Friday, July 24, 2009

The Regency Milliner and Her Wares

As the heroine in my WIP owns a millinery shop, I have been researching Regency headgear. With hats and bonnets, caps and turbans, plus bandeaux and toques, every woman past maidenhood covered her head outside the home. Surprisingly there is little real examination of the topic out there. How wonderful it would be if someone, somewhere, turned up a definitive manual of the period by and for milliners. Then we could understand exactly what was in the mind of Regency hat-makers, and hat sellers.The term 'millinery' itself comes from the fact that in the 15th and 16th centuries many hats were made in Milan and so became known as 'Millayne bonnets'. London hat makers were called 'millianers', and from there it is a short leap to 'millinery'. Milliners in the Regency carried all kinds of fancy goods in their shops--any combination of gloves, laces, fans, shawls, scarves, combs, artificial flowers and myriad other pretty things. But chiefly they sold hats, made by 'journeyman' and apprentice hat-makers and decorated with an eye to the latest fashions.

There are plenty of pictures, and numerous cryptic descriptions of Regency hats such as: 'A scarlet velvet bonnet, with a white ostrich feather'; 'a straw hat turned up at the sides'; 'round beaver close cap, and feather in front, with gold chain-band round the crown'.

Abundant questions come to mind on reading the above descriptions. What style is the scarlet velvet bonnet? How wide is the turned up brim on the straw hat? What shape is the crown on that round close cap?

The comments devoted to hats in such journals as Ackermann's and The Lady's Monthly Museum are cursory at best:
- "Small morning or walking hats, trimmed with silk frivolity, are an entire new and very elegant article."
- "White muslin bonnet, and long veil of white lace, or muslin."
- "A hat of white satin, quilted all over to form diamonds..."

So many details are left undocumented by these descriptions, and the researcher is left wishing to do a closer examination of available records. The best a fiction author can do, it seems, is look at illustrations and use her imagination. How many details, after all, does the reader wish to know?

Some of the best articles I found on Regency headgear are:
-the Regency Fashion Pages by Catherine Decker, particularly the Headdress Pages
-Bonnets: High Style in the Regency by Austentation Regency Accessories
-Regency Headdress by Linore Rose Burkard

Have you found a good source of information on Regency headgear? Please let us all know!

All the best,


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