Edwardian Bird Hat, Exhibit in the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, Pacific Grove, California. via Wikimedia/Creative Commons
From the late nineteenth century and for several decades, women’s hats became a major fashion focus. Wealthy American families who’d made money in railroads, mining, and banking bought their wardrobes in Paris. It was a period of extreme opulence for certain families. Elaborate headgear for women became the look of the moment. Some of the hats were enormous, reminiscent of pre-Revolutionary France fashions, and decorated with fake fruit and flowers and feathers. The demand for feathers evolved into hats that featured a whole, stuffed bird. As many as five million birds a year were killed for fashion, and many species nearly went extinct.
In 1889, a group of English women formed the Fur, Fin and Feather Group to try to combat the killing of animals for fashion’s sake. In America, the Audubon Society was formed in 1896. By the early 1920s, federal laws were passed in both countries, banning the killing of birds for hats.
The University of Kentucky Archives gave me permission to post some of these amazing hat pictures, from 1915 – 1917. These are extremely high-end hats, mind you. Many are by the designer Lanvin, and practically all come from Paris. The bird craze was starting to wind down, thankfully, but the hat fashion was still going strong. The feathered ones are disturbing, but the non-feathered ones? Come on. They’re awesome, aren’t they?
second from top: Library of Congress, Harris and Ewing Collection LC-DIG-hec-00139
third from top: DOLLY MADISON BREAKFAST. MRS. PICKFORD, MRS. CHAMP CLARK, MRS. C.H. McDONNELL
Library of Congress, Harris and Ewing Collection LC-DIG-hec-00839
Remaining hat photos: Special Collections, University of Kentucky. Used with permission.