Trove Tuesday – The Bird Hat

While considering a blog post for Trove Tuesday, I thought perhaps I would search for images relating to Victorian era fashion (a favourite topic of mine). I picked a year (1887), searched using the word ‘ladies’ and refined my results so that only the pages with illustrations would be listed. The below image was at the top of the list and after looking at the image my first thought was, “Why are there cats on their hats?”

cats-dogs

I then read the caption and quickly realised that the cartoon related to the terrible trend in which whole birds were placed on ladies’ hats, all in the name of fashion. While I am unsure if the newspaper was in earnest with respect to the use of cats or was actually writing tongue-in-cheek, it nevertheless sparked my curiosity with respect to the use of birds on hats and I turned my attention towards searching for historical images.

The fashion trend began in the 1880s and consisted of the use of various parts of birds (feathers, beaks, wings, or the whole bird) mounted on hats. Such was the demand throughout the Victorian era (and into the early 21st century) that concerns soon arose that the continuous killing of the birds could result in the extinction of various species. Conservation movements began which eventually resulted in the creation of legislation to protect birds from being killed.

Of course Australia was no exception and exploring the illustrations in the historical newspapers on Trove shows the many ways in which birds were used in millinery fashion.

carriage-hat
Carriage Hat (1889) – “A bird with spread wings describes aigrettes, and a long ostrich feather encircles the low crown, and falls at the back.”
felt-hat
Felt Hat (1884) – “The trimmings are brown velvet and a bird’s head.”
black-velvet-hat
Black Velvet Hat (1888) – “On the horse shoe crown is a brilliant bird; and above is a cluster of chaudron feathers.”
wings
Pearl Grey Hat, with Black and White Ribbon (1895) – “…handsomely trimmed with black and white pleated ribbon carried round the crown, and wings and osprey.”
hummingbird
A Stylish Straw Hat (1886) – “…lined with brown velvet, the crown being draped with gold and brown gauze; aigrette and hummingbird, with gilt crescents.”
french-hat
French Hat (1885) – “…trimmed with wide braid in two shades of brown, and with a large fantaisie of white feathers and a hazel hen’s head.”
gulls
Felt Hat (1886) – “…two pale-gray seagulls mounted in front of a torsade of velvet. Their beaks rest on the turned-up brim.”

While I am grateful that birds are no longer used as fashion ornaments, it’s important to note that, even today, we are not completely blameless. According to BirdLife, many birds are still under threat from a variety of different issues such as destruction of habitat, climate change or feral animals. We may have come a long way from our Victorian era counterparts and their disturbing millinery trend, but all of us still must do better to protect birds and their environment. For more information on Australian Birds, please visit BirdLife: http://www.birdlife.org.au/

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