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antique hat

Antique Bonnets at Old Sturbridge Village


 
Trimmed with frills, feathers, flowers, and ribbons, wide-brimmed bonnets were a must-have fashion accessory for women in the 1830s, even in rural towns like Sturbridge. Bonnets were usually made by professional milliners. Countryside women learned of the latest styles through local milliners who brought back the newest styles from Boston and New York, as well as from fashion plates in ladies' magazines.
 
 
 
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Rare Antique Hats on Display

 
 
 
Reproduction Bonnet.
[Photo courtesy of Old Sturbridge Village]

Although Easter was not widely celebrated in early New England, fancy bonnets for women were still the height of fashion. This Easter season, Old Sturbridge Village will exhibit a number of its rare, antique bonnets dating back to the 1830s, as well as many of its reproduction bonnets worn today by Village historians in costume. Due to the fragility of the bonnet fabrics, the exhibit will be on view for a limited time -- from March 24 to April 11, 2010. OSV costumed historians will hold bonnet-making demonstrations during Easter weekend, April 3-4, and a special Easter brunch will be served in the Oliver Wight Tavern on Easter Sunday, April 4. For time and details: 1-800-733-1830; www.osv.org.

 
Antique Hat
Silk bonnet circa 1830s.
[Photo courtesy of Old Sturbridge Village]
Trimmed with frills, feathers, flowers, and ribbons, wide-brimmed bonnets were a "must-have" fashion accessory for women in the 1830s, even in rural towns like Sturbridge. Bonnets were usually made by milliners, women who were trained to make bonnets professionally. Women in the countryside learned of the latest fashion in bonnets through local milliners, who brought back the newest styles from Boston and New York, as well as fashion plates in ladies' magazines.
 
Bonnet making
Bonnet-making at Old Sturbridge Village.
[Photo courtesy of Old Sturbridge Village]
 
Antique Hat
1835 buckram bonnet purchased at Mrs. Hinkley Milliners, Main St. Hartford, Connecticut. [Photo courtesy of Old Sturbridge Village]

 

A tan silk bonnet in the Old Sturbridge Village exhibit was purchased in 1835 from a milliner, Mrs. P. Hinkley, whose Hartford, Connecticut, shop was located "12 rods south of the Episcopal Church," in 1825, and later listed at 87 Main St. in 1828, and at 240 Main St. in 1838, according to Hartford city directories.

 
Antique Hat
Straw bonnet, horsehair trim, silk ribbon, c1800-40 [Photo courtesy of Old Sturbridge Village]
Although many of the basic bonnet hat shapes stayed in vogue for a decade or more, women changed the trimmings nearly every season, adding new linings, ribbons, and flowers to their old bonnet frames. The wide bonnet brims protected a woman's face from the sun, and in the days before make-up, soft pink linings were sometimes used to add a reflective glow to the wearer’s complexion.
 
Antique Hat
Straw bonnet, silk pleated lining, circa 1830.
[Photo courtesy of Old Sturbridge Village]
While straw bonnets were imported from Italy in large numbers, New England women and girls mastered straw braiding themselves and became so adept that Old Sturbridge Village historians say it is often impossible to distinguish between a New England-made straw hat and one imported from Europe. Rye straw grown on local farms was split into thin strips using a straw splitter, and then braided. The lengths of braided straw were made into hats and bonnets by hat manufacturers.
 
Ribbons for bonnet trims
Ribbons for bonnet trims.
[Photo courtesy of Old Sturbridge Village]

In addition to Italian imports, bonnet styles from New York apparently set the tone, as Old Sturbridge Village historians discovered in this piece of advice on bonnets from the inventor of the telegraph, Samuel F.B. Morse, to his new bride, Lucretia Walker Morse:

"I have talked with Aunt Bartlett about getting you a bonnet. She says that it is no time to get a fashionable winter bonnet in Boston now & that it would be much better to get it in New York as the Bostonians get their fashions from New York. . . She thinks if you cannot wait for the new fashion that your black plumes would be as tasty & fashionable as any you could procure."

 
Hat form
Hat form for molding bonnets.
[Photo courtesy of Old Sturbridge Village]

 

"The intricate workmanship in these bonnets is quite impressive, and it's even more impressive that they have survived nearly 200 years," notes Jean Contino, coordinator of households and women's crafts at Old Sturbridge Village. "It's been many years since they have been displayed, and we're delighted to share them with the public again."

Old Sturbridge Village celebrates New England life in the 1830s and is open year round, (hours vary seasonally). Winter hours are Wednesday – Sunday 9:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Beginning April 3, the museum will be open seven days a week from 9:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Admission: $20; seniors $18; children 3-17, $7; children under 3, free. Free parking; free return visit within 10 days. For all details: www.osv.org; 1-800-SEE-1830.
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