There were a few questions that came up when I asked for questions for the milliner that had to do with what not to do. I generally prefer to approach things from the positive. But then I saw this post “The Most Common Mistakes in Historical Costuming/Re-enactment- and how to avoid them“, which was written quite well and from a very helpful standpoint. So, I’m sorta stealing her format to look at the mishaps and mistakes that can happen with millinery.
The wrong shape or size for your face.
This is a point of narrow margin. I believe women in the era followed fashion trends but also paid attention to what looked good on them. Not every bonnet suits, nor flatters every face shape. I hate seeing a perfectly lovely woman who looks like her head is squeezed into a bonnet that scrunches around her face or a woman who appears to have a teeny head floating in the midst of an enormous bonnet. I just want to hug them and give them something that will flatter them and bring their best features. (really, seriously, if I could I would.) Take a look at these two women to the right. Their image were taken at roughly the same time with similar, possibly the same attire. Each woman has a slightly different face shape and has subtle difference to their bonnets. The woman on the left has a squarer jaw line than the woman in the right who has a nearly oval face. One of the biggest mishaps I see for those with a squarer jaw line is to have a bonnet that hugs the sides of the face causing it to look squished or trapped. The bonnet on the left shows the periord way of avoiding this – The sides pull back further just above the ear allowing for the side of the bonnet through the cheektab to curve and angle forward. On the right, the sides of the bonnet are more ovular mimicking the oval shape of her face. The left softens the squareness of the jawline while the right mimics the soft curve.
A great hat/bonnet in the wrong era.
While there are some pieces of millinery from one era that are very similar to that of another era, pieces that distinctly belong in another time period stand out when they are misplaced. I do understand how it can be so tempting to pick up a beautiful Georgian piece and wear it to a Victorian event, it simply does not work 98% of the time.
I do happen to be more flexible about dressing out of fashion than many others. I actually don’t have a problem with dressing as much as a decade back if the character and situation so calls for it. Robert Dowling’s Breakfasting Out really emphasizes this for us. The artist depicts women in head wear that spans easily ten years, possibly fifteen years, in a single public scene.
Wearing the wrong millinery for your social class or situation.
We tend to talk about bonnets in two categories: fashion and sun, which may accidentally cause us to compartmentalize fashion into an upper class garment and sun into a lower class garment. This is not the case. What we often call ‘fashion’ bonnets, those structurally made of wire & buckram/willow/net or those of straw, spanned up and down social strata. (We really need to figure out what they would have called their bonnets.) The same span also existed for sun bonnets.
There is something about clunky materials that stand out even more than synthetic materials to me. Now, I’m not approving of a poly-taffeta for your bonnet either. I’m saying clunky cotton or poly cotton laces scream at me, as do thickly spun or loosely woven silks. These are not the materials of the vast majority of 19th century millinery. Fabrics, laces and net were fine and light. Even the bonnets that were made from velvets or corded materials were still made with versions often lighter than those we commonly see today.
Trims that will bleed.
To great dismay, and often tears, ladies have found that some beautiful flowers or feathers are not color-fast. While most of us fear the rain when we have a pricey bonnet on, it is at times the slightest sprinkle or even heavy humidity that can cause the dye to run. The biggest culprits are brightly dyed feathers and paper flowers.
I sorta feel like a jerk as a blog writer saying “don’t listen to that blog writer”. But, I am. There are several quick and cheap millinery advice posts out there. I plead with you – Do not follow them!
Do not make a bonnet out of a cereal box. Do not use duct tape on a bonnet. Do not use quilters templates nor plastic cross-stitch canvas to make a bonnet. Some of these may be okay for a Halloween costume or middle-school play. They are not correct for a historical site, nor are they healthy when you consider how much heat some of these materials can trap against your head.