Holy Hat!

This week, the ladies who lunch gathered at the Conservatory Garden in Central Park for the 33rd annual “Hat Lunch,” a benefit  that supports the upkeep of the park.  Extravagant and sometimes eccentric hats provided the fun. The ladies provided the support: $3.5 million to help keep Central Park  beautiful. While the hats were extraordinary, I daresay few of them were as over the top as the hats fashionable women of the Edwardian era wore regularly. Here is Herb’s Great Aunt Nettie Wilson, the family’s  favorite daughter, decked out in a wonderful example. The photograph dates to around 1907. We still have the gold watch; the hat has not survived. Auntie's_Hat  Of course the hat was only part of a fashionable outfit. The dress typically sported a high stiff collar, a “puffed pigeon” chest, a tight waist, and a  jutting rear end. The skirt swept the floor. Edwardian winter fashions 1907 And then there was the Great World War, and the fashionable silhouette underwent a dramatic transformation. By the 1920s it had assumed a more sensible verticality and exposed the legs. Devotees of Downton Abby know the look well.  0k9k3hlje1owxf

The “S curve” corset”
Two pieces are better than one!
Two pieces are better than one!

Women tossed away the corset that had viciously cinched their waist, pushed their breasts up, and poked out their behinds in favor of two more friendly undergarments: the bra and the girdle. Some of the younger modern women, the ones who were skinny to begin with, even decided to forego the bra and the girdle and roll their stockings below the knee. And the hat that had threatened to take off in a high wind was replaced by the head-hugging cloche. Oh, what  relief it was!

7 thoughts on “Holy Hat!

  1. A relief, yes…But I’ve often wondered what it was like to REALLY dress in a particular era. As an actress I have probably come close to understanding. But what a relief it always is to take that corset off, or that hoop skirt, or that bustle and put my jeans on and walk home in my sneakers. I look at that picture of my great, great, Aunt and I just wonder. I wonder. What was it like to really wear that big hat! In real life?????


  2. How in the world did they manage to take care of those complicated wardrobes without modern conveniences? We have at least made progress in that regard. Congratulations to the Hat Ladies. I can’t think of a better cause.


    1. They did a lot of spot cleaning with what were probably toxic chemicals. Also dry cleaning. Auntie’s father actually owned a dry cleaning establishment. They used gasoline. A wonder they didn’t blow themselves up. Some probably did. As for washable clothes, there again, a lot of spot cleaning and washed by hand in big tubs of laundry. And I know they brushed the inside of their hems frequently. In other words, they spent a lot of time fiddling with and thinking about their clothes.


      1. To Mary:

        (Followed you here from your link on Ephemeral). My grandmother was a seamstress (beginning at age 14 as an apprentice c.1904) & then a custom dressmaker in Berlin (until WWII).

        When the clothing was floor length (inc. street clothes) the skirts (etc.) had a tiny strip of brush sewn round the bottom.

        Re. cleaning. People turned their clothing (lined jackets & coats that could not be washed etc.) inside out & hung it in the sun. The sun kills bacteria & hence any scent etc. They also lined many tailored things & changed the linings. Another thing they did for perspiration was sew these little pads under the armholes but inside the clothing to catch perspiration & then change them.They also used the sun to bleach things. Another way to bleach things was to boil them & keep boiling them. (For white underclothes & linens etc. that could take the heat).

        I hate the toxic chemicals used in drycleaning & also the way machines destroy clothes — so I still wash everything by hand & for tailored clothing that can’t be washed (coats etc.) I spot clean & air them. (& I am *ultra* careful/fastidious about *where* I lay things down when I take them off — especially outside of my own place). It is incredibly easy to wash things by hand. The new baby detergents w/ enzymes take out almost every stain except ink & rust. you don’t even have to agitate or scrub. For stains you just leave it alone for 3 hrs vs 1 hr. The only thing it cannot be used on is linen as the enzymes destroy linen fibers. (But not cotton or wool or synthetic).


      2. Thank you,Zoe! This is so interesting, the kind of information that is seldom recorded in diaries or letters, etc. Folks just take it for granted that this is the way things are done, and usually leave no record of it. So good of you to take the time to expand on this interesting subject of changing fashion!


  3. You’re welcome Mary!

    I forgot to explain: the long tiny strip of ‘brush’ sewn round hems — to keep them clean & from getting shredded & tattered — extended a bit beyond the hem to keep the hem from actually touching the ground (by millimeters). I’m not sure how many dressmakers did this. Perhaps only in high priced bespoke & couture shops (like the one my grandmother worked in before setting out on her own).

    Also besides still washing my clothes by hand (& I am only in my 50s — not 100s!) I also hang everything up (no dryers). Voila! No shrinking or pilling or getting stretched out of shape & the environment is happier. I worked in NYC for designers as a fine handwork seamstress & so love to look after my clothes — even if they are inexpensive from Target & Gap etc. There’s a ‘clothesline’ movement now to get rid of the laws forbidding hanging laundry outside (in cities & country). Since it’s so much better for the environment re. energy consumption & pollution (from energy sources). I’m in a little loft so hang things in the bathroom.


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