22 September 2011

Isn't that a Jane Austen Bonnet?

Recent conversation with a family member regarding the black bonnet I purchased this past summer from At the Sign of the Golden Scissors...

My new bonnet.
"Your bonnet looks so...Jane Austen. Are you sure it's accurate?"

My response, "Yes."

"Really? It looks like something from a BBC Jane Austen series. Are you sure it's right for your era?"


I knew of two primary sources off the top of my head:

1) Remember that runaway impression I created earlier this summer? The January 1773 ad called for "a black bonnet." But there's no picture.

2) The other source is this example from Colonial Williamsburg's collections:

Woman's hat, black silk, 1770-1780
(Colonial Williamsburg accession number  1993-335)
Even though I've been told my black bonnet is accurate for Rev War, I figured this conversation was a sign that I needed to research bonnets--specifically prints with concrete dates that show ladies in undress. In doing some quick and non-comprehensive searching, I found...
...this print from the V&A. True to '80s fashion, she's wearing a poofy bonnet that's surely black silk.
The Flower Girl, London, December 9, 1784
(V&A accession number E.678-1959)
The Beautiful Fruit Gatherer, a print from antique dealer Grosvenor Prints
Dated c.1790, her bonnet is also very full. It looks like a lot of fun to wear, but she's a little overdressed for my research and a tad later than my era. 

What about something earlier? The Lewis Walpole Library has prints that better fit my era...

The Lover's Disguise (c.1776, call number 776.00.00.05) shows a fabulous black bonnet sitting on the table.
For something less formal, there's A Ladies Maid Purchasing a Leek (1772, call number 772.
Then there's The Pretty Mantua Maker (1772, call number 772. She's wearing a fab black bonnet trimmed with white ribbon that's similar to mine. C'est parfait!

My research here skims the surface of bonnets in 18th century prints but I think these examples help me confidently say, "No, it's not a Jane Austen bonnet."


Craving more bonnets? For more comprehensive bonnet research than I have offered, check out this link from 18th Century Notebook. There's also this bonnet blog post from Dames a la Mode, which shows a great collection of bonnets from 1797 fashion plates.

I also wanted to share a French bonnet print that I stumbled upon since it falls within my era...

French c.1775-1785
(V&A accession number E.1008-1959)
I couldn't imagine wearing it, but those are some fun poofs!


  1. Out of curiosity, have you seen bonnets from this period in colors other than black? I have a bonnet I actually made for a regency ensemble, but if I wore it on the top of my head, rather than the back, it would look very similar to these. So, can it do double duty? The one problem is it's a dark rust/red color. Would it work? :)

  2. Just watching Alan Carr on TV, now there's a fun poof! heheh

  3. Great post! It's good to see a variety of women in different classes wearing them.

  4. You might be interested in checking our John Styles _Dress of the People_ (2007). He discussed (and, apparently, a lot of other people have in the past) black silk bonnet consumption among working class women in England in the late eighteenth century (pg.8).

    Thanks for the lovely images!

  5. @Carly - good question about the Regency bonnet passing for 18th century. Knowing how fashion frequently changes with time I'm going to guess that they two eras probably have different bonnet construction. That being said, if you're not too worried about being hyper accurate then it's probably ok. It all depends upon your standards.

    @Nicole - I'll check out that chapter, thanks for the tip!

  6. What a LOVELY site! Now retired from re-enacting (from 1980 to about 2000) but poor health has made me almost unable to stand and walk,so can only organise dances and dinners for those active re-enactors in our area now. : ). At least I get to visit and "give" instructions on what we will do for our theme and so forth. I do so enjoy your work and your site. Makes me so happy! Anyway, A couple of friends on facebook, from up in NC and Tn pointed me to your site. : ) HUGS !! Nancy

  7. Nancy, Sorry to hear about your health...thank you for the kind words!


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