Finishing a Straw Bonnet

Godey’s, November 1856

Straw Bonnets.—Straw bonnets generally require some sort of lining, crape, muslin, or a thin silk. Very few are now worn with a plain lining. It requires just the same quantity to make a little fullness, which is more becoming. I will explain to you how to make a plain lining or a plain bonnet will take just the same quantity; or, if any difference, the plain requires more than the full. I think I hear my readers say this if very strange. You are aware that, in cutting out a plain bonnet or lining, there are several small pieces cut out to the shape. The piece make the fullness, for the material is used on the straight when put in the easy and on cross-way when plain, which compels you to cut pieces off , which on the straight and put in full, is not required. A head lining of silk or muslin should be put in after the lining to make all neat and clean when the bonnet is worn. Straw curtains are worn; but a great many ladies prefer a silk curtain made of the ribbon to match the trimming. The curtain is best cross-way with a narrow straw on the edge. The curtain will not quite take a yard of ribbon; three and a quarter or three and a half are sufficient to trim a bonnet. Plain colors on a straw are neater than mixed, such as primrose, light or dark blue. Sarcenet ribbon is better than satin. It is a good plan to sew narrow strings on the bonnet at the same time you sew the wide tie; the narrow first: it keep the bonnet more firm on the head. When I say narrow ribbon, I mean an inch and a half wide. An old fancy straw bonnet will make up again very weill by putting some silk between each row of straw. You must have a wire frame, and unpick the bonnet; cut some pieces of silk on the cross for puffings, and now lay your straw alternately with the silk. Unless the straw is a very good color, mix colored silk with it. This bonnet will require a lining.

Published in: on March 7, 2016 at 6:00 am  Comments (2)  

“The Old Bonnet” by Henrietta N. Babb.

“I do so wish Sallie Curtis would not wear that old bonnet!” exclaimed a lady, as she entered the parlor of a fashionable boarding-house, which some half dozen families miscalled “home” – that sweet word, which the heart can only apply to the place that shelters our own household band!

“Why does Miss Curtis’ bonnet trouble you? Asked her husband, laughingly.

“Trouble me? indeed it does – indeed it does – it takes away all my comfort in church! It looked badly enough in the early part of the season, but now that all the ladies in the pews around them have such elegant new hats, Sallie and her mother do look most forlorn in their old straws!?

“Is her mother’s as bad as hers?”

“Yes; and a hundred times worse. IT is shameful for ladies in their position to dress so meanly! I beg your pardon, Mrs. T—-, I did not see you,” said the last speaker, with a blush.

“Oh, you need not apologize to ma, she sees Cousin Sallie’s hat in the same light in which you do, and aunt’s too!” spoke up a young lady, at the side of the person addressed.

“Yes, indeed; and I am not surprised at their being the subject of remark. I told them it would be so, when I saw them fixing up their bonnets, (for they trimmed them themselves with ribbon they had in the house;) but I hoped then they would be worn for a few weeks, until cold weather set in; but they are bent on making them do service during the entire winter! Such a foolish notion as my sister-in-law has in her head; because this is a hard winter, and business men are cramped for money, she is determined to save a dime wherever she can, without causing actual suffering to herself and family! I am lecturing her continually on the absurdity of her course, but I cannot mover her. I told her that Sallie could not possibly do without a new bonnet this winter, even if she did. A married lady, you know, may occasionally enjoy the privilege of being careless about her own dress; people take it for granted that in her anxiety about her family, she has forgotten herself; but it is absolutely necessary for a young lady to be always well dressed, and I am sure I am ashamed of Sallie, this winter! My Julia wouldn’t wear her best hat, even for ‘a hack bonnet’”

“No, that I would not!” said the young lady. “I should be afraid of losing caste, if I did so!”

“But I thought Mr. Curtis was a man of wealth!” said an intimate friend to Mrs. T— , in a lower tone.

“He is considered so; but now even the wealthiest men are embarrassed, you know. My husband says that one dollar, this winter, is worth more than two were last year!” she said laughing.

“But you are not obliged to economize?” and the speaker glance at the rich velvet, costly furs, and the “lovely hat,” in which Mrs. T— was arrayed.

“Me! oh, I can’t do it; and if I could, where would be the use of worrying and slaving myself to asve a little here, and a little there? What would it all amount to, in the end? A few hundred dollars, which, if my husband is going to fail, could not prevent him, and which I may as well enjoy while I can! My sister-in-law says that if her husband becomes involved, it shall not be through any extravagance of hers; and that she is resolved

to make no unnecessary purchases this winter. I represented to her that with all her efforts, she could not save more than a trifle, and that she had better give up the struggle and take things as they come; but her earnest answer was – ‘No, Elizabeth, although the sum may be ever so trifling, I am resolved to exercise self denial, in order that I may have the satisfaction of feeling that I have done what I could!” It has really become quite a mania with her, and Sallie just like her mother. Whenever I tell her of anything she needs, her reply invariably is – ‘I can do without it at present, for we wish to economize,’ or, ‘we are trying to retrench.’
“What a pity! She is such a fine-looking girl, when well-dressed!”

“I know it; and I am so glad you alluded to her dress, for I meant to tell her it has been remarked upon, and I shall do my best to prevent her face being again seen under that old bonnet!”

The ladies who carried on the above conversation, and a listener, of whom they little dreamed. Mr. R—, a wealthy and elegant gentleman, who had spent several years in Europe, and had lately returned home, with nothing to do but to seek enjoyment and a wife, lay on a sofa in the adjoining parlor trying to reed, but unconsciously taking in all that the ladies said.

“So Miss T— would be afraid of losing caste, if she wore a bonnet as her cousin’s, would she?” he repeated to himself sneeringly. “How finely her position in society must be established, if so a slight a thing as a straw hat could hurl her from her place! When will our women have that noble independence which should be their birthright?” and as the voices died away, he lay musing for some time upon the old straw bonnet, and its wearer.

Despite the eloquent way in which Mrs. T—- reported to her niece the remarks that had been made upon her old bonnet, Sallie’s pretty face was still seen under it at church, and on the street.

“You foolish child!” the aunt persisted, “what are ten or fifteen dollars to your father, in his business, when he has thousands of dollars to pay out almost every day?”

“Very little, I know; but then the consciousness that I am trying to lighten his cares, is a great deal to me; and mother says that the feeling of independence, which we call forth by our self-denial, will be lasting benefit to me.”

“Pshaw! you don’t know the disadvantage it may prove to you! Just in an age when the appearance you make will have a great influence on your future destiny; it is all –important that you should look as well as possible; and what girl can appear in an old bonnet?”

“Mother, just think of it,” exclaimed Julia T—, a few days after. “Sallie fancies she can go to that party in the with dress that she has worn, I don’t know how many times!”

“You don’t mean to say that she had not made a new dress for this occasion?”

“So she says.”

“Well, then she had better stay at home, that’s all!”

“So I told her myself. I wouldn’t go into society in an old dress, if I never went at all, for I should not expect to receive the least attention! But let me tell you the funniest thing you ever heard, Ma!” continued the young lady, laughing immoderately, as if she just recalled something excessively ludicrous. “She thinks she can’t even afford a new pair of gloves for the party, and so what do you suppose she has done? Taken soap and milk and cleaned the pair she wore to Mrs. C—-‘s; I laughed ready to kill myself, when she showed them to me with the assurance that they were ‘just as good as new!”

“How did they look?”

“I couldn’t see for laughing’ and just think mother, they have dismissed the seamstress, and Sallie is going to do the family-sewing, until times are easier, she says!”

“Why, is there anything especially wrong in her father’s affairs?”

“Oh, no; only the old story of, ‘he is embarrassed, and I wish to do what I can!”

It is said “stone walls have ears;” I do not know how true it is, but somehow or other, Mr. R—- overheard this conversation, as distinctly as he had the one about the old bonnet.

One word respecting that gentleman. Young ladies said he was about thirty; certainly spinsters and affirmed that he was “all of thirty-five,” while he laughingly owned to thirty-three; but he was so lively and interesting in conversation, that even very young girls forgot his age.

After the above revelations respecting the economy of Miss Curtis’ toilet, he certainly expected her to present a shabby appearance at the party; and he began to dread seeing her pass through the trying ordeal of feeling herself the most illy-dressed person in the room; and enduring the slights consequent upon that circumstance, she did not appear until quite late, and as he looked around upon the rich satins and gorgeous silks, in which many of the guests were arrayed, he found himself hoping that she might not come at all.

“There is one young lady here, dressed in such pure artistic taste, can you tell me who she is?” inquired a friend at his elbow. “There talking to that tall man with the light hair!”

