Sunday, March 20, 2011

Honeymoon Shopping Spree, Part 1: "Darling Little Bonnets"

"And the darling little bonnets that were not really bonnets at all, but flat little affairs worn over one eye and laden with fruits and flowers, dancing plumes and fluttering ribbons!  (If only Rhett had not been so silly and burned the false curls she bought to augment her knot of Indian-straight hair that peeked from the rear of these little hats!)  And the delicate convent-made underwear!  How lovely it was and how many sets she had!  Chemises and nightgowns and petticoats of the finest linen trimmed with dainty embroidery and infinitesimal tucks.  And the satin slippers Rhett bought her!  They had heels three inches high and huge glittering paste buckles on them."
--Gone with the Wind, Chapter XLVIII

As frequent readers of the blog, you are no doubt familiar with two key facts: we have a penchant for series here and I in particular am enthralled by old fashion plates. So it's only natural that today we offer you a new, albeit small, series featuring--you guessed it!--more vintage fashion plates! And while much of our fashion coverage to date has focused on dresses, we're turning the page for a while and giving accessories their turn in the sun. Over the next three weeks, we'll be exploring the fantastic loot, as described in the quote above, that Scarlett amassed on her honeymoon: bonnets, lingerie, and shoes.

Up first is a look at the "darling little bonnets" the new Mrs. Butler procured during her stay in New Orleans. As we've seen time and time again, Margaret Mitchell's description here is uncannily faithful to the historical record.  Although we can't be certain of the exact timing of Rhett and Scarlett's wedding and subsequent honeymoon, we do know that they announced their engagement a week after the Georgia gubernatorial election, held from April 20-24 1868. And by the early summer of 1868, Godey's Lady's Book was bemoaning the present state of bonnets, which were becoming increasingly small and flower-laden:
"How are we to speak of bonnets each time it falls to our lot to describe them? They are smaller than the last; those now worn are the smallest yet seen. If they go on decreasing, soon they will be nothing but illusion strings fastened on the top by a spray of flowers. The latest novelty is a bonnet (we had better say a small headdress) entirely composed of flowers; we saw them of small roses, pansies, field daisies, violets, etc."
--excerpted from Godey's Lady's Book, June 1868
Godey's notes a month later that the trend of the-incredible-shrinking-bonnet had continued on unabated--and also put forth an interesting explanation as to why. As it was rather en vogue at the time for ladies to sport wildly elaborate hairstyles, piled high with masses of curls and jewelry, bonnets needed to be very small to complement such coiffures. Perhaps that's why Rhett consigned Scarlett's false curls to the fire?
"In bonnets there is no change from last month; the only difference consists in the size, which, as the weather grows warmer, seems to become smaller; in fact, so elaborate is the hair-dressing, that we cannot better describe it than in the words of a foreign journal, which gives the following amusing advice on the subject: “One general receipt, somewhat in the style adopted in cookery-books, may be given. Take as much hair as you can, either in the shape of curls, bows, frizzed chignons, or otherwise (as yet, hair of the same color as your own is preferred) arrange it in a confused mass as high on the head as you can, and you can then add as much gold, or silver, or steel ornaments, or diamonds, or, in fact, anything shining, as you can lay your hands on, and you will not be far out of the fashion.” While the dressing of the hair continues so elaborate bonnets must decrease in size, for there is really no place on the head for the bonnet to rest."
--excerpted from Godey's Lady's Book, July 1868
After the jump, we've collected five 1868 fashion plates of bonnets, so you can get a sense of the fanciful creations that Scarlett could have donned. Take a look and let us know what you think. Are there any that you believe Scarlett would have especially liked? 

Petit Courrier des Dames, 1868.

Le Monde Elegant, 1868. Image from NYPL Archives.

Le Monde Elegant, 1868. Image from NYPL Archives.

April 1868 Fashion Plate. Image from NYPL Archives.

December 1868 Fashion Plate. Image from NYPL Archives.

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