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. 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. 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.
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!