Mr. R—- looked, and recognized Sallie. But he sought in vain for evidence of her dress being old, or unfit to grace a scene like that. Its snowy folds were a positive relief to the eye, dazzled by so much splendor, while her dark hair – which formed so fine a contrast to her alabaster skin and white dress – was most tastefully arranged, and ornamented with a few white rose-buds. The effect of that simple toilet was perfect, but he remembered what had been said of the gloves, and looked eagerly at her hands.

“If they are the same, she was right in pronouncing them as good as new,” he said to himself; and so absorbed was he by these profound reflections, that he almost forgot to reply to his friend.

The crisis that business men had apprehended came, and those whose credit had stood highest, were the first to fail. Among them was Mr. Curtis.

“So it seems that with all your worrying and economy, you were not able to keep your father from failing!” said Mrs. T— to her niece.

“No, aunt, we did not expect to be able to do that.”

“Then your wisest course would have been to enjoy life while you could. Here you have been denying yourselves all winter to no purpose!”

“But, as mother says, we have the satisfaction of feeling that since father has been pressed for money, we have not cause him one needless expenditure!” and she looked radiantly happy.

“Will you permit me, Miss T—, to ask you a direct question?” Inquired Mr. R—, , of that young lady, as they found themselves left alone in one of the parlors.

“Certainly,” was the gracious reply, “ask me any question you like, since I can use the privilege of replying to it or not, just as I happen to be in the vein!”

“But I hope you will deign to answer this one in which I am greatly interested – is Miss Curtis much depressed at her father’s failure?”

The question was different from what Julia had anticipated, but she replied with a laugh –

“Depressed! you should see her! Were I in her place, I confess that I should be plunged into the depths of woe, at the thought of the retrenchments, and the changes that must be made in their style of living; but Sallie is as light-hearted as a bird!”

“Perhaps she does not realize it yet!”

“Oh yes she does; and she has her plans all laid out as clearly as we had to note down the various revolutions on our historical charts at school, and she talks about their moving into a small house, and keeping only one servant, as gayly as if she were planning a pleasure trip! And that is not all, she says she has been reviewing her studies with a view of teaching, so that they can thus continue her little sisters at the expensive schools they are attending. Just think of her stooping to become a teacher, isn’t it absurd?”

“I confess, I should prefer seeing her occupy a different position,” said Mr. R—-, with emphasis.

As long as her father lives he ought to be able to support her, and I told her that if I were in her place, I would reserve that degradation for some greater emergency; but she said she would rather prepare herself, by her own exertions, for any emergency.”

“I suppose they see no company now?”

“Oh yes, just the same as usual.”

Mr. R—- called on Sallie that evening, and to his delight found her alone. He was really relieved at seeing no cloud on her young face but instead, such a joyous expression as only springs from a happy heart.

In a manner not to be misunderstood he told her how glad he felt at seeing her thus, and she answered frankly –

“Why should I not be happy? My father is reduced, but he can never be dishonored! Perfect integrity and uprightness have characterized all his dealings, and if he has been unfortunate, the way in which he bears up under it makes me more proud of him than ever!” and tears filled her eyes as she spoke. “I don’t know much about business,” she added with a smile, “but I am told that all my father’s liabilities are to be met, so that no one else is to suffer through his failure.”

“But do you not shrink from the changes that must take place?”

Sallie wondered to herself why it was that she felt so perfectly free with Mr. R—, it seemed as if they had known each other all their lives as she answered -,

“Oh no, there is nothing very hard in that! Cousin Julia has been trying to convince me that I ought to be very wretched, but she did not succeed in her mission.”

There was a pause, and then the conversation renewed by Mr. R—-, but we are not going to tell the reader what he first said, though all the light that he can get upon the subject from the remarks that follow, he is welcome to. Mr. R—- spoke for about ten minutes in an earnest tone. Sallie, at first, looked down, and then raised her eyes to his face with an inquiring glance. At length she said —

“Had you spoken so, to me, half an hour ago, I should have supposed you ignorant of the change in our circumstances; but you know all.”

“I do!” was the answer, and he went on to tell Sallie of the effect that knowledge had produced upon him, and again the conversation was too earnest and tool low for our ears. At last he seemed to be urging her to reply, and if we give her answer, just as it fell from her cherry lips, we shall have to record the very trite words, “ask father!”

“Are you aware , sir, of my failure!” inquired Mr. Curtis, in answer to something Mr. R—- said to him next morning in his counting-room. “My daughter is now penniless!”

“I know all that,” was the reply; “but she is a fortune in herself!”

“That is most true; and, since you can appreciate her, take her, and may God bless you in proportion as you make her happy!”

“Thank you for the precious gift!” said Mr. R—–, much affected; “and now, sir, may I talk a little about business?”

The merchant bowed.

“I have lately received, from a relative, an overlooked-for gift of thirty thousand dollars, upon condition that I will go into some kind of business. I have been puzzled to know how to invest it, for, of business matters, I am sorry to say, I am most profoundly ignorant. You have experience and patience to bear with my want of knowledge; now, are you willing to consider my ready cash equal to your practical information, and so take me as a partner?”

The business arrangement being satisfactorily concluded, Mr. R— was urgent to have the wedding take place as soon as possible.

“Why didn’t you offer him the use of your money before, it might have saved his failure?” ask a friend of Mr. R—.

“I did long to do so, but was afraid to have the girl I loved feel that she was under obligations to me! I never could have hoped to win her affections then!”

“Pshaw! that would have been the very way to get her!”

When Mrs. T— and other friends were offering their congratulations to the blushing Sallie, her husband said —

“By the way, aunt, did I ever tell you what caused me to fall in love with your niece?”

“Her own loveliness, of course, drew our your love!”

“No such thing! it was her old straw bonnet!”

“Why, aunt, you told me, I don’t know how many times, that my old bonnet would prevent my ever marrying!”

“How had that fright of a hat anything to do with your admiration?”

“Why, you see, I wanted a companion in a wife; not a mere doll to please my fancy by her pretty face and costly dress; so I said to myself, ‘a girl who can reason thus correctly about economy, and who has independence enough to carry out that reasoning by wearing an old bonnet, has a mind above the ordinary herd, and powers of which any man might be proud?’”

Published in: on March 1, 2015 at 1:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
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GCV’s Civil War Event – Late War Millinery

IMG_4587This was my second year in the Dressmaker’s Shop at the Genesee Country Village for their Civil War Encampment. As you can see Saturday morning was pleasant and sunny. You can also see the soldiers struck camp right up to my back door. While I was thinking this might make for some fun interaction, after-all I was prepared to say all my firewood was stollen as well as my wooden head forms. But, in the end, they kept to themselves. Well, except for eating all the beautiful black raspberries I was eyeing the night before.

Rather than interpreting the pretty pink building as a dressmaker’s shop, I dressed it as a Millinery. The blue and rose print interior makes for such a pleasant place to work in. You can see the working table and display table. (Yes, we did put it right over the stove. No firewood, no need for a stove.)


I wanted to bring a basic sampling of bonnets to show visitors. As I was working on a straw plait form, I would compare that to the woven straw in the middle, Vivian Murphy’s work. Then I would discuss the two finished fashion bonnets, left and right. We would also talk about the winter bonnet in the back and the sun bonnet just below. Many people asked about the veils. This was a good teaching point to explain the differences in the mourning veils and every day veils. (An interesting set-up/interpretation note – There was notably more touching this year than with with last year’s set up. This is good to know for determining what display pieces to bring and place where. The pink and grey was the most touched followed by Lily’s green when it sat on the empty stand.) Oh. Those wooden stands are the ones I made on Wed/Thursday last week. I’m rather pleased.


Here are the faux spools of ribbon I have been working on. I was excited to see them on the shelf. They aren’t quiet where I want them look-wise. I need to come up with a better way of doing the ends with the labels. That is why they are all up on end. Each roll is faked by using only a short piece of ribbon, usually 5-6″ but as short as a 3″ trapezoid, around a roll of original or mocked paper. I’m also planning to take my original ribbons, reproduced on white silk ribbon via the printer and make faux rolls out of those. In the works as well are sample cards. I started a set, but was not happy with the look… at all. So, back to the drawing board on those.
Faux Rolls of Ribbon

This was the “home” area for the weekend. The little day bed is napping suitable. The large cabinet is truly ideal. It reminds me a lot of the cabinet Dad had stripped for me when I was little. Those cabinets hold everything. It made storing food, supplies, etc very easy. It was okay if visitors opened the top because everything was period containers. We really didn’t need to have food out on the table at all. It did help as a reminder to actually eat though. IMG_4581I am utterly lacking in actual impression photos, worse than usual. All I have of myself are these “selfies” I played around with while it was raining in the morning. The bonnet is a coarse straw, meant to represent those made cheaply, worn by poorer women or those institutionalized. This can also be the “last remnants” straw of late war.


