Timely Tresses             
Historic Millinery from the Regency through Civil War Eras
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Choosing the Right Bonnet

Consider your age, locality, and your personal attention to fashion in choosing a bonnet.  Younger and most especially well to do women wore the latest fashions.  Styles in fashion plates preceded the wide acceptance of new styles for months or even years.  Women in major cities, such as New York and Philadelphia, adopted trends more quickly than other parts of the country.  Consult local history museums for pictures of women in your area when choosing items for a new impression.

Fabric and Straw

Period bonnets were most often straw, or covered buckram with a facing and a crinoline lining.  Consider the socio-economic level of your impression in choosing fabrics and trimmings.

Period bonnets were most often covered, faced, and trimmed with silk.  There are exceptions to this rule. For example, Burwell School in Hillsborough, NC has written documentation of linen bonnets, and we have a cotton bonnet in our collection.  Period silks do not have slubs like modern Dupioni.  Solid colors are much more common on bonnets than prints.  Appropriate silk choices for a tight bonnet are taffeta, velvet, satin, and broadcloth.  Appropriate silk choices for a drawn bonnet are taffeta, satin, chiffon (very similar to period silk crepe), and habotai.

We have not come across a seasonal rule for wearing straw bonnets.  1861 Godey's has straw bonnets as late in the season as November and as early as March.  Please see our straw forms page for a discussion of period straw.

Purchasing a Bonnet or Kit

A bonnet kit or pattern is a less expensive alternative to a custom bonnet.  If you are an experienced seamstress or crafter, millinery is a very rewarding art.  However, millinery can be frustrating if you are inexperienced.  The best way to save money on a bonnet, if you do not have millinery experience, is to purchase a premade form with the coinciding pattern.  The patterns give detailed instructions on covering methods that will allow you to create an affordable bonnet.  We are also available via email for "tech support".

 Ties and Trims 

Finding period appropriate trimmings can sometimes be a difficult task. 

  • Original ribbons were made of silk.  For midcentury bonnets, ties were usually four to six inches in width.  It is very difficult to find wide silk ribbons or silk velvet ribbons in any width.  To achieve the look of the period, we offer the best wide ribbons available to us. 

  • We take care to offer millinery flowers made of high quality materials with no visible plastics.

  • Ostrich feathers were the most common feathers used on nineteenth century bonnets.  Other feathers described in the fashion magazines were peacock, Marabout, game, white heron, and tropical bird feathers. 

 Fitting a Bonnet

Many 1850's-1860's living historians wear their bonnets too far forward which creates an odd looking tilt to the bonnet.  Fashion bonnets for this era provide no sun protection.  The front inside edge of the bonnet should sit on the very top of the head (as it fits on our logo) creating a lovely "C" or spoon shape from the side. If the bonnet slips off of the back of the head, consider adding more trimmings, cotton netting behind the trimmings, or a velvet crossband to cling to the hair.

Our patterns and forms are designed for a standard 22.5 inch head.  They should fit comfortably on a 22 to 23 inch head.  If you have a larger or smaller head, we would be happy to size your form or bonnet for no additional fee.  We would be happy to size a pattern for an additional $5.   

Most mannequin and Styrofoam heads are small in size.  The black head our website, who we lovingly refer to as Mabel, is a full sized 22.5" head.  Forms displayed on Mabel should fit similarly on a 22 to 23 inch head.  The forms appear larger on the Styrofoam heads than they do on most people. 

All images are property of Timely Tresses unless otherwise noted.

Phone: 919-235-8221

E-mail: admin@timelytresses.com