For women, there were hundreds of hat options and decorations available — including touches like ribbons and bows and flowers and feathers — and the fashions changed from year to year.
Look back more than 100 years to see how women wore some popular vintage hats from the early 1900s, and you will get an idea of just how important they were to society back in the day.
20 spring hats from 1901
How a hat was made: Steps of construction (1902)
A very smart demi-saison hat is presented this month, made of black lace and black and white horsehair braid, trimmed with black and white striped ribbon and a jet ball pin.
Vintage hats: The sweeping popularity of ribbons and bows (1906)
Los Angeles Herald (California) May 6, 1906
It is some years since the ribbon epidemic has been assigned a “star” role in the world of fashion such as it is destined to play this summer, when every niche of the feminine wardrobe will be made more alluring by its presence.
Turn where you will in the shops, on promenade thoroughfares or at smart functions, and the Ribbon Girl is very sure to loom on your horizon. But one does not tire of ribbons, even though a surplus is in evidence, for the reason that they are so attractively employed and for such novel purposes, not to mention their loveliness in color and design.
We may safely attribute the sweeping vogue of ribbons to the revived picturesque styles of La Pompadour, Marie Antoinette, Empress Eugene and other queens of fashion, who employed misty florals in silks, brocaded velvets and narrow Dresden posey ribbons such as were never used before. And the summer girl will do her bravest to eclipse all past records in manipulating ribbons to deck her dainty and bewitching person.
In the meantime, we shall learn how the ribbon wizard transforms yards of it that seem to grow with magical beauty into all sorts of pretty things dear to the heart of womankind.
Some typical patterns
It is a difficult matter to sum up all the alluring designs that abound on shop counters, since every kind known to the mind of man is apparently given a place.
However, there is one never-failing rule; when it has a flower on it you are all right. Florals show to best advantage on the wide sash ribbon with shot or moire backgrounds. The designs are all blurry, misty affairs that merely suggest outlines and colors.
Large splashy designs are much liked while roses are good, orchids, violets, lilacs, sweet peas, lilies of the valley and pansy patterns, arranged in bunches, sprays, wreaths, are making strong headway. Narrow satin borders of color on wide ribbons enliven them. Black and gun metal backgrounds are very good for misty florals.
Wonderful artistic effects are produced in the satin brocaded ribbons, and the price per yard is the equivalent to the cost of a very palatable dinner. Many quaint posey patterns are shown, such as our grandmothers wore.
Stunning plaided and striped ribbon are great favorites. There is marked preference for black and white stripes or one of color, alternating with black, as is shown on the French sailor in the sketch. Hairline, stripes of color on white grounds, and vice versa, are also attractive. Blocked effects are good, especially where a neat embroidered figure occupies the plain block.
Moire patterns are much favored, both in plain colors and those with florals. Shot effects appear among all sorts of ribbons, as they are supple and easily manipulated, as are all the season’s ribbons.
The bandeaus of ribbon-trimmed hats are massed with them, put on in a succession of loops, one large bow for several small ones.
Wired loops, three inches long, are put under the short brim of some small hats, and stand out from the head in the same fashion as brush-like aigrettes, accentuating that elongated effect that is an essential part of empire fashions.
Large imposing rosettes of wide ribbon make dashing decorations, caught in the center with a decorative center; jet en cabochon is smart for this purpose. Several of the rosettes are massed together on one side of the hat, like two sunflowers with tilted quills adjusted behind them, so as to relieve the certain flatness that is sure death to fashion this summer.
Another idea is to employ narrow ribbons about two inches wide so that they form a succession of overlapping rose petals. This treatment is always carried out in a fan-like effect, directly in front or slightly to one side of the crown.
Realistic roses of plain colored satin ribbon combined with rosebuds or maidenhair fern, form a most attractive decoration. These roses show to good advantage either on small hats with large beehive crowns of the larger hats of leghorn or the dainty lingerie type.
Shopping for hats at Macy’s in the early 1900s
Stylish tilted winter hats for women (1906)
The Philadelphia Inquirer (Pennsylvania) March 11, 1906
Nothing strikingly new in the advance millinery models – The saucy tilt still apparent
Feminine fashions are about as uncertain a proposition as fortunes on Wall Street.
There is a distinct preference shown for hats of varied description with brims that assume a definite line or curve, and when these roll there is no compromise about it. Sometimes it is raised slightly on both sides as are many of the modifications of the English walking hat.
Again the brim turns up abruptly on the left side, where it is massed with trimming and again, the most trying style, when it curls in daring and saucy fashion directly over the center of the forehead. This is a matter of personal taste that must be governed according to its becoming qualifications.
Let the woman who possesses an upturned or retrousse nose be most discreet in her choice of a small hat with rolled center brim that is worn over her eyes, or her profile will not leave a pleasant memory.
Hats clapped on at rakish angles
The tipsy tilt that characterized winter millinery is even more emphasized with the coming of the tiny summer editions.
A hat to be smart must be worn over the eyes, and perched at just the proper slant on the head. To produce this striking effect demands a very ample bandeau, some of which are all of five and six inches long, and so curved as to extend along the sides and promote the proper tilt.
These bandeaux are massed with all sorts of garniture, put on most generously to make up for the deficiency in the size of the hat. And to this trick of elevating the hat in back and at the sides, many models owe their fetching charm and chic air.
English sailors in the front row
These quaint little hats with high crowns and abbreviated brims that are sometimes short in front and a trifle wider in back will doubtless have a liberal following.
They are fashioned in a variety of materials, Japanese straw, chip Jedda and horsehair braids, lace and silk. They are trimmed on edge with bindings of velvet, silk and gold and silver braids. The crowns are swathed in soft silks, sometimes in two tones of the same color with a cluster of vari-colored flowers worn on the left side. Some pretentious models are draped with chiffon scarves.
Or the hat may be trimmed of ribbon loops, made as full as a huge bunch of violets on top of the brim with a continuation of the same garniture under the brim in a succession of long loops that stand out boldly some six inches of the head in a horizontal or slightly slanting fashion.
Dome-shaped crowns are the very latest caprice observed on the most approved models, their graceful outline being rarely marred by embellishment, except perhaps, on one side.
Some of the smartest hats, and the most expensive, too, have very simple decorations. Possibly a narrow band of velvet will encircle the crown, caught on the side with a cluster of exquisite flowers and a sweeping paradise plume.
Many of the crowns, especially the tall ones, are draped with chine ribbons, velvets, soft silks and chiffon scarfs that terminate in ends on or near the shoulder. Ruching and plaitings of mailine and chiffon, even lace, are simple and effective.
Delicate little Marie Antoinette wreaths and flowers form a conservative decoration mingled with foliage of the same pastel shadings. Maidenhair fern is especially smart among the foliage fancies.
Both delicate and vivid colors are mirrored among the flowers and foliage. Those of brilliant hue seem to shriek at the pale opalescent shades, especially when combined on the same hat as is a favorite caprice this season. Orchids are especially lovely and dear little moss rosebuds not always of nature’s own paintings are among the tempting and fanciful floral garnitures.
Lace enters conspicuously upon many of the more dressy hats, and is combined with excellent effect on chip or chiffon.