make a game of it.
  • Measure something else. Things that might give measures to work from: Modern fashion hats (take a photo), custom fit riding hats.Things not to measure: Knit or crochet hats, reenacting hats that fit poorly, sleeping masks, cowboy hats.

When all else fails, estimating may help. General guidelines I use:

  • Small = Less than 21″ at the hairline (crown less than 20″)
  • Average = 21″-22.5″ at the hairline (crown 20-21.5″)
  • Large = Greater than 22.5″ at the hairline (crown greater than 22″)

Measuring example:

Here is my head with the tape showing where to measure. This is where I wear most CW era hats:

I am 22.5″ around at my eyebrows and 21.5″ at my hairline. The vast land of the internet tells me that the average woman’s head measures 22.5″ to 22 5/8″ around at the modern measuring point. So, I am about average. I comfortably wear a mid-nineteenth century hat that is 19.5″ to 21.5″

Published in: on November 25, 2019 at 10:37 am  Leave a Comment  

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