Vintage Hats: The Fashions of a Woman’s Heart

May and June come each year with a whirl of activity – not the least of which being the season for Mother/Daughter Banquets. That means speaking engagements for me where I’m invited to share memorable thoughts about beauty and womanhood. 
vintage hats with speaker Kathryn Ross

So, I had to “bring out the girls.” That’s what I call my vintage hat collection.  My parade of lovely ladies from bygone times were happy to oblige seeing as how they don’t get out much these days.  Hats of their kind are something of an anomaly in this contemporary age of t-shirts, ball caps, and clown-colored hair dyes.  I attract more attention wearing a 1940’s felted, feathered, and netted beret in the public square, than any of the plethora of young women I see these days trotting about with frizzed out hair, clipped, shaved, and dread-locked in shades of fire-engine red, lime green, or bleach/black stripes.

Compliments are graciously welcomed and I’m only too happy to share my musings about returning to feminine loveliness, beauty and the classic virtues of womanhood. Sometimes my comments are met with sighs of affirmation and nostalgia–other times wide mouthed wonder and confusion. So goes it these days when our social and moral gyroscopes are so out of whack. I speak sometimes, if only to encourage myself as I recall the days of a more genteel society, civil discourse, and truly feminine fashions.

How many of you recall your own childhood where white gloves and hats were a necessary accessory to a complete wardrobe.  I do!  I do!  Mother made me and I loved her for it.  I felt so elegant and grown-up when we “dressed” for church on Sundays in our best array.  Apparently, a number of the ladies present at the aforementioned banquet remembered, too, and thoroughly enjoyed stirring up their fashion memories as they took in my display.

A late 1800’s bodice enhanced with hand-sewn bead-work and distinctly cut for the corseted figure presides over the lot, topped off with a felt tri-cornered hat embellished with flowers, feathers, gold braiding and an Italian carnival mask. 

vintage hats with speaker Kathryn Ross

She is nestled between a lovely vibrant aqua blue velvet pillbox with matching netting and ostrich plumes amid hot pink and red flowers that would have been worn forward on the head in the late ’40’s, and a larger turn of the century model in cream with olive green foliage and ecru berries, feathers, and veil as might have graced a proper lady of that time, held in place with a bejeweled hatpin.  Just below that is an exquisite 1920’s lace night cap with purple and green floral beading, hand-sewn, and lined.  Oh – and don’t miss those two vertical boxes next to the candle – they’re holding back seamed nylons – not your daughter’s pantyhose, to be sure!

As we progress through the display, we come to the functional millinery box chock full of plumage – a necessary staple of hat decor for centuries. 

vintage hats with speaker Kathryn Ross

In the late 19th century, this fancy for bigger and bolder plumage served to deplete the natural resources of bird populations. Safe-guarding our winged wonders from completely disappearing into the headgear of the myriads of Mrs. Fiddleworth’s or Lady Boonswoggle’s was in order.  Early environmentalism put the cap on run-away capitalism, and to be sure, my wildflower garden is chirping with life today because of it.

But, I digress here.

Hats of all color, shape, and size bubble out of, and tumble down around, the milliner’s box, each dating from the 1930’s through the early 1950’s.  Oh!  Except for that little yellow thing at the bottom of the shot behind the perfume atomizer, sporting a huge black ostrich plume.  That little lady is over 100 years old.  Lovely!  And the green straw hat with the red and yellow rose and peacock feather falling out of view to the left is my own concoction which I wear when I perform my garden stories for children.  Whimsical, vintage, fun!

Further on down the line, the very grand Lady Utopia elegantly surveys all and sundry wearing an 1860’s navy blue velvet bonnet, hand shirred, with a sequined crown at the base within which would have rested a chignon, as a voluminous wrap of ribbons are bowed, draping from the left ear where it is snapped into place. 

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The velvet is worn in a spot or two, but it is otherwise in pretty good condition considering its age.  I wonder who wore it before our good Lady Utopia?  

Below her, a helmet hat of feathers, feathers, and more feathers, meticulously laid, one after the other, covering the entire hat, worn some 100 years after Lady Utopia’s bonnet was in vogue.  Graceful fingers once garnishing a lady’s dresser holding rings and things,  now showcases pearls and scarves for a fashionable accent.

vintage hats green nelmet feathers with speaker Kathryn Ross

All dressed up with hat and gloves and nowhere to go?  How about a tea party! My teapot collection will have to wait for another blog, but I just couldn’t resist bringing this newest little bit of something along for a touch of beauty.  Here we have an 18th century gentleman attempting to court his lady. 

vintage teapot courting couple

Lift the lady’s upper torso and head to pour in the tea water.  Lift the pot to pour by the gentleman’s handle and the room fills with the music box tune “Tea for Two”.  When the pot is laid flat again, the music stops!  Whimsical, clever, fun!

“Ooo’s” and “Ahhs” followed. 

Then, ladies of all ages modeled the hats.

