Continuing my search for historical authenticity, I’ve been looking at women’s hats in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Hollywood has given us all an idea of headgear from previous ages but not all movie depictions are accurate. I once saw a version of a Jane Austin novel where the women wore Victorian dress – billowing sleeves, tight waists and voluminous skirts – not the slender silhouette of a Regency lady.
One way to determine what people wore, is to look at photographs of the time and place. The B.C. Archives contains a wealth of such information. The archives can be searched on-line anywhere, or in person at 675 Belleville Street,Victoria, BC.
Hannah Maynard, Victoria’s own lady photographer, took hundreds of pictures of our province and its people between 1862 and 1912, many are self-portraits as she studied the science and art of photography. There are no hats in this one, where she shows herself pouring tea on herself in a multiple exposure print of herself at a tea party, made up of herself, herself and herself, but it illustrates her sense of humour.
For the purposes of this blog, I’m focussing on hats. I’ll save sleeves, necklines and corsets for another day.
Here we have a picture of “Indian Annie” from 1879 taken at Yale, B.C. Annie is an Indigenous woman, but she wears European garb in this photo. Her hat is straw, broad-brimmed to protect her from the sun and low crowned. A very practical accoutrement.
Hannah Maynard again, in the 1880’s wearing a typical hat for a woman of her standing in the city of Victoria. A modest affair, with a rolled brim, and feather ornament on a low crown.
By 1890, headgear was more elaborate. This photo is of Evelyn Berens, an Englishwoman who went adventuring with her husband in the Rocky Mountains. Note the high crown and the elaborate ornamentation. Of course, just like our celebrities, she wore the latest and most extravagant of the current fashion.
If Ms Berens was in the forefront of fashion, this young woman, Violet wasn’t far behind. The photograph was taken in 1900 and shows a higher crown than previously. The brim is wider and tilted forward while the piled ribbons speak to a more elaborate direction for ladies hats.
And just to show that fashion is cyclical, this towering concoction is offered to any woman with a mailing address. It comes from the 1877 Eaton’s catalogue.
I’ve listed some reference sites below if you want to explore more, but I warn you, gentle readers, you may feel you’ve gone down the rabbit hole when you delve into the lives of our foremothers.