Friday, October 16, 2009

The Joy of Bonnets - A Primer

It can be reasonably assumed that many of the events members of the Great Basin Costume Society may attend in the Reno area will be set in the past, between 1850 and 1900. Many of these events will be outside, affording our ladies (and gentlemen too) to display various forms of headgear associated with the decades of the 19th century.

Pervasive among these is The Bonnet. The Bonnet came into vogue around the turn of the 19th c., and enjoyed various incarnations before dropping out of style in the 1870s. Women wore both summer bonnets of straw, and winter bonnets of felt, wool, velvet, any number of materials.

Summer bonnets were often decorated with lace, faux flowers, ribbons, even small fake birds. Winter bonnets could simply be straw forms that were covered in decorative fabric, but were more often built on a buckram base. They could be lined in fur, satin or silk, velvet, and decorated with ribbons, feathers, bows, more faux flowers, a myriad of possibilities.

Bonnets were worn out of doors, to protect the lady's face and hair from sun, snow, rain, fog, or lurid gentlemen. Bonnets were never worn as fashion accessories indoors, when hair ornaments, ribbons, feathers, and wraps were favored. This was as much a safety and social precaution as anything, as bonnets limited the peripheral vision of ladies, and could easily assault the faces of the poor gentlemen they were dancing with. Therefore, bonnets and other outdoor accessories, such as capelets, pellerines, and parasols, were left in the coatroom.

So now that you know when and when not to wear The Bonnet, where do you get one?

A) Order Online - has both basic felt forms (for winter) and straw forms (for summer), just waiting to be decorated to the tee. Prices are quite reasonable.

B) Take a Jaunt to Old Sacramento - where you will find Sacramento City Dry Goods, a lovely shop that carries all manner of Victorian dress, from shoes, to full ensembles, to bonnets. They have an online shop as well, and here you can see their bonnet and hat options.

C) Get Crafty - make your own bonnet using tutorials found online, and craft store goodies. Here is a tutorial on making a form from a cheap straw hat. Some commercial pattern companies offer bonnet patterns, such as this one from Butterick, and this one from McCalls

D) Commission A Custom Creation - have your bonnet made exactly to spec and to match your costume by commissioning from local costume specialists. Lauren Reeser is accepting costume commissions for all manner of dress, including accessories and hats - contact her at

Examples of custom made bonnets

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