Rare ca.1904 Edwardian Hat with Weeping French Plume & Huge Brim Authentic!

Photographs & text copyright 2011 by J. Henri.

Practically out of an Art Nouveau, John Singer Sargent painting....

This grand...rare...straw hat is absolutely striking and an exceptional item for the discerning collector.

Indeed, please read on about the exceptional details regarding this elaborate hat! You will quickly begin to appreciate just how unique it is to find such a glamorous millinery Art Nouveau example...and one so nicely intact, and entirely unaltered, after nearly 110 years.

First of all, it should be mentioned that upturned brims on enormous hats were considered the desirable fashion in 1904...later in the decade, it was important to have a down-turned brim! This simple fact helps to date this hat to ca. 1904....

Art Nouveau.....a time of magnificent design and glamour. This was the era of The Gibson Girl...and the color black was now considered one of elegance for both day as well as night, and no, not simply for mourning.

In ca. 1904, glamorous, beaded, black sumptuous gowns were favored for evening wear. Although slightly smaller hats were worn for the more informal day looks, evening outings were made to show off magnificent hats...hats that continued to grow in proportion, especially during the years soon to follow.


This hat is from summer ca. 1904...this was the year that Rolls Royce had introduced their first car...and yes, well-to-do people actually drove to the World's Fair that year, located in St. Louis. The wealthy often drove their automobiles, passing gleaming horse drawn carriages along the way. At the Fair, women walked the fair grounds in skirts that brushed the ground, and they looked striking with perfectly styled hair, fashionably pulled up and knotted chignon style atop their heads.

This hat was originally designed for just that Look...this hat was created to boldly accentuate a beautiful woman's face, with her elegant waist length long hair, perfectly twisted, rolled and coiffed beneath it. This wonderful hat is made and sized to sit on exactly that particular style of hair...and again, this point alone makes this hat all the more unusual to find.

In ca. 1904, the bigger the brim, the better. Huge brims were fashionable...and during this year, the widest brims were the considered the most exclusive hats, and they were trimmed with even larger sized ostrich plumes.

At the widest point, this magnificent Art Nouveau hat has a brim that measures slightly over 17 inches or nearly 44 cm in width. Simply incredible!

Furthermore, another rare point to consider with this hat is that it is made from relatively wide, woven straw. It was designed to be a summer hat and typically would have been worn for late afternoon or evening wear.

Another point of interest, is that this hat has been polished with hat polish...and to find one such as this in such fabulous condition, obviously polished, is quite exciting to collectors and curators alike.

The ostrich plume is original to the hat...and what a glorious example this is! It is in exceptionally fine antique mint condition...with a length that makes this hat appear even larger!

The plume measures over 22 inches or 56 cm and again...it is unusual to find one in such great condition that is original to the hat. This extraordinary, massive feather has extensions on it...yet another rarity seen on hats from this era.

Plume extensions. Yes. Literally, the individual barbules on ostrich plumes were extended, much the same as hair extensions are done today. Extensions created plumes that were far longer, fuller and richer than a natural feather...and indeed, these were extended by hand-threading human hair around the individual barbules in order to connect a second strand to the first. It is extremely rare to find an extended plume in such lovely condition, and again, that is entirely original to the hat.

In addition to the massive, extended ostrich plume, this huge straw hat is trimmed with a wide, silk velvet bow and hand-beaded trim.

The interior is intact and also quite unusual in design. Unlike most hats from this era, there is actually a skullcap covered with velvet on the exterior side. This stiff skullcap adds structural integrity to the overall design because of the exceptionally large brim and crown requires this, and especially since it is made from straw. The interior silk drawstring lining is beautiful and antique mint condition, entirely intact. The drawstring, of course, used to adjust sizing when required.

Ironically, for such a massive crown...please refer to the photographs...the interior skullcap (made to fit over chignon styled hair in the true Gibson Girl fashion) has very small measurements based on the size of the hairstyle, and not that of the head! The interior measurements for this hat are simply rare and fascinating as well...with a massive brim, this hat's interior only measures 16.5 inches or 42 cm!!!!

The skullcap allows the hat to be worn at a very slight, sassy tilt to the front of the head or to the side and offers a secure place in which to put a hatpin. The hat was indeed worn this way, and very carefully so as the lady would have carried herself with substantial poise...not only out of necessity due to social etiquette, but also by necessity from the armor-like corset that cinched her waist...and beautifully so (if not a painfully). Upon the very closest inspection, you will see where she precisely placed her lovely hatpin as there are small hat pin holes on the interior of the lining.

