Hats and other forms of headwear have been part of the human experience from the dawn of humankind. Worn initially for protection, hats evolved into fashion accessories which denoted nationality, social class, and marital status. Men and Women indulged in headwear that was sometimes frivolous and “over-the-top” (excuse the pun!) to conservative or pious depending on the whims of fashion and mores of any given time period. As with all other areas in fashion children’s wear reflected what was happening in adult fashion, sometimes customized for specific stages of childhood development. The doll collector of today can use original headwear to help identify a doll’s specific period or origin.
17th and 18th century children generally wore miniature versions of adult clothing. One exception to this was the “pudding ” cap worn by young children. These padded caps offered some protection to the heads of children who were not yet steady on their feet. Mechanical dolls made in the 19th century by Theroude can sometimes be found wearing this sort of headwear.
By the 19th century we see dolls mirroring the changing whims of fashion. Headwear is distinctively different, as was costume in general, depending on the time of day and social activity being engaged in. Morning caps were for use during breakfasting or private time at home before one’s hair was suitably coiffed for the day. Hats of various style were worn with walking suits or visiting costumes, lighter headwear of ribbons, flowers, feathers, and jewels were the choice for evening wear. 19th century publications such as the The Ladies’ Monthly Museum and Godey’s Ladies Book advised women of the latest trends in millinery fashion and the proper use of each new style.
Headwear on a doll could also indicate social status. 19th century women of the Moravian church wore caps trimmed in colors which denoted their place in society. Widow’s caps were trimmed with white, married women wore blue trim, pink trim appeared on the caps of single ladies, and cherry was reserved for girls not yet of marriageable age.
Moving through the 19th century dolls present a record of hat styles for each decade. China and papier-mâché dolls, which were often costumed at home preserve the day to day styles of working- and middle-class society. French Poupées and Bébés echoed every nuance of the human world of high fashion.
By the end of the 19th century doll making firms such as Hertwig & Co. of Germany were producing affordable bonnet-head dolls for the masses. These dolls again, are an excellent resource for today’s doll costumer looking to emulate that period.
As previously mentioned, headwear can also indicate national affiliations. Regional costumes from around the world usually include specific headwear styles that identify the wearer. In the era of the world-wide adoption of the Tee-shirt and jeans, details such as the hats of traditional regional costumes are often best preserved on the dolls that wear them.
Moving into the 20th century hats continue to be an interesting sub-collection area in doll collecting to be enjoyed, studied and displayed. Perhaps your dolls are ready for a stroll down 5th avenue in their finest chapeaus!