of Congress, LC-USZ62-61248
"The entire bird is used, and is mounted on
wires and springs that permit the head and wings to be moved
about in the most natural manner."
Harper's Bazaar, 1875
of the most debated accessories used in women's fashions was the use
of birds and bird feathers as a fashion ornament. During the last
quarter of the 19th century, feather decoration for hats, fans, and
boas was at its peak.
Women's hats were
decorated with wings, breasts and whole birds.
Harper's Bazaar, in 1875 the merle, or blackbird,
was a favorite, and especially the merle bronzé, a Brazilian
blackbird, which was not black, but had blue and bronze shades on
its wings and back.
The entire bird was used, and was mounted on
wires and springs that permitted the head and wings to be moved
a bird-like manner.
The homely gray swallow was also stuffed and used for
in addition heads of spotted pigeons with their staring eyes; and
long mounted pieces
from the breasts of pigeons, pheasants, and peacocks
were found atop a lady's hat. One would also see cocks' plumes of
the deepest green shades mounted in thick ruches, long clustered
plumes, and in bandeaux that passed around the crown and hung on
each side behind.
Arrangements of ostrich feathers projected outward from the hat and
upward on the crown; left to curl without being tacked in the
Many saw this fashion
craze as cruel; nevertheless,
there was no question
plume trading became a very lucrative business. To satisfy the enormous
world-wide demand for feathers, ostrich farms became an overnight
industry. Herons feathers were also a favored plume for millinery
trimmings. In 1902, the auctions at the London Commercial Sales Room
sold 1,608 packages of herons' plumes weighing about 30 ounces each.
Four herons were needed to make one ounce of plumes; therefore, the
sales from this one source alone required 192,960 herons killed.
In 1886, an ornithologist from the American
Museum of Natural History, Frank Chapman, wrote a letter to the
editors of Forest and Stream: A Journal of Outdoor Life, Travel,
Nature Study, Shooting. He brought to their attention a list of
native birds seen on hats worn by ladies in the streets of New York.
Editor Forest and
In view of the fact
that the destruction of birds for millinery purposes is at
present attracting general attention, the appended list of
native birds seen on hats worn by ladies in the streets of
New York, may be of interest. It is chiefly the result of
two late afternoon walks through the uptown shopping
districts, and, while very incomplete, still gives an idea
of the species destroyed and the relative numbers of each.
Brown thrush, one.
Blackburnion warbler, one.
Blackpoll warbler, three.
Wilson's black-capped flycatcher, three.
Scarlet tanager, three.
White-bellied swallow, one.
Bohemian waxwing, one.
Great northern shrike, one.
Pine grosbeak, one.
Snow bunting, fifteen.
Tree sparrow, two.
White-throated sparrow, one.
Meadow lurk, two.
Baltimore oriole, nine.
Purple grackle, five.
Swallow-tailed flycatcher, one.
Pileated woodpecker, one.
Red-headed woodpecker, two.
Golden-winged woodpecker, twenty-one.
Acadian owl, one.
Carolina dove, one.
Pinnated grouse, one.
Ruffed grouse, two.
Helmet quail, two.
Big yellowlegs, one.
Green heron, one.
Virginia rail one.
Laughing gull, one.
Common tern, twenty-one.
Black tern. one.
It is evident that, in
proportion to the number of hats seen, the list of birds
given is very small; but in most cases mutilation rendered
identification impossible. Thus, while one afternoon 700
hats were counted and on them but 20 birds recognized, 543
were decorated (?) with feathers of some kind. Of the 158
remaining, 72 were worn by young or middle aged ladies and
86 by ladies in mourning or elderly ladies, or—
Percentage of hats
Without feathers, worn by ladies in mourning or elderly
Ehrlic. Paul R. Dobkin. David S. Wheye. Darryl.
"Plume Trade." 1988. Stanford University
Civil War Era Hats: Civil War hats and bonnets from an 1864 issue of
Godey's Lady's Book.
Fall Bonnets, 1867: Illustrations of the
popular style of bonnets in Harper's Bazar premiere
issue in Nov. 1867.