The crown is not perfectly centered in the middle of the hat, but is actually off center; a design device from the Art Nouveau period that accentuates and enhances the wearer's eyes. This dramatic asymmetry adds an extra push to the illusion of grand size, and allows for the brim to swoop over the face. The result is a fashionable look of elegant refinement as well as sensuality.

This hat is an utterly outstanding example of Art Nouveau hats from the ca.1904 fashion timeline. It is entirely authentic and in antique excellent to near mint overall condition. The hat is, yes please, quite fragile because it is over a century in age and because it is made from straw...and there are a few small areas where the straw is beginning to split.... This is not apparent when the hat is displayed, however it is a consideration if one wishes to attempt to wear it. The most fragile area, where the break has happened (but none of the straw is missing) is just beneath the plume.

Important! Please! It is recommended that also due to the rarity of this hat, that is not be worn. The straw is brittle...as one might expect for such a wide weave and for a hat that is nearly 110 years old.

Again, although the hat may be carefully tried on...and yes, everyone will be tempted...this hat is not strong enough for normal wear such as for an special event such as a fundraiser, or for anyone involved with recreating the early 1900s Gibson Girl costume.... This hat is in fabulous condition, but no, it will not survive rough handling or even gentle wear for any length of time. It is such a rare treat to find it as it is today...and one can only hope that it will be around for another 100 years!

To continue to further describe the condition of this hat....

The edge of the brim is slightly chipped. This is another fascinating issue! Obviously, this hat was gently worn in ca. 1904...and interestingly enough...delightfully so, in fact...the chipping on the edge of the hat was indeed not from age or storage over time, but from being worn and yes, the damage occurred when the hat was actually worn by the original owner!

This probably happened when this lovely and stylish woman wore this straw hat, and likely bumped its exceptionally wide brim against a wall, a door frame, or a carriage door when she entered. Perhaps she was so thrilled with her first ride in the that new fangled automobile, that she bumped the edge of this huge straw hat a few times against the steel frame as they bounced along down the dirt road filled with carriage ruts!

Certainly, these scenarios were typical of what happened to these very wide brimmed hats!

In fact, many cartoons were drawn and published in newspapers and magazines about the outlandishly wide brims...with the most common jokes told with complaints that the men could not find their women because they were so well hidden beneath their enormous hats!

The reason why it is obvious that the chips on the edges of this hat were due to these reasons, and why this damage is nearly 110 years old...well, the answer to this is because the woman who owned this hat had it polished black following the mishaps...the black polish covered the chips and scratches!

If you are interested in seeing what Gibson Girl era hat polish looks like, please refer to The Gilded Griffin's gallery of recent sales and there you will find hat polish, as well as the instructions on how to polish the hat so that these chips were not evident. This hat is indeed polished...yes, those chips along the edge were touched up nearly 110 years ago!

Finally, to mention, is that the wide, luscious silk velvet band is rubbed in places, with tiny and almost insignificant areas of bruised nap. The hatband is still strong, however, and original to the hat.

The front is trimmed with an elaborate Art Nouveau styled black beaded motif that loosely resembles foliage and flower petals.

This beaded trim is in fabulous condition. The glistening beads appear to be intact and none appear to be missing, upon close inspection. The black dyed cotton thread used to string the beads has faded with time, so that it appears almost a dark sepia color.

Unfortunately, there is no label or milliner's mark of any kind. The entire hat is hand-made and the hand stitches are evident. Obviously, this was a most glamorous and expensive hat in its day.

An exciting find, this hat is a rare and unique millinery jewel from the glorious Art Nouveau era of fashion history.

**This beautiful hat is in antique excellent condition to near mint condition considering age (nearly 110 years old) and appears to have been gently worn. It is absolutely clean within the interior. There are no make-up smudges. There are neither stains nor unpleasant storage odors. The interior lining is intact, strong and pristine. There are no moth nips or any other damage. This hat comes from a professional collection, in a strictly non-smoking environment.

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Item ID: ARTPLUME053012

Gender: Female, Age Group: Adult, Color: Black on Black, Size: Please read description for detailed sizing information. Questions? Please ask!

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The Gilded Griffin

Julia Henri, Ann Arbor, MI   

Antique & Vintage Collectible Fashions In Outstanding Condition. . . Researched for Authenticity

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