Since I had just recently made my first attempt at producing a Regency style hat, I thought it would be fun to do a post about hats and bonnet making. But fellow Austen Author C. Allyn Pierson sort of beat me to it. No, actually, she’s done a far more thorough job of it than I had ever intended. She’s even provided us with step-by-step instructions for how you can make your own. So I urge you to visit her post here on the Austen Authors’ site.
That being said, I still intend to share my own millinery efforts with you.
“Look here, I have bought this bonnet. I do not think it is very pretty; but I thought I might as well buy it as not. I shall pull it to pieces as soon as I get home, and see if I can make it up any better.” (Lydia Bennet, Pride and Prejudice)
I had been invited to a Jane Austen garden tea party given by Laurel Ann Nattress (proprietoress of the Austenprose blog), and clearly some kind of hat or bonnet was required. I had none. So, like Lydia, I bought a less-than-stunning hat with the idea of making something better of it. A trip to the craft store came next (always fun to have an excuse to prowl around Joanne’s for an hour or so), where I collected a basket full of silk flowers, ribbons, beads and feathers - more than I could possibly use.
At home, I set about my creative work, testing out different combinations and arrangements for the trimmings, and then securing things into place with thread and glue. I was quite pleased with the results and not a little disappointed that I didn’t win the prize for best bonnet at the tea! However, that was the only minor blight on an otherwise perfect afternoon.
As I went in search of an appropriate Jane Austen quote to use for this post, the one above came immediately to mind. But there were so many others – more in her letters to Cassandra than in her books - that I couldn’t limit myself to just one this time. Here’s a sampling with a few of my favorite hat-related phrases highlighted:
“I am glad I bought my bonnet, if it is only for the fun of having another bandbox! (Lydia, P&P)
Mrs. Elton, in all her apparatus of happiness, her large bonnet and her basket, was very ready to lead the way… (Emma)
“Do you know, I saw the prettiest hat you can imagine, in a shop window in Milsom Street just now – very like yours, only with coquelicot ribbons instead of green; I quite longed for it.” (Isabella Thorpe, Northanger Abbey)
“Ah, Mother! How do you do?…Where did you get that quiz of a hat? It makes you look like an old witch.” (John Thorpe, Northanger Abbey)
I bought some Japan ink likewise, and next week shall begin my operations on my hat, on which you know my principal hopes of happiness depend. (letter, 1798)
Flowers are very much worn, and fruit is still more the thing. Elizabeth has a bunch of strawberries, and I have seen grapes, cherries, plums, and apricots. There are likewise almonds, and raisins, French plums, and tamarinds at the grocers’, but I have never seen any of them in hats. (letter, 1799)
Elizabeth has given me a hat, and it is not only a pretty hat, but a pretty style of hat too. It is something like Eliza’s, only, instead of being all straw, half of it is narrow purple ribbon. I flatter myself, however, that you can understand very little of it from this description. Heaven for bid that I should ever offer such encouragement to explanations as to give a clear one on any occasion myself! (letter, 1799)
My mother has ordered a new bonnet, and so have I; both white strip, trimmed with white ribbon. I find my straw bonnet looking very much like other people’s, and quite as smart. Bonnets of cambric muslin on the plan of Lady Bridges’ are a good deal worn, and some of them are very pretty; but I shall defer one of that sort till your arrival. (letter, 1801)
We met not a creature at Mrs. Lillingstone’s and yet were not so very stupid, as I expected, which I attribute to my wearing my new bonnet and being in good looks. (letter, 1801)
[Mary's] approbation of her child’s hat makes me very happy. Mrs. J. A. bought one at Gayleard’s for Caroline, of the same shape, but brown and with a feather. (letter, 1808)
Miss Burton has made me a very pretty little bonnet, and now nothing can satisfy me but I must have a straw hat, of the riding-hat shape, like Mrs. Tilson’s; and a young woman in this neighbourhood is actually making me one. I am really very shocking, but it will not be dear at a Guinea. (letter, 1811)
As you see, Jane Austen was not so cerebral that she was immune to the allure of fashion. Hmmm. Immune to the allure of fashion. Those words sounded so familiar when I typed them just now. Oh, that’s right. This was not a new thought… or even my thought. It belongs to Josephine Walker, heroine of my second novel For Myself Alone. I’ll leave you with a quote from her. Does she speak for you as well?
“Although I daresay I am far less consumed with style and finery than most young ladies, I am not completely immune to their allure. Just as any other female, be she eighteen or eighty, I would rather be smartly dressed than not.”