Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Mid 19th Silk & Hair Bonnets

 Is That Real Human Hair, or Silk??
 I have been getting alot of questions as of late about hair bonnets, so thought I would share a few of the ones we have here in the collection with you to try and clear up the current internet muddleness about these bonnets~  are they really real human hair??? horse hair??? silk? How were they worn? Are they wigs?
 I will begin with sending you on a little journey here to Winterthur where you can read all about their 'mysterious' little cap. Really they aren't so mysterious, just not very common.  The cap or bonnet pictured above, 796.2014.49, dates to c1850 and is hand made of a louped and knotted silk fiber.  Most folks readily assume they are made of real human hair, but no, they are not. I will show you a real hair cap in a minute~

Many have corkscrew like curls to the sides and back, which, as they do look alot like the hair fashion of the times, lead people to believe these were meant to be some sort of hairpiece or wig. This leads to just more questions~ did the wearer pull their own hair thru the loupes? Was is supposed to fully cover the head???  Nope!  These are not wigs. Not hairpieces~ just fancy bonnets of the mid 1850s!
The crowns are woven in fancy designs ~ all with the fibers in connecting loupes~ alot like tatting actually 
 The face edges are sometimes plain, sometimes woven in fancy plaits or braids~ all made from the same louped silk fibers
Above are two different caps of the same fiber~ the one to the top, 499.2009.33 is not a fitted type like the one on the bottom~
It is open flat and resembles the type of  fall cap illustrated in the 1854 Godey's Lady's Book plate in the Winterthur article when worn, and yes, it would have been worn over the normal hair dressing of the day
 I left this photo large so you can click on it and really study the cap she is wearing~ a silk cap exactly like the ones shown above~ this c 1855 ambrotype clearly shows these were worn over the hair, and in no way, intended to act or look like a wig.
 This cap, 713.2013.31, on the other hand,  is made from horsehair, and dates c1835-40. Most likely French, it closely resembles the elaborate plaited wigs made there for dolls. I do not believe it is a wig tho, but a cap similar to the ones above, meant to be worn over the hair of its owner and to enhance it. Imagine how long it would take, to sit and have ones own hair plaited in such a fashion~ it would be much easier & quicker to just be able to strap it on!

It can be worn either way~ it has no 'wrong side', including where the ties are attached at the ends
 It also has a fancy band of loupes, but unlike the seamless unending silk fibers of the caps above, if one looks closely the ends of the hair can be seen where one piece ends and another is plaited in
 The back sits open, for wearers own hair (bun) to fit thru
 The entire piece is elaborately woven in different plaits and knots, with a smooth side, and then this loupe side facing up
Even the front band is tightly woven hair~ I love this piece, its one of my favorites in the whole collection


Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Thank you so much for sharing this post with me - the photo of the woman wearing the hair cap is really wonderful! I've taken the liberty of tweeting a link back to this post. Now I'm enjoying reading back through your older posts - so many things to savor.

Sue McFadden said...

Wow, just beautiful hand work. I can see these coming in handy for older women that may have thinning hair or more likely a decorative element to enhance the wearers own hair. Thanks for sharing! Very fascinating!