Fashion and shopping, Melbourne style

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Tuesday
May212019

Feathered Fantasies

Models at the Hippodrome de Longchamp, showing off scandalous new gowns showcasing the S-line (and their figures), and enormous hats of course, Paris 1908During the Edwardian period, the ideal image of womanhood was to look fragile and delicate, and the fashion was for the flattering S-line, with long luxurious hair piled high to show off slim necks. Enormous hats fantastically trimmed were the crown of these ensembles, designed to complement and set off the feminine silhouette.

The years of the Edwardian British period covers the short reign of King Edward VII, 1901 to 1910, although sometimes it includes the years up to WWI. At this time, hats were a crucial part of the dress code for people from all walks of life, young or old, rich or poor. There were different hats acceptable for each strata of society – but all wore hats, all the time. Women changed their hats with their outfits several times a day and would never step out tête-nue (with a bare head) – that was considered a huge social solecism. It was acceptable only for beggars to be hatless.

1909A lady and an assistant settle down to the pleasures of selecting and decorating a stylishly large hat from the befeathered and beribboned collection available at the Paquin couture house millinery rooms, 1909. From ‘The Golden Age of Style’ by Julian Robinson, Orbis Publishing 1976Milliners could and did go to town, extravagantly decorating these wide picture hats with silks and velvets, ribbons and artificial flowers, and after the death of Queen Victoria, bright colours becamse hugely fashionable. The most popular millinery trim of all were feathers, for throughout history, plumes on hats have been a sign of status and wealth. The rich of this time were no exception – some of the hats were insanely huge, even obscenely ostentatious.

Feathers of all kinds were fashioned by the 800 plumassiers in Paris that employed around 7000 people. Anything from little spiky trimmings to boas, tufts and sprays of feathers called aigrettes were cut, dyed and arranged from a wide variety of feathers: cockerel, pheasant, marabou, ostrich, ospreys, herons or birds of paradise. Sometimes even whole stuffed birds perched atop these monstrosities.

Bird of paradiseSuch decorations were extremely expensive; a hat trimmed with natural bird of paradise plumes could fetch a price of $100, a fortune in those days – that is over AU$4,400 or US$3,045 in today’s values. (For comparison I spotted a YSL black rabbit fur felt hat on Farfetch for over $3000 – it does have an elegant shape and details, for example tasselled ties, but that seems laughably overpriced for a comparatively unexciting hat made of inexpensive materials.)

The feathers of the Roseate spoonbill are so gorgeous they almost lead them to extinctionAnother bird that was hunted almost to extinction is the roseate spoonbill – in the late nineteenth century its feathers were literally worth more than gold – $32 per ounce, compared with $20 for gold. [al.com] Their almost total disappearance was one of the factors that lead to the formation of the Audobon Society, dedicated to conservation, eventually leading to the banning of the usage of feathers from endangered species.

Fashions at LongchampFashion from Paris – Les Modes February 1907c. 1912 Jane Renouardtc. 1900 The Bonita Hat – Huge oblong circle shape made of black plush with flamboyant turquoise lining that shows. It is trimmed with black and turquoise ostrich plumes. There is a turquoise and purple ribbon and velour 'grapes' on the ribbon. Originally sold on Ruby Lane.Three out of four hats featured feathers or whole birds, such was the popularity of plumage in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Today, feathers are still popular of course, but milliners have become more creative with the feathers from farmed ostriches, pheasants, ducks and cockerels.

During the militant phase of the Suffragettes and Blue Stockings around 1908, fashion began to simplify, and while hats were still de rigeur, they too fell in line with Reform fashions, for not even Suffragettes would cease wearing hats entirely – they were reluctant to outrage the establishment so utterly. Huge bows in sumptuous fabrics became more favoured for trimming, with the first cloches appearing in 1917, heralding the way for a vastly different style of hat in the 1920s.

Simpler hats of the latter Edwardian years, top right 1910, all others 1912Hat featuring a fabulously huge bow, Ladies Home Journal, 1910

Photos: Vintage images found on Pinterest; I have tried to include information and original links where available.

Additional reference: The Century of Hats, Susie Hopkins, Chartwell Books 1999

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