Obsolete Fashion: Hats Off?

[Images Above (clockwise from left): chestofbooks.com, chestofbooks.com, costumegallery.com, koshka-the-cat.com]

Aigrettes (from the French word for egret) are long plumes plucked from the tufted head crests of egrets. Diamond-and-ruby-studded aigrettes were first used to adorn the turbans of Ottoman sultans, and the fashion reached its peak at the end of the 19th century, when hats were often constructed completely out of feathers (and, occasionally, whole birds). These feathers were, most often, procured via bird-slaughter.

In fact, the Audubon Society was originally founded to combat the extinction of birds, which was becoming an increasingly likely possibility due to their use in hat ornamentation. A Canadian issue of Saturday Night from February 26, 1910 reads, “the censor of fashions has been getting busy out in California and proving that not only is it forbidden for a woman to wear certain decorations on her hat, but also that there are hat trimmings so called which it is illegal to even have in her possession.” The paper reports that the first arrests under the new California law consisted of a fashionable milliner and a jewelry store manager in San Francisco. While the reporter was not really concerned about egret extinction, she was rather concerned about the place of egret feathers in fashion. She was not at all shy about expressing her opinion that the California law was probably for the best, as there was not “any real beauty in aigrettes anyway.” She went on to say, “It seems a pity that a few more laws cannot be passed compelling women to exclude from their wardrobe various ridiculous styles and so deal a death blow to the vogue of such awful monuments to feminine taste as appear now and again in the shape of merry-widow hats, sheath gowns, and microbe-catching trains.” While I am not one to encourage fashion censorship, I admire this woman’s dry wit and find her sardonic sense of of humor highly amusing.

What do you think, ModReaders? Are aigrettes a fashion that deserves to come back? Faux feathers? No feathers? Share your opinion!


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  1. Avatar
    Natalie B. 01/20/2010 at 7:02 pm #

    While I not only just cannot fathom these ever coming back into fashion, I think their gruesome history should be enough to let them rest in peace! Yikes!

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    Maya 01/20/2010 at 7:04 pm #

    Yes and No

    Yes because I mean it when I say that hats are probably the greatest thing on Earth. Who doesn’t want a plume of pretty pretty feathers sprouting out of an extrodinarily grand hat. It’s nice to have a little bit of 19th century dapperness in our lives.

    and then no because I really do feel for the people around me. And i know that they would get a mouthful of feathers. My head is abnormally large and has a tendancy to thrash wildly when I’m excited and I’d hate to think that I caused some sort of scar or lack of eye from being my friend.

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    Maya 01/20/2010 at 7:06 pm #

    Ofcourse in saying that i mean faux feathers!

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    Katie 01/20/2010 at 8:32 pm #

    I think that hats like that have come and gone! Fashion does seem to be cyclical, but… big feathered hats? Too costume-y and definitely not appropriate for daily wear. Like Maya says, they’d be a nuisance to those around you!

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    Dionisia 01/20/2010 at 9:42 pm #

    As a lover of birds, I would worry that a new fashion craze involving even FAUX feathers in hats, would increase the trade in illegal real feathers once again…

  6. Avatar
    Chancey 01/21/2010 at 4:32 pm #

    I think hats shoutld come back for sure!!! I will help hunt for feathers!

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    Maddi 01/21/2010 at 5:12 pm #

    I say this as a hat lover– I have about 17 hats– those are hella ugly. How would you style a giant feather?

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    Yo Mama 01/21/2010 at 5:41 pm #

    My hat’s off to modcloth and women of fashion through the centuries!

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    Kate 01/22/2010 at 5:52 pm #

    As much as I love the feeling of wind and rain and weather in my hair (yes I’m a hippie), I really wish hats would come back. The thing is, the large skirt really went out of fashion in the ‘teens, and doesn’t seem to be coming back anytime soon. (More’s the pity, hoopskirts are fun!) The sheer volume of the large skirt helped balance out the large hat, so if someone tried wearing a large Edwardian hat with a modern outfit it would just look top-heavy and ridiculous. However! Hats were still worn into the ’40s and ’50s, when the skirt silhouette was much more streamlined and consequently the hats were much smaller. I think if we draw inspiration from out grandmothers rather than our great-grandmothers, we’ll be fine.

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    Jen 01/22/2010 at 5:57 pm #

    That’s a great point, Kate! A smaller hat, such as a pillbox hat or cloche, probably looks much better with the kinds of clothing we wear today. They also automatically eliminate bird slaughter!

  11. Avatar
    Clarissa 02/25/2010 at 1:48 pm #

    One of the great things about fashion is you can revamp an old look to make it suitable for the present. I don’t see anything wrong with bringing this back—just make it smaller, with fewer (faux) feathers—hell, lavish faux feather headbands can be bought in stores so it could be said this fashion is already back!

  12. Avatar
    chereeguitar 01/17/2013 at 3:15 am #

    I agree with our much more streamlined fashions today, that we should draw inspiration from the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s and don’t forget the 60’s+ [floppy and fun!] But I don’t think we need the full feathers… although a small feather tucked in the band of a fedora is a nice touch! However, I don’t feel the entire bird population is in danger of extinction due to ‘harvesting’ of feathers when most avian creatures are kind enough to ‘shed’ a few feathers here and there… we just need to be resourceful and KEEP OUR EYES OPEN!!

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