Saturday, April 04, 2009

Women's costume France 1795 - caps and hats

Here we are talking about the headwear of middleclass and working class women in 1794. Women's hats and caps.

(With any of these images, click on the images for a closer look. )

In the C20, adult women started going bareheaded. Before that, in Western Europe, women wore some type of head covering virtually all the time, inside the house and out -- shawls, caps and hats.
In 1794, inside, most grown women would have worn a cap. Outside, they would have worn a hat or a hat over a cap. It's hard to add this costume reality to a Historical Romance without the reader finding it strange.


Caps for our middleclass and working class woman could mean either a simple mob cap or a fancier lace cap. Even a relatively poor woman might wear a fancy lacy cap as an indulgence.

A mob-cap was a circle of cotton or linen, gathered up and held on the head with a band or ribbon. A deep ruffle ran around it, framing the face and neck.

Our famous tricoteuses are wearing mobcaps. In the period it was sometimes called the 'Charlotte Corday'.

In 1794, in Paris, a cap like this would have been ornamented with the tricolored cockade or rosette. It wasn't quite a law that women had to wear the cockade. (It was the law for men.) Women just found it a good idea.

To the left here, see a tricoteuse in a simple linen cap.

Here, we got a 1790 cap. It's English, but it's a good workingclass cap, and all these designs are very similar. See how fancy it is.
A mob cap was the simplest of caps. It was essentially unchanged for a century before 1794 and close to a century afterwards.
In France the mobcap's design would have conformed to Revolutionary ideas of simplicity and modesty. It'd be 'politically correct' in 1794.
Another simple cap -- if you zip down to the next post, the one on aprons, you'll see a Greuze portrait of a little girl asleep, wearing a simple cap of this type.

Where did women wear caps?
Inside and out.

Here's an early C18 example of women inside the house, wearing simple caps. The wealthy women at the card game wear a couple similar caps. The maid who's serving them coffee has the same cap on, basically. Hers may be a little simpler.

This Boilly painting is 1803. We got our upscale people in Paris. Mom -- see her there -- is wearing a sort of turban type cap.

Where I'm going with this picture ....

In the English upper middle class and gentry, there seems to have been something of an age distinction in the wearing of caps.
Young ladies might wear their hair uncovered, gathered in a simple fillette or band. Mature women and married women wore caps. One of the Regency Romance staples is a spinster deciding it's time to start wearing 'caps' indoors.

Did this ' young marriagable' versus 'spinster' age distinction hold true in France? The Boilly portrait would seem to indicate it might.

Women, as I said above, wore caps on the street, or hats. Sometimes wore caps under their hats.
So, how did you wear a cap and a hat all simultaneous?

On the left, Madame Seriziat in this David's 1795 portrait is doing it. here.

Her cap is a large, lacy and fancy one, but the pricniple's good for our simper women in simpler mobcaps.

Our 1790s newseller in Paris is wearing a bouffant lacy cap on the streets, not unlike the one in the David picture. Her cap is covered by a kind of scarf drawn up over her head and her cap

You remember where I said the mobcap was sometimes called the Charlotte Corday? Here's the lady herself in jail awaiting execution. Her bonnet is more fancy than the usual mobcap.

Midway between a hat and a cap are several sorts of fashionable turbans.
These seem to have been worn -- shaped a little differently -- by both sexes. They were popular with the 'arty' crowd. Maybe this was influenced by the same love of the exotic Orient that gave us Banyans.

I'm going to assume these turbans were made up carefully and permanently and set on the head, rather than being created de novo each time from a long swath of fabric.

Ok. Having said that women wore caps and hats about all the time, I'm going to backtrack and say . . . 'They didn't always.'

Sometimes grown women ventured out on the streets of Paris with their heads just bare. Look back up to our
newspaper seller above. That woman in the background is capless and hatless.
See the women here also. (Find it at home, here, at the New York Public Library Digital Gallery.)

This to the right is a roughly 1790 print -- see the tricolour ribbon on one of those fancy, frilly hats -- that's a feature of the period.

Anyhow, we got a half dozen women sitting on the very fashionable Boulevard des Italiens. A couple of them have uncovered hair. Might be a fillet or band on the head by not a hat.

The child is wearing a simple straw hat. The other hats are pretty elaborate. Upscale.
My guess is that 'bare-headed' meant fashionable and young,
or not quite respectable.
I think modest working women had a tendency to cover up.

The next post, the one about aprons, shows us some prostitutes at the Palais Royal in a time close to our target year. You can wander down and have a look at it. Several of our filles de joie have their hair uncovered.

. . . the thin line between fashionable and indecent was always skimpy in Paris, and never thinner than in Paris of the Revolution and the Directory.


A huge favorite, the chip straw hat in the 1795 David portrait of Madame Serizat, above, is typical of the era. Natural color straw, flat crowned, with a large flat brim, wide ribbon that coordinates with the outfit, tied under the chin.
In this LeBrun self-portrait to the right, we see a variation of the straw hat. It's similar in shape to the David portrait, and of similar shape, but with a feather and no ribbon tying it under the chin. The brim is turned up a bit.A lot of these straw hats were straw-dyed-black.

Below, we got a mixed bag of fashionable hats for young ladies.

These would last about ten minutes on a modern kid methinks.

Are we richer or poorer that the average person doesn't spiffy up this much?


  1. I love hats. I own a ton of them. Great post!

  2. Hi Kat --

    I'll nip in a few more caps and hats when I come across them. These clothing posts sloooowly expand as I find new and better examples. Eventually I'll give them their own 'tag', I think.

    I'm missing the frothy coolness of really good fashion when I concentrate on my humdrum middle-class and working-class.

  3. I enjoyed this post! I also really loved the fashional hats of the last part of the century.

  4. I'm looking for closeups of hats. Fashion changes so much, so fast.

    I have a few good street scenes, but they don't translate well to the blog. Too small.

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  6. Anonymous3:43 AM

    But where are the pictures?

  7. Hi Anon --

    I had my pictures wiped from the archives of my blog a while back. it's a big job to go through and repair all the broken links and restore the pictures.

    I'm doing this bit by bit.

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