Edwardian hats turned heads, particularly when spring styles arrived. King Edward VII along with his wife Alexandra were trendsetters from 1901 to his death in 1910 and beyond to 1919. With a penchant for luxury and excess the fashion of the Edwardian Era often reflected Parisian haute couture, But thanks to advances in production brought by the Industrial Revolution, even the burgeoning middle class could afford these outrageously extravagant Edwardian hats.
The Sun Never Set On The British Empire
Edward was 59 when his mother Queen Victoria died in 1901, making him King Edward VII. A progressive thinker, he was determined to make the Crown move with the rapidly–changing times. He welcomed new social ideas, technologies and sports including cycling and golf. He was an avid traveler, willing to incorporate trends and ideas from other countries.
In his book Edwardian Ladies’ Hat Fashions: Where Did You Get That Hat? British cultural historian Peter Kimpton writes:
“…as we look back, we can see that his accession heralded an era of rapid social change, which somehow contrived to free up what had been a rigid and formal society under his mother’s stewardship.”
One of Edward’s personal passions was fashion.
“Fashion in particular, started to reflect this new-found freedom and creativity, certainly within the realm of ladies’ hats, which became increasingly bigger during the first ten years of the twentieth century.”
Fashion of the time reflected Edward’s extravagant tastes.
“…in the run-up to the First World War, hats, hats, and more hats, in a bewildering range of designs, in all shapes and sizes and assorted materials, were regarded as the last word – ‘le dernier cri’ by the ladies of the day.”
A New And Improved Silhouette Ruled
Along with the new King came a new look for women. The Victorian hourglass figure was out, making way for the Edwardian “S” curve. This meant a transition from the hard-wired Victorian corsets to a softer corset, albeit one that pushed the hips back and bust forward into a pigeon-esque mono-bosom.
According to the Vintage Fashion Guild, Edwardian hats complemented the S-shape.
“The hat was an essential element. It was worn on top of piled up hair and positioned to cantilever over the face. This curvaceous form was carried through the bodice that was pouched over the waist and ended in a trained skirt.”
The silhouette continued to evolve into a more slender look by 1908.
“Conversely the hat became increasingly larger. By 1911 hats were at their largest, often with the brim extending beyond the breadth of the wearer’s shoulders. To secure these huge creations to the head, hat pins – sometimes as long as 18 inches – were skewered through the hair and hat.”
The “New Woman” with her new look emerged into public places—either alone or in groups. This sometimes came with unwanted advances. Increasingly longer hatpins became the weapon of choice to keep an unruly man in his place along with a large hat.
The Los Angeles Herald wrote on November 22, 1908:
As long as women wear hats there will be millinery creations of the picture type, and no matter how fashions may change, these large, gracefully curved brim affairs will continue to reign without having to undergo any radical alterations. Crowns may be higher one season – and j brims may be wider another, but the general style of the picture head wear will survive through all these vagaries of fashion.
Edwardian hats were essential fashion items for all seasons, but made their biggest statements at Easter parades.
How The First World War Changed Hat Styles
Edwardian hats decreased in size during WWI and sat lower on the head. In general, they also became less ornate. Large plumes and ornate decoration was out of style.
“It was considered unpatriotic because it suggested that the wearer was more concerned with her own appearance than with the war effort.
By the end of the war and in honor of the soldier’s girlfriend (the era’s heroine) the fashionable ideal was for a youthful look. Hats slipped down the head, making the wearer appear as if she were dressing-up in her mother’s hat.” Vintage Fashion Guild,
A Word About Birds And The Plume Boom
Feathered Victorian and Edwardian hats were gorgeous creations thanks to the millions of birds slaughtered in the name of fashion. Feathers had been used in clothing for centuries, but the plume trade escalated from the 1870s through the early 1900s until the most popular species were hunted to the verge of extinction.
What had started in my mind as a fairly light-hearted offering about fashionable, frothy Edwardian ladies’ hats based on images from my collection, rapidly turned a very sinister corner. I soon discovered a very brutal and dark story behind all the glamour of the “Plume Boom’ as it is sometimes known…”
“…this was an episode in fashion history for which many unthinking, money-seeking individuals of the era, from the northern coasts of Britain to the Everglades of America and even further afield, should have hung their heads in shame. “
Thankfully, conservationists came to the rescue. Leading the flock were many prominent women in both Europe and America.
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