26 May 2011

when straw calls: I

it  already being Summer here in the South-North Carolina to be exact-90 degree, sultry, humid-I say grab a straw. if I didn't manage to revive the parasol back into fashion-let me suggest straw hat. I have several I wear in the summer. In many ways little has changed in the styling of straw.  Long before the damage caused to our skin by the sun came to light -tanning-basking in the sun- was very IN.
For me- now and for about 15 years- it has been OUT.

Back in the day straw hats of all sorts were worn to guard ladies from losing their fairness & it's still a stylish and good way to do so. Thoughts about hats after the Royal Wedding have led some to cry for the return of wearing  hats.
My thoughts-don't give the ladies another accessory in which to over Do.
Straw hats if held in check to more practical use- can't be harmful.

 Pisanello, 15th c.

 "For me, hats aren't an accessory, they are the raison d'être of an outfit." 
Stephen Jones

baroness fiona thyssen-bornemisza 1966

My GranMa apprenticed at the local milliner and though she married soon after- and fairly well-she always had the talent to "decorate" a hat.  That talent ran to other areas:  decorating the house, exquisite handwork, sewing curtains, dresses, slipcovers, arranging flowers- painting, gardening-let's just say she had the knack-for- the list goes on. 

millener-1520–30;  variant of obsolete Milanernative of Milan, dealer in goods from Milan 
"vendor of fancy wares, especially those made in Milan" famous for straw works, fancy goods, ribbons, bonnets, and cutlery.  "one who sells women's hats"- likely from 1520s onward, but certainly in use by 18 century.

milliner- a maker of women's hats, first recorded in 1529 when the term referred to the products for which Milan and the northern Italian regions were well known, i.e. ribbons, gloves and straws.

there is something quite beautiful about this 18th century hat- the shape, the color, with only its chintz banding a little faded.

from the Costume Institute, 18th century

Mary Countess of Howe, 1764
 by Thomas Gainsborough

Anne Bingham by Sir Joshua Reynolds

Lady Bess Foster Racky by Sir Joshua Reynolds

from Christies

By the mid 1800's Swiss and Italian straws, together with imitation straws made from paper, cardboard, grass and horsehair were available to women.

baroness fiona thyssen-bornemisza
photograph by henry clarke, 1966

18c straw hat with straw flowers from the V&A

" This is so British and so pretty. It's also well preserved. Whoever dyed those flowers certainly knew what they were doing.  Hats can be wild and wacky, formed out of plastic and flashing lights, but sometimes it's quite nice to make things which are familiar and reassuring-" Stephen Jones, milliner



  1. Great Post. The photos of the Baroness remind me of a nun with a wimple. David.

  2. What a fantastic HAT post! Yes, Sun bathing is OUT! Hats ARE IN!!
    Just got a fabulous vintage black man´s hat I am considering wearing tonight. Tada!

  3. Did NOT know the origin of the word milliner, well I'll be darned, but I'm not surprised one bit that you'd know something like that. Oh, that Pisanello! Exquisite!

  4. I just adore hats and of course adore your look at the styles back through time!! Since i found my first basal cell almost 25 years ago, I do my best to avoid the rays! Although my lifestyle doesn't really warrant the wearing of the extravagant variety, perhaps I'll make the effort to one when I'm just out and about!

  5. I love this series and straw hats. I wear one every day of the summer. The more worn-in the better! H&M has a really good Panama with black grosgrain ribbon this season for $12.95 I bought 3 of them! Cheers to straw + parasols, too. ; )

  6. I love this post--so much great information; I'll never look at straw hats in quite the same way. thanks. Mary



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