To Clean a Bonnet

Miss Leslie’s Lady’s House-book; a Manual of Domestic Economy Containing Approved Directions for Washing, Dress-making, by Miss Eliza Leslie, 1850.


Having separated the crown from the brim and the cape or neck-piece, and removed the lining and wire, the next thing is to take out whatever stains may be found in the bonnet, the crown of which should be put on a wooden block. For grease, rub on with your finger some powdered Wilmington clay, or a little magnesia; and in an hour or two brush it off, and renew the application, if necessary. For other stains use either cream of tartar or salt of sorrel, put on a little wet. If salt of sorrel,must be washed off again almost immediately, lest it injure the straw by remaining on it. Afterwards (keeping the crown still on the bonnet-block) go over the whole surface of the bonnet with a brush dipped in a weak solution of pearl ash in lukewarm water, (a tea-spoonful to a quart.) Then scour it off at once, with a strong lather of brown soap and cold water, put on with a clean brush. When all the bonnet is well cleaned, rinse it in cold water, and hang it in the sun to dry. Bonnet cleaning should never be undertaken in damp weather. When the bonnet is perfectly dry, you may proceed to whiten it. Fill a chafing dish or portable furnace with burning charcoal; carry it into a small close room or into an empty press or closet, and by a line suspended across, hang the bonnet over the charcoal, at a safe distance, so that it will be in no danger of scorching. Then strew over the coals an ounce or two of powdered brimstone, and immediately go out and shut the door, seeing that no air whatever can get into the room. After the bonnet has hung in the vapour six or seven hours, throw open the door, (having first left open an outside door or window, so as to admit immediately the fresh air,) and go into the room as soon as you find you can do so without inconvenience from the fumes of the charcoal and sulphur. Then bring out the bonnet, and hang it in the open air till the smell of the brimstone has entirely left it. If the day is windy, so much the better; but the bonnet must on no account be hung out if the weather is damp, and it must be brought in before sunset. If it is not sufficiently white, repeat next day the process of bleaching it with charcoal and brimstone.

The next thing is to stiffen the bonnet. To make the stiffening, boil in two quarts of soft water, a quarter of a pound of vellum shavings, (the vellum of buffalo’s hide is best,) filling it up occasionally, if it seems to be boiling too dry. It must boil or simmer slowly for six or seven hours. Then, when you take it from the fire, let it stand a while to settle; after which,

pour it off into a basin, and it will become a thick jelly. To the sediment left in the pot, you may add a second two quarts of water; and after a second boiling, it will form another jelly or sizing, strong enough for similar purposes. When you are going to use it for a bonnet, melt up a pint of this jelly, and mix with it a small half-tea-spoonful of oxalic acid, (not more, or it will injure the straw,) and then with a clean sponge or brush go all over the bonnet, inside and out, with the sizing. Dry the bonnet; and when quite dry, go over it again with a second wash of the stiffening. Dry it again, and then spread over it a wet piece of jaconet muslin; or damp the bonnet all over with a sponge and lukewarm water, and then cover it with a fine white handkerchief, while you press it hard and evenly with a warm box-iron, exerting all your strength. The crown must be pressed while on the bonnet-block; the brim may be done on an ironing-table. Afterwards expose the bonnet to the air, till it becomes perfectly dry; and next day it will be ready for putting together, lining, and trimming; first mending whatever defective places may be found in it.

The front of a bonnet will keep its shape much better if the wire is thick and stout. In lining a bonnet, the best way for a novice in the art, is to pin a large sheet of thin soft paper on the outside of the brim, and (having fitted it smoothly) cut it of the proper shape and size, allowing a little for turning in at the edge. Then pin the paper into the inside of the brim, and if it fits perfectly smooth, cut out the silk lining by it. A piece of oiled silk sewed all round the inside of the crown, at the joining place, and extending down a little upon the brim, will prevent the stain from perspiration, that so frequently disfigures that part of a bonnet.

—Without a regular cleaning in the preceding manner, a discoloured straw bonnet may be improved in appearance, if previous to putting on a fresh trimming, you stretch the bonnet on a block, (or something that will answer the purpose,) and go all over it with a sponge dipped in lukewarm water, in which has been dissolved pearl-ash, in the proportion of a small tea-spoonful of pearl-ash to a pint of water; afterwards rinsing it off, wiping it hard with a flannel, and drying it well. Next, go over it with a clean sponge dipped in strong rice-water, which will be the better for having dissolved in it a half-teaspoonful of sugar of lead. Then dry the bonnet, and having damped it all over with a wet sponge, cover it with thin muslin, and press it hard with a heavy and moderately warm iron.

TO TAKE CARE OF BEAVER HATS A hat should be brushed every day with a hat-brush; and twice a day in dusty weather. When a hat gets wet, wipe it as dry as you can with a clean handkerchief, and then brush it with a soft brush, before you put it to dry. When nearly dry, go over it with a harder brush. If it still looks rough, damp it with a sponge dipped in vinegar or stale beer, and brush it with a hard brush till dry.

A good beaver hat should always, when not in constant use, be kept in a hat-box, with a hat-stick extended inside of the crown.

Published in: on May 18, 2013 at 8:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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A Lesson in Economy

In  the lesson “Economy” from The Village Reader (1841) we find this little story.

“If you please, mother, I will now tell you why I called Mrs. Marsh stingy; and I am sure, much as you like economy, you will think she carried it a little too far.” When she had detailed the occurrences of the morning, she added—” Now that seems a saving too small to be worth any one’s attention.”

 “That, my dear, is because you think of the ‘little matters’ alone, and not, as you should, in connection with the very serious consequences, which flow from daily and hourly neglecting such ‘little matters.’ One cent a day seems very little indeed; but I should like to have you tell me how much it would amount to in a year.”

 Elizabeth, after a momentary pause, answered, ” Three dollars and sixty-five cents; is it possible!”

 “Certainly, my dear. ‘Little matters,’ you see, by continual accumulation, amount to great matters in time. Drops make the ocean; minutes make the year.”

 “Well, mother, I believe I must allow that my opinion of Mrs. Marsh was too hastily formed.”

 “And not very decorously expressed—you will acknowledge that, too, my daughter, I hope.”

 “Yes, mother,” answered Elizabeth, with a crimson cheek. “But still I cannot think Mrs. Marsh was quite right; for when we went into the milliner’s shop, she de clined purchasing a bonnet for Laura, which she reall needs.”

 “Perhaps she wants it, but does not need it.”

 “Indeed, mother, the milliner said she needed one and Laura said so; and I said so. Now I am sure you think that parents ought to supply the wants of their children, if they can.”

 “Certainly, my dear, the real wants, but not the fancied wants. If I rightly remember, Laura’s bonnet is quite fresh and clean.”

 “Yes, but that is because she is so careful of every thing; she has worn it a long time.”

 “That is no reason why she should not continue to wear it, if it be unsoiled and unfaded.”

 “But it is so unfashionable, mother.”

 “Unfashionable! What magic is in the sound! No matter how comfortable, or pretty, or becoming any thing is, let but that word be breathed over it, and it passes at once into oblivion! But this is not to the purpose. I think Mrs. Marsh was quite right in judging for herself about what she could afford, or what was proper for her to purchase, instead of suffering herself to be led by others. She best knows her own resources, and the demands likely to be made upon them.

 “Mrs. Marsh is not rich. She has enough for the comforts of life—nothing for its costly decorations. Yet limited as her income is, she contrives by her excellent management to command all that is really valuable and useful; all that can actually add to the happiness of herself and family.

 “You can perceive, my dear, that if there be only money enough to purchase necessary and useful things, and part of it go for superfluities, there must be a deficiency of the others. You would not much like to see your friend Laura with a new bonnet, and an old, untidy pair of shoes; or with a pretty necklace and a faded dress. It would shock Mrs. Marsh’s taste, even more than yours. There is a beautiful fitness and propriety in her whole establishment, which shows her judgment and good sense.

 “She has the true economy to proportion her expenses to her income, while she makes it produce to her family all the happiness it is capable of producing; and she has the true wisdom to wish for those things only, which it is proper and right for her to have. If the occurrences and conversation of this morning prove a salutary lesson to you, if [sic]  will make Mrs. Marsh your model in the management [sic] your yearly allowance, I shall dare to hope that you will [sic[ time become as useful and estimable a woman.”

Enjoy this article? Consider one of my straw bonnets available through Etsy.


Published in: on May 11, 2013 at 8:00 am  Comments (1)  
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A Change of Mind

(Rural Repository, “Laura Lovel “ By Eliza Leslie 1837)

Laura had tact enough to perceive that any further attempt at a conversation on books, would be unavailing; and she made some inquiry about the annual exhibition of pictures at the Athenaenm.

