Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Hatpins and Mashers

When fashion, personal protection, and polite society collided . . .

An Edwardian lady in full dress was a wonder to behold,
and her preparations for viewing were awesome.
- William Manchester

The Edwardian Era (1901 to 1910) covered the brief reign of Queen Victoria's son, King Edward VII. 

[The era was a] leisurely time when women wore picture hats and did not vote, when the rich were not ashamed to live conspicuously, and the sun really never set on the British flag. - Samuel Hynes

The correct position, one in which the balance of all parts of the body is perfectly preserved, is almost, but not quite, erect. It should incline very slightly forward, above the hips. The weight of the body should rest firmly upon the balls of the feet. The heels should be close together. The knees should also be close neighbors. The arms in standing should hang naturally at the sides with the elbows close to the sides. - Lina Cavalieri, My Secrets of Beauty, 1914

Edwardian society favored an S-shape feminine figure. Designing a silhouette based on a letter presented some construction issues. Specialty corsets created an impossibly tiny waist while pushing out the wearer's chest and lifting up her derrière. 

Portrait of Lady Georgiana Cavendish - 
by Thomas Gainsborough, 1787 

Immense hats, sometimes called Picture Hats or Gainsborough Hats, were thought to frame the wearer's face.  They further exaggerated the overall silhouette by cantilevering the millinery product over the heads of high society ladies. 

Who would think he’d be killed, by a little shock like that?
Why ‘twas nothing but the bill for my Merry Widow Hat.
A London costume designer started a phenomenon. Lily Elsie, the most photographed actress of her time, starred in The Merry Widow operetta. She appeared in an eminence black creation embellished with yards of chiffon and piles of feathers.

To speak frankly, I am not in favour of long engagements. They give people the opportunity of finding out each other's character before marriage, which I think is never advisable. - Oscar Wilde

Socialites clamored for Merry Widow Hats. When the operetta opened in New York City, the producers promised to give every female attendee a replica of the hat. The ensuing debacle was described in the paper as "The Battle of the Hats".

You can never be overdressed or overeducated. – Oscar Wilde

The enormous surface area presented an opportunity for embellishments and in that era if a surface 
could be embellished it jolly well was embellished.

An Italian family making artificial flowers in a Tenement room.

Demand for lace, silk flowers and other adornments made an impact on the market.

Louis Vuitton travel trunk

In the antithesis of a capsule wardrobe and practicality, Edwardians traveled with an abundance of luggage. Etiquette dictated a change in apparel throughout the day and manufacturing specialty hat boxes and cases also influenced the economy.

As hats required increased space to maneuver, popular magazines and cinema ridiculed the trend.

The public accommodation of the intrusive headwear started a discussion of regulation and next to flaunting excess, the turn of the century citizenship loved regulation.

Relations are simply a tedious pack of people, who haven’t got the remotest knowledge of how to live, nor the smallest instinct about when to die. - Oscar Wilde

Victorian women favored bonnets with ribbons ties but the new hats were attached with hatpins. 

 Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination. – Oscar Wilde

Gibson Girls wore their long hair in oversized pompadours and chignons. Hatpins were pushed through the crown and into the elaborate coiffures, anchoring the creation while preserving the completed waves and rolls.

Thirty-five is a very attractive age. London society is full of women of the very highest birth who have, of their own free choice, remained thirty-five for years.– Oscar Wilde

As Picture Hats grew in size, hatpins became longer, more elaborate, and increased in cost. Pins 18 inches or longer were required to secure some of the behemoths.

"Pin money" was saved during the year for January first and second.

British markets had difficulty meeting demand and pins were imported from other markets. Parliament, alarmed by the loss of revenue, restricted the sale of hatpins to the first two days of the year. 

Never speak disrespectfully of Society. Only people who can’t get into it do that. - Oscar Wilde
Oh, I love London society! It is entirely composed now of beautiful idiots and brilliant lunatics. Just what society should be. – Oscar Wilde

In addition to restricting sales, oversized hatpins became part of a larger controversy.

Lord Goring: Now I'm gonna give you some good advice.
Mrs. Cheveley: Pray don't. You should never give a woman something she can't wear in the evening
- Oscar Wilde

Socialites began to ignore convention. They interacted with people without formal introduction, they attended events in the company of young men, and they refused to comply with chaperones.

My dear fellow, the truth isn't quite the sort of thing one tells to a nice, sweet, refined girl. - Oscar Wilde

One concern over irresponsible and unladylike behavior was exposure to mashers. Mashers, young men who engaged in indecent behavior by approaching strange women, placed members of the fairer sex at risk for shenanigans and tomfoolery.

"Danger" postcard by Harrison Fisher

As reported in the paper, a young tourist from Kansas, while touring New York City, was approached by a masher. The masher took a seat next to her and inched his way into close proximity. When he attempted to put his arm around her, she stabbed him with her sizable hatpin. The masher yelped and retreated. When interviewed, she was defiant. "If New York women will tolerate mashing, Kansas girls will not."

England has done one thing; it has invented and established Public Opinion, which is an attempt to organize the ignorance of the community, and to elevate it to the dignity of physical force.
– Oscar Wilde

Other alarming stories stories of Hatpin Peril were reported:

A young lady playfully thrust her hatpin at her boyfriend and fatally pierced his heart.
A hundred female factory workers, attacked police officers with hatpins while they tried to arrest rabble rousers.
Police had to break up a hatpin fight between a woman and her husband’s mistress.
An English judge ordered all suffragettes to remove their hatpins while in court.

Really, if the lower orders don't set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them? - Oscar Wilde

The community leaders concluded that crowds of females, roaming about, without supervision AND evidently also armed were a menace.

I like men who have a future and women who have a past. - Oscar Wilde

In an attempt to maintain a polite society, laws were passed limiting the length of hatpins. Violators were arrested and fined.

The amount of women in London who flirt with their own husbands is perfectly scandalous. It looks so bad. It is simply washing one’s clean linen in public. - Oscar Wilde

By the onset of WWI, frippery was considered unpatriotic and hats were less ostentatious. With a move to more practical hair arrangements, the brim sat lower giving women the appearance of a girl playing dress up. Fashion evolved from demure Gibson Girl to plucky, Soldier's Girlfriend.

Carole Lombard wearing a cloche hat.

Hat brims were minimized and crowns deepen into the cloche cap of the roaring 20's. Hatpins were no longer relevant and the flappers found other methods of declaring independence and self protection. 

Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative. - Oscar Wilde
The one thing that the public dislike is novelty. - Oscar Wilde

One additional outcome from the the rise and demise of the Merry Widow Hat was the formation of the Audubon Society. Millinery trade caused the slaughter of thousands of birds. Exotic feathers were extremely valuable, and could cost three times their weight in gold. Eventually entire taxidermy birds were used as embellishments.

Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months. - Oscar Wilde

While the Audubon Society offered some protection for our feathered friends, the Edwardians happily continued to separate tortoise from shell, whale from baleen and elephant from ivory . . .

Advertisement for Tortoise shell goods.
Wm. K. Potter, Providence, R.I.

because trinket boxes, corsets, and elaborately carved umbrella handles aren't going to make themselves.



Unknown said...

fascinating! I missed this in history class, and seek out the history on my own, in small bits and pieces.

March Matron said...

Thanks Helen! Getting older, I forget about things and have to re-learn them. Lots of interesting stuff out there! Thanks for reading and commenting!