Avoiding Millinery Mishaps

There were a few questions that came up when I asked for questions for the milliner that had to do with what not to do. I generally prefer to approach things from the positive. But then I saw this post “The Most Common Mistakes in Historical Costuming/Re-enactment- and how to avoid them“, which was written quite well and from a very helpful standpoint. So, I’m sorta stealing her format to look at the mishaps and mistakes that can happen with millinery.

The wrong shape or size for your face.

Perplexing 2This is a point of narrow margin. I believe women in the era followed fashion trends but also paid attention to what looked good on them. Not every bonnet suits, nor flatters every face shape. I hate seeing a perfectly lovely woman who looks like her head is squeezed into a bonnet that scrunches around her face or a woman who appears to have a teeny head floating in the midst of an enormous bonnet. I just want to hug them and give them something that will flatter them and bring their best features. (really, seriously, if I could I would.) Take a look at these two women to the right. Their image were taken at roughly the same time with similar, possibly the same attire. Each woman has a slightly different face shape and has subtle difference to their bonnets. The woman on the left has a squarer jaw line than the woman in the right who has a nearly oval face. One of the biggest mishaps I see for those with a squarer jaw line is to have a bonnet that hugs the sides of the face causing it to look squished or trapped. The bonnet on the left shows the periord way of avoiding this – The sides pull back further just above the ear allowing for the side of the bonnet through the cheektab to curve and angle forward. On the right, the sides of the bonnet are more ovular mimicking the oval shape of her face. The left softens the squareness of the jawline while the right mimics the soft curve.

A great hat/bonnet in the wrong era.

While there are some pieces of millinery from one era that are very similar to that of another era, pieces that distinctly belong in another time period stand out when they are misplaced. I do understand how it can be so tempting to pick up a beautiful Georgian piece and wear it to a Victorian event, it simply does not work 98% of the time.

secondI do happen to be more flexible about dressing out of fashion than many others. I actually don’t have a problem with dressing as much as a decade back if the character and situation so calls for it. Robert Dowling’s Breakfasting Out really emphasizes this for us. The artist depicts women in head wear that spans easily ten years, possibly fifteen years, in a single public scene.

Wearing the wrong millinery for your social class or situation.

We tend to talk about bonnets in two categories: fashion and sun, which may accidentally cause us to compartmentalize fashion into an upper class garment and sun into a lower class garment. This is not the case. What we often call ‘fashion’ bonnets, those structurally made of wire & buckram/willow/net or those of straw, spanned up and down social strata. (We really need to figure out what they would have called their bonnets.) The same span also existed for sun bonnets.

Clunky materials.

There is something about clunky materials that stand out even more than synthetic materials to me. Now, I’m not approving of a poly-taffeta for your bonnet either. I’m saying clunky cotton or poly cotton laces scream at me, as do thickly spun or loosely woven silks. These are not the materials of the vast majority of 19th century millinery. Fabrics, laces and net were fine and light. Even the bonnets that were made from velvets or corded materials were still made with versions often lighter than those we commonly see today.

Trims that will bleed.

To great dismay, and often tears, ladies have found that some beautiful flowers or feathers are not color-fast. While most of us fear the rain when we have a pricey bonnet on, it is at times the slightest sprinkle or even heavy humidity that can cause the dye to run.  The biggest culprits are brightly dyed feathers and paper flowers.

Bad advice.

I sorta feel like a jerk as a blog writer saying “don’t listen to that blog writer”. But, I am. There are several quick and cheap millinery advice posts out there. I plead with you – Do not follow them!

Do not make a bonnet out of a cereal box. Do not use duct tape on a bonnet. Do not use quilters templates nor plastic cross-stitch canvas to make a bonnet. Some of these may be okay for a Halloween costume or middle-school play. They are not correct for a historical site, nor are they healthy when you consider how much heat some of these materials can trap against your head.

Published in: on May 20, 2015 at 7:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

Bonnet Stays

This is the long, long, long since requested post on bonnet stays.

What is a bonnet stay? A bonnet stay is a band inside the mid-nineteenth century bonnet that helps hold the bonnet on the wearer’s head. In the nineteenth century, bonnet stays were also called “cross-bands”, “bandeau” or “traverse” (though these words could also mean other things.)