‘ I believe it is a very good one,’ replied Mrs. Brantley. ‘ We stopped there one day on our way to dine with some friends out of town. But as the carriage was waiting, and the horses were impatient, we only stayed a few minutes, just long enough to walk round.”

‘ Oh ! yes, mamma,’ cried Augusta, ‘ and don’t you recollect we saw Miss Darford there in a new dress of lavender-colored grenadine, though grenadines having been over these hundred years. And there was pretty Mrs. Lenham, as the gentleman call her, in a puce-coloured italianet, though italiancts have been out for ages. And don’t you remember Miss Grover’s canary colored reps bonnet that looked as if it had been made in the ark. The idea of any one wearing reps!—a thing that has not been seen since the flood ! Only think of reps !’

Laura Lovel wondered what reps could possibly be. ‘Now I talk of bonnets,’ pursued Augusta ; ‘ pray, mamma, did you tell Miss Pipingcord that I would have my Tuscan leghorn trimmed with the lilac and green riband, instead of the blue and yellow ?’

‘Indeed,’ replied Mrs. Brantley. ‘ I found your cousin Mary so extremely ill this afternoon when I went to see her, and my sister so very uneasy on her account, that I absolutely forgot to call at the milliner’s as I had promised you.’

‘ Was there ever any thing so vexatious !’ exclaimed, Augusta, throwing down her beadwork—’ Really, mamma, there is no trusting you at all. You never remember to do any thing you are desired.’ And flying to the bell she rang it with violence.

I could think of nothing but poor Mary’s danger,’ said Mrs. Brantley, ‘ and the twenty five leeches that I saw on her forehead.’

‘Dreadful!’ ejaculated Augusta. ‘But you might have supposed that the leeches would do her good, as of course they will. Here, William,’ addressing the servant man that had just entered; ‘ run as if you were running for your life to Miss Piping cord, the milliner, and tell her upon no account whatever, to trim Miss Brantley’s Tuscan Leghorn with the blue and yellow riband that was decided on yesterday. Tell her I have changed my mind and resolved upon the lilac and green. Fly as if you had not another moment to live, or Miss Pipingcord will have already trimmed the bonnet with the blue and yellow.’

‘ And then,’ said Mrs. Brantley, ‘ go to Mrs. Ashmore’s, and inquire how Miss Mary is this evening.’

‘ Why, mamma,1 exclaimed Augusta; ‘ aunt Ashmore lives so far from Miss Pipingcord’s that it will be ten or eleven o’clock before William gets back, and I shall be all that time on thorns to know if she has not already disfigured my bonnet with the vile blue and yellow.’

* Yesterday,’ said Mrs. Brantley, ‘ you admired that very riband extremely.’

‘ So I did,’ replied Augusta, ‘ but I have been thinking about it since, and as I tell you. I have changed my mind. And now that I have set my heart upon the lilac and green, I absolutely detest the blue and yellow.’

• But I am really very anxious to know how Mary is to-night,’ said Mrs. Brantley.

‘Oh !’ replied Augusta, ‘ I dare say the leeches have relieved her. And if they have not, no doubt Dr. Warren will order twentyfive more—or something else that will answer the purpose.—She is in very good hands—I am certain that in the morning we shall hear she is considerably better. At all events I will not wear the hateful blue and yellow riband—William what are you standing for ?’

The man turned to leave the room, but Mrs. Brantley called him back. ‘ William,’ said she,’ tell one of the women to go to Mrs. Ashmore’s and inquire how Miss Mary is.’

‘ Eliza and Matilda are both out,’ said William, ‘ and Louisa is crying with the toothache, and steaming her face over hot heebs— I guess she won’t be willing to walk so far in the night-air, just out of the steam.’

‘ William !’ exclaimed Augusta, stamping with her foot, ‘don’t stand here talking, but go at once ; there’s not a moment to lose. Tell Miss Pipingcord if she has put on that horrid rihin, she must take it off again, and charge it in the hill, if she pretends she can’t afford to lose it, as I dare say she will—and tell her to be sure and send the bonnet home early in the morning—I am dying to see it.’

To all this Laura Lovel had sat listening in amazement, and could scarcely conceive the possibility of the mind of so young a girl being totally absorbed in things that concerned nothing but external appearance. She had yet to learn that a passion for dress, when thoroughly excited in the female bosom, and carried to excess, has a direct tendency to cloud the understanding, injure the temper, and harden the heart.

Till the return of William, Augusta seemed indeed to be on thorns. At last he came, and brought with him the bonnet, trimmed with the blue and yellow. Augusta snatched it out of the bandbox, and stood speechless with passion, and William thus delivered his message from the milliner—

‘ Miss Pippincod sends word that she had ribanded the bonnet afore I come for it—she says she has used up all her laylock green for another lady’s bonnet, as chose it this very afternoon ; and she guesses you won’t stand no chance of finding no more of it, if you sarch Boston through ; and she says, she shew you all her ribands yesterday, and you chose the yellow blue yourself, and she han’t got no more ribands as you’d be likely to like. Them’s her very words.’

‘ How I hate milliners !’ exclaimed Augusta, and ringing for the maid that always assisted her in undressing, she flounced out of the room and went to bed.

‘ Miss Lovel,’ said Mrs. Brantley, smiling, ‘you must excuse dear Augusta. She is extremely- sensitive about every thing, and that is the reason she is apt to give way to these little fits of irritation.’

Laura retired to her room, grieving to think how unamiable a young girl might be made, by the indulgence of an inordinate passion for dress.

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Published in: on April 27, 2013 at 8:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Milliner’s Wink

The Contrast: Or Modes of Education, by Hannah Farnham Sawyer Lee (Boston: 1837), especially as the milliner winks. This, combined with the previous post regarding what it takes to be a good millinery saleswoman, makes me wonder about the techniques used to sell bonnets to women, which milliners were honest all the time while others embellished here and there, as well as how often women walked out of a shop with a bonnet that would shock us.

‘You .promised,’ replied Eudora,’ you would take me this morning to get our new bonnets.’

Mrs. Stanley was too much satisfied with the past evening to refuse; and they were speedily equipped for their walk.

There seems to be no perfect happiness in this world. If a gleam comes over us, it is soon obscured; and so it proved with Eudora. They directed their steps to Madame la Boutique’s. When they entered the saloon, they saw on heads of every description, save intellectual and phrenological, the newly imported French hats. Even Eudora was excited to an unusual degree of animation, as she gazed at the splendid assortment. They walked round and round, admiring. At length, Mrs. Stanley made a full stop opposite a hat towards which Eudora was just tripping.

‘This is beautiful,’ said the mother.

‘Perfect,’ echoed the daughter.

‘Celeste,’ exclaimed Madame la Boutique, ‘regardez cette blonde, ces fleurs!’

‘They put nature to the blush,’ said Mrs. Stanley.

‘Will madarae please to try it?’

‘O,’ exclaimed Eudora, ‘it is for me we are choosing a hat.’

‘And for myself, too,’ said mamma, with dignity.

‘It is the very thing for one of you ladies,’ exclaimed madame.

‘Let me try it,’ said Eudora.

But Mrs. Stanley had taken off her bonnet, and the milliner placed the elegant French hat on her head.

‘O,’ exclaimed Eudora, ‘it is altogether too young for mamma!’

“Too young!’ repeated the milliner. ‘I will like to see a head-dress too young for madame. I have not no one in my saloon too young. Ah! what sensation madame will excite in Paris! Les Parisiennes do so love des fine womens!’

‘I think I will take it,’ said Mrs. Stanley. ‘Now, Eudora, we will choose one for you.’

‘I don’t wish for any,’ exclaimed the young lady, sullenly.

The milliner winked at her, and Eudora followed her to the other side of the saloon.

‘Let her have it,’said she, in a whisper. ‘I have the most prettiest one for you.’

There was, certainly, variety enough to have satisfied almost any lady; but no one seemed to restore serenity to the young beauty. Beauty! That word ought to be recalled. She was no longer a beauty. Her cheeks were flushed with anger, her eyes sparkled ‘with resentment, and her lips were protruded far beyond their natural limits. There was but one hat which both fancied. Mamma had decided for that, and Eudora was obliged to put up with another.

Such was the domestic education of poor Eudora. Accomplished she certainly was, in the common acceptation of the word. But she had acquired every thing just as she bought her French hat,—to set her off to advantage. She considered accomplishments as only to be brought out, like jewelry, on extra occasions.

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Published in: on April 20, 2013 at 8:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Color and Ornament

Home Circle (Nashville, Tenn, 1856) offers us a look at “Color and Ornament” in dress including that for millinery, which is found below in bold.

Having sought to free the figure from some of the trammels which, much to its detriment, fashion has so capriciously imposed, we may briefly refer to the assistance which the face may receive from color judiciously employed: —not carmine and pearl-powder, gentle reader, but colored draperies and accessories.

