Andrea/Cara here, I was writing a scene in my current WIP the other day in which the heroine, who is visiting the family estate of the hero, is invited to take a walk with him around the grounds. The breeze is ruffling through the climbing roses and boxwood, and I’m about to describe the sensation she feels as it dips and darts through her tresses . . . when of course I remind myself that no proper lady would be outside without her chapeau. Drat.
Which got me thinking about hats—or more specifically, the headcoverings that were de rigeur for Regency heroines to wear. I find them a nuisance, both in the literary and literal sense. But after muttering a few curses, I started to think more on the subject, and realized that perhaps I was guilty of a gross generalization concerning the accessory. There were, after all, quite a range of choices for ladies of the era. And while I tend to think immediately of the typical chipstraw bonnet, ladies had, in fact a wide range of creative and imaginative headcoverings from which to pick. So I thought it would be fun to take a quick look at some of the stylish “lids” that our heroines might have sported.
Ackermann’s fashion plates show that hats were taken just as seriously as gowns. Walking hats, riding hats, carriage hats, fancy turbans and swanky little confections for evening wear—there are a multitude of designs for every hour and occasion in a heroine’s life. Add to the basic styles the choices of fabrics, colors and trimmings, and the offerings become truly staggering. Straw, both chip or strip, was very popular, but other fashionable fabrics included beaver, velvet, silk, crape, satin and muslin.
Trimmings featured ribbons, fruits and flowers, veils, net, lace, or feathers. Beads, pins, and brooches could also figure into the mix. In a letter to her sister Cassandra, Jane Austen noted (with sly note of sarcasm) “Flowers are very much worn, & Fruit is still more the thing – Eliz: has a bunch of Strawberries, & I have seen Grapes, Cherries, Plumbs & Apricots – There are likewise Almonds & raisins, french plums & Tamarinds at the Grocers, but I have never seen any of them in hats.”
A married lady often wore a headcovering indoors. Mrs. Bennett, from Pride and Prejudice, was fond of frilly mobcabs (which were also wore by maids and housekeepers, though in a plainer version.) And when a young lady failed to make a match on the marriage , assuming a mob cap was a subtle signal of sinking into spinsterhood. As for dowagers, what elderly dragon worth her snuff didn't have a collection of indoor caps!
I have a confession—I really don’t like wearing formal hats. Ski hats and baseball hats for golf are okay, and a practical necessity I accept with good grace. But even as a kid I hated being forced to wear a dressy hat with a party dress for special occasions. I mean like, take-it-off-and-stomp-on-it loathing. However, I have to admit than when I was in London a few years ago and walked by John Locke hatter, I did spot a few very sophisticated numbers—they were more like sculptures than hats—that tempted me to rethink my prejudice. But for now, I like feeling the wind in my hair.
However, if I had to pick a Regency style to wear, it would be one of the very rakish riding hats. The top hat and shako styles, which gave a saucy interpretation to traditional menswear, appeal to my modern sensibilities How about you? Are you a hat person? Do you like wearing both casual and fancy ones? And do you have you a favorite style? Please share!