Bonnet Stays

This is the long, long, long since requested post on bonnet stays.

What is a bonnet stay? A bonnet stay is a band inside the mid-nineteenth century bonnet that helps hold the bonnet on the wearer’s head. In the nineteenth century, bonnet stays were also called “cross-bands”, “bandeau” or “traverse” (though these words could also mean other things.)

“A cross-band of black velvet that lies on the hair is trimmed on the right hand side with a group of rose-buds.” (Peterson’s Magazine, 1855)

A row of black lace covers the cross-band and forms a fanchon” (Peterson’s Magazine, 1864)

What were bonnet stays made from? Stays we have been able to identify have been made out of velvet ribbon, velvet fabric, cording and wire. This yellow trimmed horsehair &/or straw bonnet shows a wrapped wire stay. In the one image, you can get an idea of how the stay holds the bonnet on the head. The stay connects to both sides of the interior of the bonnet. Is sits on the head as a headband would, crossing over the head from ear to ear, actually above the ear.

From the Timely Tresses Collection featured in Fashionable Bonnets for the Introduction of the Ambrotype in 1854 through the end of the Civil War in 1865.

“From the Timely Tresses Collection featured in Fashionable Bonnets for the Introduction of the Ambrotype in 1854 through the end of the Civil War in 1865.

From the Timely Tresses Collection - Fanchon bonnet with covered cross-band. Notice the stitches used to attach the band that are visible on the left.

From the Timely Tresses Collection – Fanchon bonnet with covered cross-band. Notice the stitches used to attach the band that are visible on the left.

Dannielle Perry bonnet for stays post 3

From the Timely Tresses Collection – An early 1860s bonnet with a cross-band.

Dannielle Perry bonnet for stays post 2

From the Timely Tresses Collection – An Empire bonnet with a velvet stay/cross-band behind the cap/frill.

How do I make a bonnet stay?

This is a bonnet I had to very quickly make overnight from what straw I could find. The shape is very loose and flat. This stay holds it on rather well.

This is a bonnet I had to very quickly make overnight from what straw I could find. The shape is very loose and flat. This stay holds it on rather well.

To add a stay to your bonnet, you will need velvet ribbon. I suggest purchasing half a yard, a half to three-quarters of an inch wide in a shade that will blend in well with your hair color or bonnet.

Hold the ribbon on your head with the velvet side down against your hair, running from ear to ear so you can feel where it is going to need to sit. Measure a couple finger widths up from the top of each ear and slide a pin in to mark that spot.

Put your bonnet on, positioned how it should fit. If you are nimble with your fingers, slide the pins that are in the ribbon into the inside of the bonnet. If that is too fiddly, pin the inside of the bonnet with separate pins just above the ears a couple finger widths.

Remove the ribbon and bonnet. Secure the ribbon into the bonnet with pins. Try the bonnet on for fit. You should be able to move your head without the bonnet shifting. (I was able to walk into 40mph parade winds without my bonnet coming off.) You may need to repeat the adjusting, pinning and trying on a few times before it is comfortable. Once you have the right fit, tack the ribbon in place securely. I suggest folding the end of the ribbon under and using a thread that matches the exterior of the bonnet.

What else keeps a bonnet in place?

Beside a bonnet stay other characteristics of a bonnet, a mid-century bonnet, helps keeps it in place.  ~The combination of the frill and the interior flowers play a big, no, make that huge part in holding a bonnet in place. It is possible to take an early 60s bonnet that would want to slide right off the head un-adorned and arrange the frill and flowers such that the bonnet will perch in place as it should. The backside of the frill and flowers sort-of catch and hold the hair, keeping the bonnet in place. ~The overall balance front to back is a big help. If a bonnet is weighted towards the tip or the bavolet, the bonnet will want to slide backwards. If the flowers in the brim or on the top/side of a bonnet are heavy, the bonnet will shift forward or sideways. Keeping a balance is a matter of positioning as well as weight. ~ For some shapes, the cheektabs actually help hold the bonnet in place as they hug the side of the head, not the face, the head. ~Your hair placement and style can also be a factor in how a bonnet fits. For some years (more 50s) the hair arrangement goes inside the tip of the bonnet. For other years (more early 60s) the tip rest over or on the hair. In either case, the hair anchors the tip whether it is encasing or sitting on the hair. Another hair aspect to keep in mind is simply having too much or too deep of a hair arrangement for a shallow tipped bonnet. (If you naturally have a lot of hair and a large hair arrangement ask for a deeper tip.)

I will add some additional photos once I take them.

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Published in: on May 20, 2015 at 4:00 pm  Comments (8)  
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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. For the bonnet without source notes – It is in “Fashionable Bonnets” by Danielle Perry.. A yellow horsehair fanchon similar in shape to1865 fashion plates, as she describes it. From the Timely Tresses Bonnet Collection. I recognized the strings. I hope this is helpful.. I enjoyed your article.

  2. Thank You! I’ll hop over and ask Danielle if it is okay to use it.

  3. Awesome post! Very helpful for those trying to make a bonnet stay on their head. 🙂 Wish we’d known about this with our first homemade bonnets – but we definitely have them now on the lovely bonnets you made for us!

  4. I’d used a bonnet stay many times before I started to have Timely Tresses custom make my bonnets Now, I don’t need them, as my bonnets fit perfectly. Dannielle Perry has an amazing collection of originals.

  5. Btw – I rarely use them myself. That is why it took so long to do this post. I don’t have them in my bonnets to photograph.

  6. I love the extreme close ups on these bonnets. I don’t have the chance to see this otherwise. Interesting to see the netting on the strings. I thought it was done only to the bavolet. I guess it might have something to do with the hand of the fabric??? I love learning about this stuff. Thanks !!! Deborah.

  7. Thank you so much for this post! I had had such a hard time figuring out how to keep my bonnet on my head! Once I add my bonnet stay I plan to do a blog post about putting it in, can I include a link to your blog in my post?

  8. You are welcome. Please do include a link to this post. Thank you for asking.


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