It is at once seen that, of the three primary colors, red and yellow are not of equal intensity, and that blue is very much less brilliant than either: also that the secondary colors (orange, purple, and green, each composed of two primaries) are weaker still; and that the tertiarios and broken colors are lowest of all. Thus we have three distinct classes of colors, of three degrees of intensity, and the components of each class having proportionate relative values. Each color, too, has a variety of tones when mixed with white, or of shades when mixed with black. But any given tone will appear lighter than it really is, when contrasted with a darker shade of the same

color; or darker, when placed beside a lighter tone. “When two different colors are placed together, not only will the light shade appear still lighter by contrast, but the hue of each will be considerably modified; each will become tinged with the “complementary” color of the other. This requires some explanation. If the eye be for some time fixed upon one of the primitives, (say red,) there will be seen another color, (green in this case,) formed of the two remaining colors, and which will be seen for a few moments, even after the exciting cause is removed. Thus, after gazing upon a bright yellow, violet will be called up, which is composed of blue and red; blue in its turn creates orange, which results from a union of red and yellow. The secondary colors are not often vivid enough to create an actual spectrum, though their influence is still considerable: thus green produces a tendency to see red, and therefore red will look more brilliant when seen after, or in contact with, green, than with any other color; and so with the rest. These are said to be ” complementary” or “compensating” colors; and in all cases form the most brilliant, as they are the most natural, contrasts. We quote from M. Chevreul a few examples of the changes produced upon each other by two colors in juxtaposition:

“Red and white.—Green, the complementary of red, is added to the white. The red appears more brilliant and deeper.

“Orange and white. — Blue, the complementary of orange, is added to the white. The orange appears brighter and deeper.

“Green and white.—Red, the complementary of green, is added to the white. The green appears brighter and deeper.

“Blue and white. — Orange, the complementary of blue, is added to the white. The blue appears brighter and deeper.”

The changes are greater when black is substituted for white:

“lied and black.— Green, uniting with the black, causes it to appear less reddish. The red appears lighter, or less brown, more oranged.

“Orange and black.—Blue uniting with the black, the latter appears less rusty, or bluer. The orange appears brighter and yellower, or less brown.

“Green and Mack.—Red uniting with the ] black, the latter appears more violet or reddish. The green inclines slightly to yellow.

“Blue and black.—Orange unites with the black, and makes it appear brighter. (?) The blue is lighter—greener, perhaps.”

Let us see the effect of analogous colors upon each other r

“1. Take red, and place it in contact with orange-red, and the former will appear purple, and the latter become more yellow. But if we put the red in contact with a purple-red, the latter will appear bluer, and the former yellower, or orange. So that the same red will appear purple in the one case, and orange in the other.

“2. Take yellow, and place it beside an orange-yellow: the former will appear greenish, and the latter redder. But if we put the yellow in contact with a greenish-yellow, the latter will appear greener, and the former more orange. So that the same yellow will incline to green in the one case, and to orange in the other.

“3. Take blue, and put it in contact with a greenish-blue: the first will incline to violet, and the second will appear yellower. But put the blue beside a violet-blue, and the former will incline to green, and the latter will appear redder. So that the same blue will in one case appear violet, and in the other greenish.

“Thus we perceive that the colors which painters term simple or primary, — namely, red, yellow, and blue, — pass insensibly, by virtue of their juxtaposition, to the state of secondary or compound colors. For the same red becomes either purple or orange, according to the color placed beside it; the same yellow becomes either orange or green; and the same blue, either green or violet.”

It must not bo supposed that because yellow and violet look well together, therefore any face will look well beside them; or that because blue is a cool color, it will harmonize with unimpassioned features. On the contrary, the idea is, that in every type of complexion some tint predominates, and with this tint the drapery must either contrast or harmonize. M. Chevreul instances the two extreme classes, — the light-haired and the dark-haired. In the former, the blue eyes are

the only parts which form a contrast with the ensemble; the hair, eyebrows, and flesh-tints being all of one general hue, so that the harmonies of analogy prevail. In the latter, not only do the white and red tints of the skin contrast with each other, but with the hair, eyebrows, eyelashes, and eyes; so that here the harmonies of contrast prevail. Now, as orange is the basis of the tint of blondes, skyblue, which is the complementary of orange, will be found the most suitable color; and, for a similar reason, yellow and orange-red accord well with dark hair, while blue is the most unsuitable color that can be chosen. But we quote further examples, verbatim:

“Rose-red cannot be put in contact with the rosiest complexions without causing them to lose some of their freshness. It is necessary, therefore, to separate the rose from the skin in some manner; and the simplest manner of doing this, without having recourse to colored materials, is to edge the draperies with a border of tulle, which produces the effect of gray, by the mixture of white threads which reflect light, and the interstices which absorb it. A delicate green is favorable to all fair complexions which are deficient in rose, and which may have more imparted to them without inconvenience. But it is not as favorable to complexions that are more red than rosy, nor to those that have a tint of orange mixed with brown, because the red they add to this tint will be of a brick-red hue. In the latter case a dark-green will be less objectionable than a delicate green. Violet is one of the least favorable colors to the skin, at least when it is not sufficiently deep to whiten it by contrast of tone. Blue imparts orange, which is susceptible of allying itself favorably to white, and the light flesh-tints of fair complexions, which have already a more or less determined tint of this color. Orange is too brilliant to be elegant: it makes fair complexions blue, whitens those which have an orange tint, and gives a green hue to those of a yellow tint. Drapery of a lustreless white, such as cambric muslin, assorts well with a fresh complexion, of which it relieves the rose color; but it is unsuitable to complexions which have a disagreeable tint, because white always exalts all colors. Black draperies, lowering the tone of the colors with which they are in juxtaposition, whiten the skin; but if the vermilion or rosy parts are to a certain point distant from the drapery, it will follow that, although lowered in tone, they appear, relatively to the white parts of the skin contiguous to this same drapery, redder than if the contiguity to the black did not exist.”

Our author then takes up the bonnet,—a delicate subject, and one that requires to be handled with care; but a subject also of such consideration that he has very properly “given his whole mind to it.” And first, of the fairhaired type:

“A black bonnet with white feathers, with white, rose, or red flowers, suits a fair complexion. A lustreless white bonnet does not suit well with fair and rosy complexions. It is otherwise with bonnets of gauze, crape, or lace; they are suitable to all complexions. The white bonnets may have flowers, either white, rose, or particularly blue. A light blue bonnet is particularly suitable to the light-haired type; it may be ornamented with white flowers, and in many cases with yellow and orange flowers, but not with rose or violet flowers. A green bonnet is advantageous to fair or rosy complexions. It may be trimmed with white flowers, but preferably with rose. A rose-colored bonnet must not be too close to the skin; and if it is found that the hair does not produce sufficient separation, the distance from the rose-color may be increased by means of white, or green, which is preferable. A wreath of white flowers in the midst of their leaves, has a good effect.”

Secondly, of the dark-haired type:

“A black bonnet does not contrast so well with the ensemble of the type with black hair as with the other type; yet it may produce a good effect, and receive advantageously accessories of white, red, rose, orange, or yellow. A white bonnet gives rise to the same remarks as those which have been made concerning its use in connection with the blonde type, except that for brunettes it is better to give the preference to accessories of red,; rose, orange, and also yellow, rather than to blue. Bonnets of rose, red, and cerise, are suitable for brunettes, when the hair separates as much as possible the bonnet from the complexion. White feathers accord well with

red; and white flowers with abundance of leaves have a good effect with rose. A yellow suits a brunette very well, and receives with advantage violet or blue accessories: the hair must always interfere between the complexion and the head-dress. It is the same with bonnets of an orange-color more or less broken, such as chamois. Blue trimmings are eminently suitable with orange and its shades. Whenever the color of a bonnet does not realize the intended effect, even when the complexion is separated from it by large masses of hair, it is advantageous to place between the latter and the bonnet certain accessories, such as ribbons, wreaths, or detached flowers, &c, of a color complementary to that of the bonnet: the same color must also be placed on the outside of the bonnet.”

