During the late 19th Century, hats were considered to an essential fashion accessory for both women and men and as such, you were not considered to be completely dressed for leaving home unless you wore one. While hats had their origins as a practical means of protecting the head against the elements, it didn’t take long before hats also became to be considered as more of a fashion accessory rather than a practical item of apparel. Naturally, there was a bit of overlap between the practical and the aesthetic and this was reflected in the variety of hat styles that developed during the late 19th Century.
Edgar Degas, The Little Milliners (1882)
One of the most common “signature” hat styles during the 1880s was the flower pot hat which was a high-crowned hat with a silhouette that resembled an upside-down flower pot (hence the name 🙂 ). Typically made from either blocked or sewn straw, or in some instances from buckram and wire, this hat created a high profile upon the wearer’s head, creating a large canvas for decoration. Decoration ranged from simple ribbons or feathers to more elaborate flowers and in some instances, a millinery birds (stuffed birds). The brim could be shaped in a number of different ways and even the crown could take complex shapes.
Below are a few examples of the flower pot hat in its many styles, both in portraiture, fashion plates, and advertising:
Der Bazar, August 1, 1885
Godey’s Ladys Book, May, 1886
La Mode Illustree, April 1885
La Mode Illustree, September 12, 1886
La Revue de la Mode, March 15, 1885
As can be seen from the above, there was a lot of variation and in some instances, the “flower pot” profile is somewhat obscured in the more extreme hat styles. Also, decoration and trim could be taken to extremes as in the case of the millinery birds (a style that eventually fell out of favor during the 1890s due to public reaction to the widespread depletion of bird species due to over-hunting).
Now let’s look at some extant examples:
Woman’s Hat, Straw, c. 1884 – 1886; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.5912)
View On Mannequin.
The above example is a very basic style, made from straw. The trim is fairly restrained, some ribbons and flowers. What is especially interesting is that there is a brown velvet underbrim whose color complements the color of the straw hat body.
Women’s Hat, c. 1890s; Los Angeles County Museum of Art (41.11.16)
And another basic straw style, this time the straw has been dyed black. The trim is fairly minimal, consisting of black ribbon and some artificial fruit. The colors of the artificial fruit provide an interesting contrast to the black hat and ribbon; black was a common color for the straw hat body. Below is another example of a decorated black straw flower pot hat:
Women’s Hat, American, c. 1886; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.41.148.1)
Women’s Hat, Mme. Mantel, French, c. 1886; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.1415)
While straw was the predominant material, other materials could be employed such as silk plush (the museum caption mentions that it might be either beaver or silk plush, we suspect that silk plush is the more likely material given the late date of the hate; the numbers of beaver had been severely reduced by the 1850s). Here, the trim is even more restrained,consisting of some large silk ribbon. The contrast in textures between the silk ribbon and the silk plush is remarkable.
And now for something a bit more over-the-top:
Women’s Hat, Modes du Louvre , France, c. 1885; V&A Museum (T.715:3-1997)
This is definitely a more extreme style of flower pot hat to include a millinery bird with feathers that have been dyed to create a pink color effect combined with, what appears to be painted details. As can be seen from the above example, hat trimming was only limited by the imagination of the milliners and their clients.
One final thing to note is that these hats were intended for wear with a variety of daytime outfits as opposed to one specific dress. While there were examples of flower pot hats that were deliberately made to match a specific dress, this was not a universal practice in spite of what the fashion plates would portray; for those women of lesser means, the cost was simply prohibitive.
We hope you have enjoyed our brief excursion through the world of flower pot hats of the 1880s and in future posts we hope to expand further the discussion of Victorian Era millinery. 🙂