The funky world of hats!

By Savannah Sewell, Registrar

Today’s blog, as funky as it might seem, will delve into the fascinating (there’s a hat joke in there) world of hats! Hats, like any other bodily adornment, can be a socialized symbol of community inclusion, politics, fashion, or faith.  The Oshawa Museum has a variety of items within our archival and physical collections that detail fascinating moments throughout history with hats.

After a fire at Guy House in 2003, the library collection took a heavy hit, and people began donating books in order to replenish options for research. One of those books was Vintage Hats and Bonnets 1770-1970; Identification and Values by Susan Langley which I have used within this blog after finding and enjoying it as a fluke.

There are both physical and photographic representations of hats within the Oshawa Museum’s collection, and here are two examples of how hats can identify groups of people. Above we have a photo of four nurses on the steps of a building holding flowers and sporting a classic example of a nurses’ hat. Uniforms are a prime example of recognition of belonging within certain groups. Though our modern nurse’s uniforms don’t include a hat, it is still a recognizable symbol of healthcare in most of the Western world. Similarly, the firefighter’s helmet below is still a very prominent symbol of emergency services. This black style can also be seen today, or historically, in yellow, brown, red, or even orange.

Black fire fighter's helmet
73-D-394.2

Bonnets were the height of fashion for many decades, spanning from everyday wear to protect one’s hair or face from the dirt and sun of work, to a riding bonnet while riding on a wagon, to fashion bonnets. Those more dramatic and lavish styles, the fashion bonnets sometimes included complicated lace, florals, or feathers.

black bonnet lined with rose coloured silk
62-D-93.16

The Black hood bonnet shown above is lined with rose-coloured silk and would have been used somewhere between 1860-1890. The image below is from Vintage Hats and Bonnets 1770-1970; Identification and Values and shows two varieties of fashion bonnet from Godey’s Lady’s Book of February 1862. Figure 1 is a violet velvet bonnet trimmed with black velvet and lace and Figure 2 is a black velvet bonnet trimmed with Ponceau velvet and feathers.

Godey’s Lady’s Book, February 1862; image appeared in Vintage Hats and Bonnets 1770-1970; Identification and Values – page 84

Hats of this period did not only include bonnets but other more extravagant examples like the three worn by the lovely ladies in the photo. The photo below of unidentified women, from the archival collection, details a variety of chapeaus. They most closely compare to the stylish winter designs of the Les Modes Parisiennes “Christmas Visits” looks from Peterson’s Magazine, December 1889. Though there is no date on this photo, it can be presumed that the image was taken between 1860-1900 because of the style of dress and photography. Just imagine if our Christmas and holiday outfits included hats as lavish as these now!

The yellow, fabric rose covered pillbox hat you see below is a c. 1950s example of a very common look at the time. The pillbox, named after the pharmaceutical receptacle shape in the ’60s, was hugely popular within history, and the flat top, cylindrical hat was even seen within medieval bridal looks. Modernly, the most notable wearer of the pillbox hat was Former American First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. The Vintage Hats and Bonnets 1770-1970 describes the “Queen of Camelot’s” influence with the deep pillbox style hat and mentioned that through the 1960s, there were many influences to the style including East Indian embroidery and beading. Can’t you just imagine a pile of hairspray lacquered curls pinned under this beauty?

A006.18.20

Finally, let’s remember that fashionable hats span all genders, and though there might not be quite as much variety in men’s hats in our collection, we can certainly appreciate how they can elevate a look. Here are two gentlemen looking quite dashing in suits, coats, wonderfully crafted hats with corsages on their lapels.

AX994.192.46

More recently, hats have become a much more casual addition to fashion. Styles like baseball hats, snapbacks, toques, beanies, or caps can be seen in the park surrounding the Oshawa Museum daily, especially in the winter months. Can you imagine what Lakeview Park would have looked like, hat wise, through history?


Links to more hat information and history!

Hold onto Your Hats! https://www.historymuseum.ca/cmc/exhibitions/hist/hats/hat00eng.html

The Tip of the Hat to History
https://www.inthehills.ca/2016/03/tip-hat-history/

The National Hat Museum (USA) https://www.thehatmuseum.com

Citations Langley, Susan. Vintage Hats and Bonnets 1770-1970; Identification and Values. Paducah, KY: Collector Books, 1998.

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