Of course, the remarks here applied to bonnets furnish many hints for general application. It is not wise to wear more than two decided colors at the same time, and they must be not only harmonious contrasts, but well balanced as to strength or intensity; and a “startling effect” must be always avoided. Broken and semi-neutral shades will be found very effective as a sort of ground-work for brighter tints, which should be used sparingly, as in nature. The proportion of red and yellow in a landscape is very small, the prevalent hues being varieties of green, and the neutral tint of hills and distant objects; while the cool, calm, ethereal blue bends gratefully over all. Or you have the yellow broom and purple heather at your feet, but there is little color elsewhere; the few trees visible wear sober russet; above are the gray rocks, with their deep, dark rifts; and beyond, in the blue distance, are “the everlasting hills,” the heavy clouds dragging wearily against their summits. It is the same throughout the scale: the brightness of a flower is relieved by a proportionately large mass of leaf, and that again by the brown soil on which it rests: the bright tinting of the sea-shell is toned off to a colorless edge, and is relieved by the sombre hue of the outer side; and in the rainbow,—unique in its brilliant coloring, —the tints blend into each other so gradually, that it is impossible to say where one ends and another begins. Mr. Ruskin goes so far as to say, that “color cannot at once be good and gay. All good color is in some degree pensive: the loveliest is melancholy.” Without venturing quite so far, we confess to a partiality for sober tinting. But to return. Gray has the peculiarity of looking well in any contrast, giving something of brightness to more sombre colors, and subduing the glare of those more brilliant. Black and white are considered neutral, and, as we have seen, are seriously affected when brought in contact with other colors. The effect of black drapery is to diminish objects, and of white to enlarge them; so that the former ought to be avoided by persons—especially ladies—of diminutive stature, and the latter by those who are specially favored in measures of length and breadth.

As to ornament, young people especially cannot dress with too much simplicity. A pretty face looks best devoid of ornament, just as a jewel sparkles brightest in a plain setting; and a face that is not pretty will gain nothing from bedizenment, but may gain much from a tasteful arrangement of the hair, &c. In this question of hair, fashion allows unusual latitude, every one being at liberty to employ the style that best becomes her, whether curls, braids, or their endless combinations and varieties, by which the oval of the face may be assisted, more or less of the forehead and cheek displayed, apparent breadth given, or height added: in all this, individual taste has free scope. Flowers are appropriate. Sashes have always a graceful effect; that is, of course, when the body and skirt are of one color. Jackets are inadmissible on the score of taste, but are favored by considerations of economy. Jewellery is only suitable to the middle-aged, and even by them should be worn in moderation: nothing looks worse than an excessive display of rings, chains, and baubles. All studs and colored buttons are inappropriate: these belong exclusively to male attire. The hanging (inner) sleeves now so much worn are exceedingly elegant, both in their shape and the designs generally worked upon them. Embroidered and other white trimmings serve to mark the borders or edges of the various parts of the dress, and may be used freely with good effect, provided the several portions correspond with each other.

Dress ought to be so contrived as to set off the person to the best advantage; but in many cases this becomes a secondary consideration, and the person mainly serves to set off the dress. Some people carry their clothes, and some wear them; just as some men feed at dinner-time, and gentlemen quietly dine. Others seem to think that in order to dress well, it is necessary to follow closely every change in the fashions; whereas the bestdressed people follow these changes at just sufficient distance to escape singularity, and rather object to a “faultless perfection” in their outfit. A gentleman is as remote from the fop as from the sloven; and a true lady will see that she is neither over, nor under, nor tastelessly dressed. Ilerrick says prettily:

“A sweet disorder in the dress
Kindles in clothes a playfulness.
A lawn aboat the shoulder thrown
Into a fine distraction;
An erring lace, which here and there
Enthrals the crimson stomacher;
A cuff neglectful, and thereby
Ribbons to flow confusedly;
A winning ware, deserving note,
In the tempestuous petticoat;
A careless shoe-string, in whose tie
I see a wild civility;
Do more bewitch mo than when art
Is too precise in every part,”

It is not to be supposed that this is an apology for a slattern: it is merely the poetical way of expressing a preference for graceful simplicity over a too rigid perfection.

Perhaps we owe some apology to the ladies for picking their dress to pieces so completely. The alterations we have suggested are modifications of the prevailing mode rather than sweeping changes: the general design—out line—of modern female costume leaves little to be desired. But with regard to matters of detail,—appropriateness of color, pattern, and general ornament,—in short, all that is left to individual taste, there is undoubtedly much to be learned. There is always some style of dress more suitable than any other, and in which a woman appears to the best advantage. This style she ought to know, and not for her own sake only. Across the Channel they understand these things perfectly, and the toilet almost supplies the place of personal attractions. What an effect would be produced, if one result of the new alliance should be the union of French taste with English beauty 1 —though, so far as the sterner sex is concerned, the effect would be perfectly heartrending, and the words of Prior wonld find a universal echo:

“The adorning thoe with so much art
Is but a barbarous skill:
‘Tis but the poisoning of a dart,
Too apt before to kill.”

Those who suppose that we would inculcate a love of dress, greatly mistake; though we wish to direct attention to a subject that is imperfectly studied, and much misunderstood. As a rule, every thing is left to the milliner and tailor, and we helplessly acquiesce in their decisions. We should like to see more of independent judgment, and less direct imitation. Why should half the world go into livery, because one year blue cloaks are said to be in fashion, or scarlet cloaks in another? The same faces cannot look well in both. In most other matters we proceed upon some principles or rules of action, but in this we are guided by mere fancy or caprice. Not one lady in ten who enters a draper’s shop has previously made up her mind as to the color of the dress she is about to purchase; and is only confused by the number and rariety displayed; whereas a little attention and study would save muoh valuable time, and, in many cases, not a little annoyance. If it is difficult to know what colors are most suitable, it is not difficult to learn what colors are unsuitable; which would narrow the question, and simplify the process of choice. Dress should bo appropriate, as regards personal physique; harmonious, as regards its component parts; comfortable, for the sake of health; and consistent, as regards social position. Those who neglect the first three rules do less than justice to themselves; those who neglect the last, offend other people. If they dress above their station, they exert an evil influence upon their equals, and excite the contempt of their superiors; if they dress below their station, they presume upon their social position, and transgress the laws of good taste and good breeding.

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“On the Suitability of Colours for Lining Bonnets.”

From The Handbook of Millinery, by Mary J. Howell. London: Simpkin, 1847

No one article in the whole range of female costume is more important in its effects than that comparatively small piece of satin, silk, or other material, that forms the lining of a bonnet. “From little causes great effects arise”; and the saying is applicable in its fullest sense to the case in point. Let the outside trimming of your bonnet be elegant or tasteless, it only proves more or less the judgment of the wearer; it is the lining that exerts an influence on the complexion.

Hence, our fair readers cannot be too careful in their selections, and should pause before adopting any peculiar shade that may strike their fancy, and ask themselves what effect it would produce. They should remember that the lining, particularly of a close bonnet, throws its hue directly upon the face, and that as much advantage may be derived from the judicious application of a desirable tint, as positive detriment to their appearance is to be apprehended from an ill-directed choice of colours. Take as an instance, one of those ruddy beauties to whose cheeks a superabundance of healthful vigour has imparted that over degree of colour which your fashionable ladies, who give the preference to gentility over nature, would style couleur de rose; you would not give her a pink nor a cherry-coloured bonnet, to increase the fault already too prominent,—in spite of Will Honeycomb’s advocacy of this somewhat homoeopathic system,’ —but sooner follow the precept of an old poet, who says with much naivete:

“The ruddie nymph most charms our wond’ring sight, When, like the leaves of spring, in green she’s dight.”

And either the green advocated by the poet, or dark-blue, would soften down the exuberant bloom that otherwise would have found no corrective to mitigate its effects; while the pink or cherry-coloured lining would throw a slight tinge on a pale cheek, and redeem it from its lifeless appearance; whereas, green or blue would render it void of animation—a charm that Bulwer says is the “best counterfeit beauty possesses.11 Linings, therefore, as well as transparent bonnets, have a great effect on the complexion: they must not be considered only as the frame that is best suited to the picture, but rather as the drapery that is to give it proper light and shade so to supply the tint that is deficient in the face, and steal away any harsh or over-prominent hues. But this must be done artistement, as the French would say; you must perceive the effects without seeing the machinery. We should take care not to overpower what little colour may be found in a lily cheeked blonde, by too glaring a contrast of pink or red. To obviate falling into such an error, we would recommend that the bonnet front should not widen after the fashion of the shape that now goes by the name of Pamela. All bonnets indeed that widen are apt to possess the disadvantage of impairing rather than aiding the complexion, by the very contrast that we advocate.

We would therefore advise that whenever fashion peremptorily compels the adoption of large and wide bonnets, that ample trimmings be inserted towards the edge, as this will tend to diminish the vacant and unbecoming appearance which size is apt to impart; and because the interposition of flowers and tulle of suitable tints will have a softening influence. The latter especially, if tastefully managed, has something light and graceful about it, suggestive of elegance and simplicity.

It is not our purpose in a work so slight to enter into a discussion upon the theory of colours. Our readers are well aware that there are but three primary ones in nature, viz.: yellow, red, and blue; and that all the gorgeous variety of hues that we admire, whether in a rich sunset, or in the exquisite plumage of the feathered tribe, are but so many different combinations where the same tints preponderate in a greater or lesser degree.

