One of the things I love in late Victorian fashion are the
lovely, stylish (and occasionally outrageous) hats. I have
played a bit with hats in 18th century, but I am in no way good
with them. Nevertheless, as one is not properly dressed without
a hat I wanted to try my best and maybe learn a bit along the
My new 1870's polonaise dress
urgently needed one, preferably something light colored, cute,
suitable for spring and summer wear and with flowers and
these fashion illustrations from 1877 as my main inspiration.
Both have the brim turned up on one side, revealing flowers
underneath. It's a charming, coquettish look that I felt would
go well with the frilly dress.
Revue de la Mode, 1877
Journal des Demoiselles,
Many hats of the era
were made from straw, and as the color is just right for a
light blue dress that was a natural material choice.
Unfortunately most of the cheap straw hats
you can buy nowadays are made from wide plaits of rather coarse
straw, much heavier than was used in the delicate period hats
(or at least the high-end ones). This is, of course, a recurring
problem with most modern materials. Anyway, I decided to use one
of those from my stash.
I took apart most of the hat and
reassembled it into a smaller hat with a rather low, slightly
conical crown. Figuring out the right proportions for a hat has
always been difficult for me until I can really try it on,
especially if its meant to be worn with a high or puffy hairdo.
I sewed the straw plaits by hand this time, because machine
tends to break straw. The joins are not terribly neat because
the straw is so wide, but they can be mostly disguised under
I first tried to steam and iron the brim to
turn up on one side but it didn't really want to take a lasting
form. My plan b was then to turn to metal wire.
Many period hats have the underside of the brim lined with
fabric, and I thought this would be very convenient for hiding
both the wire, my less than elegant stitches and the messy ends
of the straw plaits. So, when I dyed the bows for the dress I
threw in a piece of the same silk for the lining.
The final color ended up being darker
than I had planned, so the hat too had more contrast than the
pastel-toned look I had envisioned. I guess I could have used
white silk instead, but as I wanted it to match the dress I went
with the darker blue.
I have never really
studied period hats up close in any detail, so the
constructions methods are mostly a mystery for me, so I just
improvised on what seemed to work for the purpose. First I
sewed a narrow bias tape into a channel for the wire mentioned
above and joined the ends to match the brim edge.
I had cut the lining piece in bias and joined it to a a bit
shorter length than the brim circumference. I pinned it on the
wire casing by quarters, stretched it to fit and sewed it on the
Next step was to pin the combined wire
casing and lining on the underside of the brim so that the
lining turned on the top side and the wire settled just over the
edge. The wire works like piping here. The bias cut lining
settled quite smoothly.
I fastened the wire casing on the brim edge
by whip stitching just next to the wire so that the slanted
stitches disappeared between the straws. While working I turned
the lining away from the place I was sewing on.
The final result was quite neat and felt
sturdy, and the wire really keeps the brim in shape. When I had
finished attaching the wire casing I turned the lining on the
underside, gathered the other edge and whip stitched it on the
inside of the crown. As I had a bit of the material left, I also
lined the top of the crown.
I curled three white ostrich feathers and
fixed them on the back side of the crown. One was supposed to
curl on one side and the two others over the crown, but in
reality they have a life of their own and end up where they want
to, especially if there is even the slightest wind.
I had originally
planned the polonaise to have two larger bows at the back, but
ended up using only one, so conveniently I had an extra hemmed
tape of silk for the hat. I wrapped it around the crown,
securing it with stitches here and there, and made a large
double bow from the ends at the back to cover the feather
On the front I added a small decorative hatpin and with tiny
flowers. The finished hat
is fixed on the hair with a larger pearl-tipped hatpin, and the
rat I used at the top of my head to give height to my hair makes
it especially easy and secure.
When making the ball
gown I had developed a newly-found enthusiasm for making
fabric flowers, so my original plan was of course make the
flowers myself for this too. However I happened to come across
some very cute tiny paper roses in perfect shades of pale blue
and buttercup yellow, so I used them instead. From my stash I
also found tiny paper flowers in darker blue to add some
I had made tons of leaves for the ballgown flower wreaths, and
still had some left over. I assembled the flowers and leaves on
into some kind of bouquet which I fixed on the inside of the
Like I mentioned earlier, figuring out the shape and the
proportions of headwear while constructing it is usually a bit
difficult for me. Placing the decoration is not really my strong
point either, as I seem to be instinctively drawn to symmetry
which just does not work where well-balanced asymmetry is the
So, the hat did not turn out quite as
spectacular as I had visioned, and the most stupid thing is that
I can't even really point out why exactly, something is just a
bit off. Also, the coloring turned out to be stronger that I had
planned, and something in the contrast between the mid-blue and
the straw-color is slightly jarring here. Anyway, having even a
not totally perfect hat that goes with the dress is much better
than going bareheaded, and it blends in with the rest of the
outfit very well.