Thursday, March 20, 2014

Telling HerStory 2014: Bonnets and Hats

The Book:

Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900 by Maureen A Taylor 

What's it about:

The 2nd book in her Fashionable Folks series, Bonnets and Hats, 1840-1900 by photo detective Maureen Taylor  takes a look at the head coverings worn by our ancestors during the years 1840-1900. Initially the perspective reader may think that the subject of hats is not broad enough to warrant an entire book. But once you start thinking about hats and the various types of hats, it can easily be understood the importance in including that detail in analyzing ancestral photos.

When looking at dating photographs vis a vis the clothing a person wore, hats play a role. Just as with clothing, bonnets and hat details including fabrics, size, accessories and the way and reason for why they were worn, changed as fashion changed. While men’s chapeaus didn’t change as much, Taylor shows how women began by wearing bonnets in the nineteenth century and ended it by wearing hats. She makes some important detail points that are important as we research our ancestors. Often the hat worn would have matched the activity the person was engaged in, i.e. were they dressed up for a formal portrait or was the hat they wore part of a work or military uniform ?

Why you should read it:

While this book is about dating photographs, it is also a good beginning to ideas for researching and telling the story of hat makers in a family tree. Our ancestor’s occupations can lead to important details of an ancestor’s story. Ideas from the photos that illustrate this book, transcribed newspaper stories and magazine images can all provide the research with ideas for telling a family history narrative.

As with the author’s other books, this book includes photographic examples that can be used in dating your own ancestral photographs. Photos from the Library of Congress, archives and other family historians provide a diversity of examples. Interspersed with photographic examples are text from newspapers and images from magazines like Godey’s that shows what hats were available. The book is divided into decades from 1840-1900 and includes examples from both men and women.

While dating photographs isn't all about what your ancestor wore, learning about fashion is one step to better understanding social history.

Additional resources:

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