On these simple facts a clever modern writer has built a whole system, tending to shew that a due attention to the harmony of colours would be the most certain guide for treating a complexion properly. Thus, according to our author, yellow to a pale face produces a livid hue; red would impart a greenish tint; while blue would render it positively sallow: in which latter assertion we heartily concur.

According to the same authority, all such colours must be entirely discarded for purposes of reflection on the above-mentioned faces. Yet we think not entirely, since the unfavourable tinge may be redeemed by the flowers or ribbons that adorn the inside; and as it would be scarcely reasonable to expect that a lady would wear one particular colour incessantly, even though ever so becoming, some means of this kind must be occasionally resorted to, in order to break through the monotony of one eternal hue—almost as trying to the patience of. the wearer and her friends, as toujours perdrix to the abbe’s palate. Without, therefore, adopting all the conclusions of the clever author alluded to, nor advocating those elaborate classifications which would savour of pendantry when applied to dress, we quite agree with the sweeping precept, that light colours are best suited to the blonde, and dark colours to the brunette; and the reason is obvious. The contrast of a dark colour tends to make even a dark complexion seem fairer by comparison, by the aid, for instance, of a black or somber coloured bonnet; while a fair person who does not require to be rendered more blanche, appears to greater advantage in the lightest colours. That the truth of this system is not universally admitted we are well aware, and that even a directly contrary notion is prevalent, we gather from the preference that fair persons usually shew for black. Thus, in one of Kotzebue’s comedies, a flippant widow, in reply to the remark made by one of the characters, that the length of time she has worn mourning is a proof of her sincere regard for the departed, is made to answer: “Are you not aware that blondes look best in mourning?” And centuries before Kotzebue lived and flourished, Ovid adhered to the same opinion; and in his strictures upon taste (which certainly form a more complete code than a dozen modern handbooks on the toilet or on etiquette), he thus lays down the law:

“If fair the skin, black may become it best;
In black the lovely fair Brise is drest;
If brown the nymph, let her be clothed in white;
Andromeda so charm’d the wond’ring sight.”

In spite however of all authorities, whether ancient or modern, we prefer experience; and let those who doubt us, simply give us a fair trial before that most impartial judge—a looking-glass.

Some of the colours adopted for bonnets allow a great degree of latitude in the choice of trimmings; we mean as regards the hues of the flowers or ribbons selected for that purpose. Rich colours do not allow of much variety in their decorations; grave or sombre ones of still less. Delicate colours are more susceptible of contrast than variety. Dove and pink, oiseau, and the palest of pale blues, or a very light green mixed with lilac, are samples of a pleasing contrast, presenting “not harmony but agreement.”

With regard to the selection of trimmings for bonnets or head-dresses, whenever these are of a dull cast, we should advise the former, whether they be ribbons, flowers, or feathers, to be chosen of what is termed relieving colours. A black bonnet should invariably be lined with some vivid hue; the same as the uniformity of a white one requires being broken by some delicate coloured flowers or ribbons. These trimmings should, however, be rather sparing than profuse, especially when intended for the youthful, who are generally “when unadorned adorned the most.” Nor should these relieving colours be employed otherwise than sparingly, as when too prodigally lavished they are distinctive of each other’s effect.

Were such the case, instead of deserving the name of relieving colours, they would tend to be overpowering ones, and bring to recollection those gaudy mixtures of a celebrated modern painter’s pallet, which he is occasionally facetious enough to pass on the world of connoisseurs for a picture. A well-managed contrast throws up the colour relieved, while opposition would entirely spoil it.

A little attention on the part of our readers to the subject we have been treating, will soon reduce it into a regular system, which will sink into their minds and enable them, at no distant period, to judge all such questions without the aid of a book, and to become adepts in the laws of taste.

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Published in: on April 6, 2013 at 8:00 am  Comments (2)  
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The Rival Bonnets

From Trials and Confessions of an American Housekeeper. Philadelphia, 1854

I Have a pleasant story to relate of a couple of fashionables of our city, which, will serve to diversify these “Confessions,” and amuse the reader. To the incidents, true in the main, I have taken the liberty of adding some slight variations of my own.

A lady of some note in society, named Mrs. Claudine, received a very beautiful bonnet from New York, a little in advance of others, and being one of the rival leaders in the fashionable world, felt some self-complacency at the thought of appearing abroad in the elegant head-gear, and thereby getting the reputation of leading the fashion.

Notwithstanding Mrs. Claudine’s efforts to keep the matter a secret, and thus be able to create a surprise when she appeared at church on the next Sunday, the fact that she had received the bonnet leaked out, and there was some excitement about it. Among those who heard of the new bonnet, was a Mrs. Ballman, who had written to a friend to get for her the very article obtained first by Mrs. Claudine. From some cause or other a delay had occurred, and to her chagrin she learned that a rival had the new fashion, and would get the eclat that she so much coveted. The disappointment, to one whose pleasures in life are so circumscribed as those of a real fashionable lady, was severe indeed. She did not sleep more than a few hours on the night after she received the mortifying intelligence.

The year before, Mrs. Claudine had led the fashion in some article of dress, and to see her carry off the palm in bonnets on this occasion,

when she had striven so hard to be in advance, was more than Mrs. Ballman could endure. The result of a night’s thinking on the subject was a determination to pursue a very extraordinary course, the nature of which will be seen. By telegraph Mrs. Ballman communicated with her friend in New York, desiring her to send on by the evening of the next day, which was Saturday, the bonnet she had ordered, if four prices had to be paid as an inducement to get the milliner to use extra exertions in getting it up. In due time, notice came back that the bonnet would be sent on by express on Saturday, much to the joy of Mrs. Ballman, who from the interest she felt in carrying out her intentions, had entirely recovered from the painful disappointment at first experienced.

Saturday brought the bonnet, and a beautiful one it was. A few natural sighs were expended over the elegant affair, and then other feelings came in to chase away regrets at not having been first to secure the article.

On the day previous, Friday, Mrs. Ballman called upon a fashionable milliner, and held with her the following conversation.

“You have heard of Mrs. Claudine’s new bonnet, I presume V

“Yes, madam,” replied the milliner.

“Do you think it will take?” asked Mrs. Ballman.

“I do.”

“You have not the pattern?”

“Oh, yes. I received one a week ago.”

“You did!”

“Yes. But some one must introduce it. As Mrs. Claudine is about doing this there is little doubt of its becoming the fashion, for the style is striking as well as tasteful.”

Mrs. Ballman mused for some moments. Then she drew the milliner aside, and said, in a low, confidential tone.

“Do you think you could get up a bonnet as handsome as that, and in just as good taste?”

“I know I could.” In my last received London and Paris fashions are several bonnets as handsome as the one that is about being adopted in New York, and here also without doubt.”

“I am not so sure of its being adopted here,” said the lady.

“If Mrs. Claudine introduces it, as I understand she intends doing on Sunday, it will certainly be approved and the style followed.”

“I very much doubt it. But we will see. Where are the bonnets you spoke of just now?”

The milliner brought forth a number of pattern cards and plates, and pointed out two bonnets, either of which, in her judgment, was more beautiful than the one Mrs. Claudine had received.

“Far handsomer,” was the brief remark with which Mrs. Ballman approved the milliner’s judgment. “And now,” she added, “can you get me up one of these by Sunday?”

“I will try.”

“Try won’t do,” said the lady, with some excitement in her manner. “I must have the bonnet. Can you make it?”


“Very well. Then make it. And let it be done in your very best manner. Why I wish to have this bonnet I need hardly explain to you. I believed that I would have received the bonnet, about to be adopted in New York, first. I had written to a friend to procure it; but, by some means, Mrs. Claudine has obtained her’s in advance of me. Mine will be here to-morrow, but I don’t mean to wear it. I wish to lead.”

“If you were both to appear in this bonnet, the fashion would be decided,” said the milliner.

“I know. But I have no wish to share the honor with Mrs. Claudine. Make me the bonnet I have selected, and I will see that it puts her’s down.”

“You will remember,” said the milliner, ” that her’s has been already adopted in New York. This will be almost sure to give it the preference. It would be better that you did not attempt a rivalry, than that you should be beaten.”

“But I don’t mean to be beaten,” replied the lady. “I have taken measures to prevent that. After Sunday you will hear no more of the New York bonnet. Mine will go, and this, I need not tell you, will be a feather in your cap, and dollars in your pocket; as I will refer to you as the only one who can get it up. So do your best, and improve the pattern we have selected, if it will bear improvement.”

The milliner promised to do her “prettiest,” and Mrs. Ballman returned home in a state of considerable elation at the prospect of carrying off the palm, and humiliating her. rival at the same time.