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Apparently, a tear or two was shed as we considered some of the finer things we’ve all allowed to slip from our popular culture.  Time was, when, if a lady went out of the house without a hat it was something of a scandal.  Hats set one apart.  They were the conventional attire, a fashion statement, a functional necessity, an identifying headpiece for a job or profession, to some – a spiritual representation of an interior commitment such as the “covering” some women of particular faiths might still wear today – though simple in form with no embellishment.

As the program drew to a close, I saved my best head enhancing garment for last.  You see, I love to wear hats.  They have the power to make a woman feel like a lady – lovely, elegant, beautiful.  I see it all the time when I take the “girls” out.  

Put a vintage hat on an older woman and she feels young again – years melt away – youth, beauty, and a return to loveliness . . . 

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Put a vintage hat on a young girl, she uses the word “beautiful” to describe how wearing it makes her feel – as she straightens her shoulders and holds her head up with an expression of wonder and confidence upon her face.  She is surprised.  I encourage her – isn’t it so much lovelier to be thought of as “beautiful” instead of “a hot chick” – as so many of the fashion choices foisted upon our youth today suggest?

She never thought of it that way.  

Yes.  Beauty for ashes.  That is the desire of our hearts.  Hence the headgear mentioned above – the best shared last – a head ornament not worn by a woman, but by a Man.  A crown . . . of thorns.  Worn so that His Bride might wear a crown . . . of Eternal Life and Beauty.

Yes, women wear many hats – professional hats of service identifying all the jobs they fulfill in their home and community at large.  Women wear functional hats to ward off the winter chill or shield their eyes from the sun, but rarely do women today revel in a hat for simply the sake of the hat to crown one’s head with loveliness – simple beauty.

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Because of the crown Jesus Christ once chose to wear upon His head, I am thankful that I can look forward to an eternity wearing the crown of His Beauty upon my head for no other purpose than to simply revel in being a reflection of His Beauty.  Lovely!  That’s why I believe hats of unsurpassed beauty will be all the rage in heaven – with no want of flowers, feathers, or ribbons, at all.

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NOTE: The above post and photos are a re-published and updated post–a snapshot of my Hats Off to the Ladies speaking program for churches, women’s ministries, vintage fashion programs, and youth.

NOTE:  The drawing above of the crown of thorns and a floral wreath has hung in my bedroom for many years.  I bought it from a lovely Christian artist man and wife who sketched some of  the most amazing representations of Scripture, often listing the Scripture references that inspired their work.  I met them at a long ago ladies’ retreat in New England and do not know who they are.  The drawing came into my life during a turbulent time.  The Lord ministered to my heart in a very deep and personal way through this artist’s rendering of such a powerful and life transforming truth.  I pray it has blessed my readers today – and for the hand that sketched it back in the late 1990’s. 

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About Miss Kathy

"I teach families how to restore their God-given authority as the primary educator in their child’s life through the experience of reading together as a family. Learn how to use literature to create teachable moments, build strong minds, and bind loving hearts."

Kathryn Ross, writer, speaker, and dramatist, ignites a love of literature and learning to equip young and old towards developing a Family Literacy Lifestyle—reading together, learning together, loving together. Her works challenge families to deepen their literacy skills and grow into the greater things God has purposed for them. She’s taught in Christian and homeschool circles, trained in the Principle Approach® through the Foundation for American Christian Education. Miss Kathy owns Pageant Wagon Publishing, producing homeschool enrichment materials, devotional works, study guides, and theatrical dramas for church, school, and community production. She podcasts at TheWritersReverie.com and blogs at PageantWagonPublishing.com.

Comments

  1. Dear Kathy,

    I so enjoyed your post on vintage hats! We are kindred spirits in many ways. When I was in college, we were required to wear white gloves and stockings to formal events. No slacks, not even in class. Only skirts or dresses. We also wore hats to church.

    Those were different days. In many ways, better days. Certainly more civil and gracious days.

    Thank you for this journey into the past. It is always a joy–and an adventure–to travel with you! 🙂

    Blessings,

    MaryAnn

    • Thank you, MaryAnn. I am gearing up for Founder’s Day this weekend in Vineland, so I’m thinking all things vintage. And a little sad since we may get rained out on Saturday. I love sharing God’s story through history–His Story, and the tangible things that act as a time travel machine, returning us to the nobler times in our collected past. Historically, man has always been flawed–but there are gracious lessons for living today in bygone times if we have ears to hear and eyes to see.

      Joy!
      Kathy

  2. Oh my goodness! I thought I had lost your blog forever! Found you again. Any old way….Love the hats! YES, YES, YES. Hugs and blessings, Cindy

    • Yay! Glad to reconnect. I’ve been missing in action for a bit. Lots happening on this end keeping me from blogging regularly let alone reading blogs! So happy you visited and be sure you subscribe in that annoying pop-up! Don’t lose me–I need all my creative friends for inspiration!!!
      Joy!
      Kathy

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