“A cross-band of black velvet that lies on the hair is trimmed on the right hand side with a group of rose-buds.” (Peterson’s Magazine, 1855)

A row of black lace covers the cross-band and forms a fanchon” (Peterson’s Magazine, 1864)

What were bonnet stays made from? Stays we have been able to identify have been made out of velvet ribbon, velvet fabric, cording and wire. This yellow trimmed horsehair &/or straw bonnet shows a wrapped wire stay. In the one image, you can get an idea of how the stay holds the bonnet on the head. The stay connects to both sides of the interior of the bonnet. Is sits on the head as a headband would, crossing over the head from ear to ear, actually above the ear.

From the Timely Tresses Collection featured in Fashionable Bonnets for the Introduction of the Ambrotype in 1854 through the end of the Civil War in 1865.

“From the Timely Tresses Collection featured in Fashionable Bonnets for the Introduction of the Ambrotype in 1854 through the end of the Civil War in 1865.

From the Timely Tresses Collection - Fanchon bonnet with covered cross-band. Notice the stitches used to attach the band that are visible on the left.

From the Timely Tresses Collection – Fanchon bonnet with covered cross-band. Notice the stitches used to attach the band that are visible on the left.

Dannielle Perry bonnet for stays post 3

From the Timely Tresses Collection – An early 1860s bonnet with a cross-band.

Dannielle Perry bonnet for stays post 2

From the Timely Tresses Collection – An Empire bonnet with a velvet stay/cross-band behind the cap/frill.

How do I make a bonnet stay?

This is a bonnet I had to very quickly make overnight from what straw I could find. The shape is very loose and flat. This stay holds it on rather well.

This is a bonnet I had to very quickly make overnight from what straw I could find. The shape is very loose and flat. This stay holds it on rather well.

To add a stay to your bonnet, you will need velvet ribbon. I suggest purchasing half a yard, a half to three-quarters of an inch wide in a shade that will blend in well with your hair color or bonnet.

Hold the ribbon on your head with the velvet side down against your hair, running from ear to ear so you can feel where it is going to need to sit. Measure a couple finger widths up from the top of each ear and slide a pin in to mark that spot.

Put your bonnet on, positioned how it should fit. If you are nimble with your fingers, slide the pins that are in the ribbon into the inside of the bonnet. If that is too fiddly, pin the inside of the bonnet with separate pins just above the ears a couple finger widths.

Remove the ribbon and bonnet. Secure the ribbon into the bonnet with pins. Try the bonnet on for fit. You should be able to move your head without the bonnet shifting. (I was able to walk into 40mph parade winds without my bonnet coming off.) You may need to repeat the adjusting, pinning and trying on a few times before it is comfortable. Once you have the right fit, tack the ribbon in place securely. I suggest folding the end of the ribbon under and using a thread that matches the exterior of the bonnet.

What else keeps a bonnet in place?

Beside a bonnet stay other characteristics of a bonnet, a mid-century bonnet, helps keeps it in place.  ~The combination of the frill and the interior flowers play a big, no, make that huge part in holding a bonnet in place. It is possible to take an early 60s bonnet that would want to slide right off the head un-adorned and arrange the frill and flowers such that the bonnet will perch in place as it should. The backside of the frill and flowers sort-of catch and hold the hair, keeping the bonnet in place. ~The overall balance front to back is a big help. If a bonnet is weighted towards the tip or the bavolet, the bonnet will want to slide backwards. If the flowers in the brim or on the top/side of a bonnet are heavy, the bonnet will shift forward or sideways. Keeping a balance is a matter of positioning as well as weight. ~ For some shapes, the cheektabs actually help hold the bonnet in place as they hug the side of the head, not the face, the head. ~Your hair placement and style can also be a factor in how a bonnet fits. For some years (more 50s) the hair arrangement goes inside the tip of the bonnet. For other years (more early 60s) the tip rest over or on the hair. In either case, the hair anchors the tip whether it is encasing or sitting on the hair. Another hair aspect to keep in mind is simply having too much or too deep of a hair arrangement for a shallow tipped bonnet. (If you naturally have a lot of hair and a large hair arrangement ask for a deeper tip.)

I will add some additional photos once I take them.

Published in: on May 20, 2015 at 4:00 pm  Comments (8)