Mrs. Claudine, though a little vain, and fond of excelling, was a woman of kind feelings, and entirely superior to the petty jealousies that annoyed Mrs. Ballman, and soured her towards all who ‘succeeded in rivalling her in matters of taste and fashion. Of what was passing in the mind of the lady who had been so troubled at her reception of a new style of bonnet from New York, she was entirely ignorant. She was not even aware that Mrs. Ballman had ordered the same article, nor that she had suffered a disappointment.

Saturday came. Mrs. Claudine was busy over some little article of dress that was to add to her appearance on the next day, when an Irish girl, who had formerly lived with her, entered her room.

“Ah! Kitty!” said the lady pleasantly. “How do you do?’

“I’m right well, mum, thankee,” replied Kitty, with a courtesy.

“Where do you live now, Kitty?” inquired Mrs. Claudine.

“I’m living with Mrs. Ballman,” said the girl.

“A very good place, I have no doubt.”

“Oh, yes, mum. It is a good place. I hain’t much to do, barrin’ going out with the children on good days, and seein’ after them in the house; and I get good wages.”

“I’m very glad to hear it, Kitty; and hope you will not give up so good a home.”

“No, indeed, mum; and I won’t do that. But Mrs. Claudine—”

Kitty’s face flushed, and she stammered in her speech.

“What do you wish to say?” inquired the lady, seeing that Kitty hesitated to speak of what was on her mind.

“Indade, mum,” said Kitty, evincing much perplexity, “I hardly know what I ought to do. But yez were good to me, mum, when I was sick, and didn’t send me off to the poor house like some girls are sent; and I never can forget yez while there’s breath in me body. And now I’ve come to ask yez, just as a favor to me, not to wear that new bonnet from New York, to-morrow.”

It was some moments before the surprise, occasioned by so novel and unexpected a request, left Mrs. Claudine free to make any reply.

“Why, Kitty!” she at length exclaimed, “what on earth can you mean?”

“Indade, mum, and yez mustn’t ask me what I mane, only don’t wear the bonnet to church on the morrow, because—because—och, indade, mum, dear! I can’t say any more. It wouldn’t be right.”

Mrs. Claudine told Kitty to sit down, an invitation which the girl, who was much agitated, accepted. The lady then remained silent and thoughtful for some time.

“Kitty,” she remarked, at length, in a serious manner, “what you have said to me sounds very strangely. How you should know that I intended appearing in a new bonnet to-morrow, or why you should be so much interested in tbe matter is more than I can understand. As to acting as you desire, I see no reason for that whatever.”

This reply only had the effect of causing Kitty to urge her request more strenuously. But she would give no reason for her singular conduct. After the girl had gone away, Mrs. Claudine laid aside her work—for she was not in a state of mind to do any thing but think—and sat for at least an hour-, musing upon the strange incident which h%d occurred. All at once, it flashed upon her mind that there must be some plot in progress to discredit or rival her new bonnet, which Kitty had learned at Mrs. Ballman’s. The more she thought of this, the more fully did she become satisfied that it must be so. She was aware that Mrs. Ballman had been chagrined at her leading ofl’ in new fashions once or twice before; and the fact, evident now, that she knew of her reception of the bonnet, and Kitty’s anxiety that she should not wear it on Sunday, led her to the conviction that there was some plot against her. At.first, she determined to appear in her new bonnet, disregardful of Kitty’s warning. But subsequent reflection brought her to a different conclusion.

The moment Mrs. Claudine settled it in her mind that she would not appear in the new bonnet, she began dressing herself, hurriedly, to go out. It was as late as five o’clock in the afternoon when she called at the store of the milliner who had been commissioned by Mrs. Ballman to get the rival bonnet.

“Have you the last fashions from abroad?” enquired Mrs. Claudine.

“We have,” replied the milliner.

“Will you let me see them?”

“Certainly, ma’am.”

And the patterns were shown. After examining them carefully, for some time, Mrs. Claudine selected a style of bonnet that pleased her fancy, and said—

“You must get me up this bonnet so that I can wear it to-morrow.”

“Impossible, madam!” replied the milliner. “This is Saturday evening.”

“I know it is; but for money you can get one of your girls to work all night. I don’t care what you charge; but I must have the bonnet.”

The milliner still hesitated, and seemed to be confused and uneasy. She asked Mrs. Claudine to sit down and wait for a little while, and then retired to think upon what she had better do. The fact was, Mrs. Claudine had pitched upon the very bonnet Mrs. Ballman had ordered, and her earnestness about having it made in time i to wear on the next day, put it almost beyond

her power to say no. If she were to tell her that Mrs. Ballman had ordered the same bonnet, it would, she knew, settle the matter. But, it occurred to her, that if both the ladies were to appear at church in the same style of bonnet, the fashion would be sure to take, and she, in consequence, get a large run of business. This thought sent the blood bounding through the milliner’s veins, and decided her to keep her own counsel, and take Mrs. Claudine’s order.

“She’s as much right to the bonnet as Mrs. Ballman,” settled all ethical questions that intruded themselves upon the milliner.

“I will have it ready for you,” she said, on returning to Mrs. Claudine.

“Very well. But mind,” said the lady, “I wish it got up in the very best style. The hurry must not take from its beauty. As for the price, charge what you please.”

The milliner promised every thing, and Mrs. Claudine went home to think about the important events of the approaching Sabbath. On Sunday morning both bonnets were sent home, and both the ladies fully approved the style, effect, and all things appertaining to the elegant affairs.

At ten o’clock, Kitty, who was a broad-faced, coarse-looking Irish girl, came into the chamber of Mrs. Ballman, dressed up in her best, which was not saying much for the taste and elegance of her appearance.

“Are you all ready?” asked her mistress.

“Yes, mum.”

** Very well, Kitty, here’s the bonnet. Now, remember, you are to go into the pew just in front of ours. The Armburner’s are all out of town, and there will be no one to occupy it.”

Kitty received the elegant bonnet which had come on express from New York, and placed it upon her head.

“You really look charming,” said the lady.

But Kitty was not nattered by her words, and evinced so little heart in what she was doing, that Mrs Ballman said to her, in a half threatening tone, as she left the room—

“Mind, Kitty, I shall expect to see you at church.”

“Oh, yes, mum; I’ll be there,” replied Kitty, courtesying awkwardly, and retiring.

Not long after Kitty had retired, Mrs. Ballman, after surveying, for many minutes, the effect of her new bonnet, becoming more and more pleased with it every moment, and more and more satisfied that it would “take,” left her room, and was descending the stairs for the purpose of joining the family, who were awaiting her below. Just at that unlucky moment, a servant, who was bringing down a vessel of water, slipped, and a portion of the contents came dashing over the head and shoulders of the richly attired lady, ruining her elegant bonnet, and completely destroying the happy frame of mind in which she was about attending public worship. No wonder that she cried aloud from the sudden shock and distress so untoward an event occasioned; nor that she went back weeping to her chamber, and refused to be comforted.

Mr. Ballman and the children proceeded alone

to church on that day. On their return home, they found the lady in a calmer frame of mind. . But Mr. Ballman looked grave and was unusually silent. Kitty came home and gave up her elegant head-dress; and when her mistress told her that she might keep it, she thanked her, but declined the present.

“You went to church, of course,” she said.

“Oh, yes, mum,” replied Kitty.

“And sat in the Armburner’s pew?”

“Yes, mum.”


“Yes, mum.”

“Was Mrs. Claudine there?”
“Yes, mum.”

“Did she wear her new bonnet?”
“Yes, mum.”

“It was exactly like this?”

“Oh, no, mum, it was exactly like the new one you had sent home this morning.”

“What!” The face of the lady flushed instantly. “Wasn’t it like this?”

“No, mum.

Mrs. Ballman sunk into a chair.

“You can retire, Kitty,” she said, and the girl withdrew, leaving her to her own feelings and reflections, which were not of the most pleasing character.

The appearance of Kitty at church, fully explained to Mrs. Claudine the ungenerous game that had been played against her. Her first thought was to retaliate. But reflection brought other and better feelings into play. Instead of exposing what had been done, she destroyed the bonnet received from New York, and made an effort to keep what had occurred a secret. But Kitty’s appearance at church in such an elegant affair, naturally created some talk. One surmise after another was started, and, at last, from hints dropped by the milliner, and admissions almost extorted from Mrs. Claudine, the truth came out so fully, that all understood it; nor was Mrs. Ballman long left in ignorance on this head.

As to the fashion, Mrs. Claudine’s bonnet became the rage; though, as might be supposed, Mrs. Ballman refused to adopt it.

Who will be the successful rival next season, I am unable to predict. But it is believed that Mrs. Claudine intends giving Mrs. Ballman an advance of two weeks, and then coming in with a different style, and beating her in spite of the advantage.                                      

Published in: on March 30, 2013 at 8:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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