THE SOCIAL HISTORY OF FLATBUSH
by Gertrude Lefferts Vanderbilt
HATS AND BONNETS
There is in this present day an improvement in the covering worn upon the
head. Hats and bonnets are more tasteful and pretty than those formerly worn.
For children the Normandy cap is comfortable and child-like, as also are the
round straw hats worn in summer. The shady hats used by young ladies and the
stylish shapes of their dress hats, are also very picturesque and becoming.
Even the bonnets of elderly ladies, when not overladen with trimming, are
more tasteful than the poke bonnets formerly worn. [my dictionary illustrates
a poke bonnet]
When children were out at play in the summer they wore gingham
sun-bonnets; as these were made over stiff pasteboard, they were heavy and
very uncomfortable. A child has been many a time punished for throwing off
these scoops in its out-door games, when the fault really lay with the parent
who required the child to wear such an uncomfortable covering upon the head.
The elaborate bonnets worn some 30 years ago consisted of a front piece,
a crown, and a cape at the back of the neck; they were varied in their
general outline every season-- the front flared more or less, the crown was
at a greater or less angle of inclination, the cape was very full and deep,
or it was scant; it was plain or it had frill trimming. the face trimming in
these fanciful results of the milliner's art was an elaborate, semicircle of
lace, ribbons and flowers. There were generally tabs of lace against the
cheeks, and flowers above the forehead; or there were lace and flowers
intermingled at the sides, and bows of pink, blue or yellow ribbon above,
alike the keystone uniting the arch. These bonnets met under the chin, and
were tied there with broad ribbon, but, in some of the senseless changes of
fashion, were worn so far back upon the head that the strings were useless;
the bonnet almost rested upon the back of the neck, and if it was not apt to
drop off, it had at least that appearance.
There is a picture of Queen Victoria in one of these large bonnets, of
the style when they were drawn forward over the face.
On or about 1835 a covering for the head, known as a caleche [a variation
of calash, a bonnet resembling the folding top of a two-wheeled carriage],
was much worn while walking or driving. These were somewhat in shape of a
gig-top. They were made of reeds covered with silk; black was the color for
elderly ladies, green for young ladies; they were lined with white. When laid
aside, they were perfectly flat; when worn, they were drawn forward over the
face with a ribbon fastened on both sides about three inches from the top,
which was held in the hand.
A writer in "Scribner's Magazine" for August 1879, on New York fashions
in 1814-1830, says: "Chip and Leghorn bonnets were the favorites for summer
wear. Twenty dollars, or even more, were paid for an untrimmed Leghorn
bonnet. But then we expected a nice thing, once bought, would last a long
time; our bonnets were done over and retrimmed, and came out again as good as
new next season -- or, if we were of a frugal mind, for several seasons.
"...Merino or raw-silk underwear, or anything resembling it, hadnot yet
been heard of.
"...Merino long shawls, with a broad border at the ends, and a narrow one
along the length, came up during the war, and were considered a part of a
nice toilet. At first they were white, but black and scarlet soon appeared.
"Tortoise-shell combs and thread-lace were among the desirable
possessions of ordinarily well-dressed people; of jewels we heard but little.
A person had a set of pearls, perhaps, or sometimes you saw a ruby or a
diamond finger-ring, but precious stones of a high rank were very infrequent."
Water-proof cloaks, whether of the rubber silk or the water-proof cloth,
were unknown until within the last 20 years. They are now almost a necessary
part of a lady's outfit, and we hope there may be some significance in the
fact that these modern inventions of women's wear are in the direction of the
comfortable and the useful.
The long trains and tieback style of overskirt which are at present worn
may soon be followed by some other absurdity; but it is, at least, a cause
for congratulation that that which is fantastic and arbitrary does not retain
its hold as long as that which is natural and graceful.
Now that intercourse between this country and Paris is so easy and frequent,
the fashions of France are adopted almost as quickly here as they obtain
In the beginning of this century, instead of the fashion-plates, with
their full directions as to the changes in costume, a doll was dressed in
Paris in the height of the prevailing mode, and sent by the "regular
fast-sailing packet" to the mantua-makers in New York as a model to be copied.
As early as 1712, these dolls, dressed in the fashion of the period, were
sent from Paris to London; it was by this means that the changes of fashion
were introduced before steam opened up the facilities for constant
intercourse. We have a vivid remembrance of the old age of one of these
fashionable mantua-makers in New York. When the dress had changed as to
style, the dressmaker sold the doll to one of her customers, and "Miss Nancy
DAWSON" passed into the obscurity of humbler dollies who had never been sent
as ministers plenipotentiary from the court of fashion.
Let us hope that in time women will not be subservient to the dictates of
French modistes, but will select for themselves that which is healthful,
becoming, tasteful, and simple.
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