Bonnet (headgear)

A bonnet is a kind of headgear which is usually brimless. Only a few kinds of bonnets are still worn today, most commonly by babies.


The most common kind of bonnet worn today is a soft headcovering for babies. They are shaped similarly to the kind of bonnets women used to wear, that is they cover the hair and ears, but not the forehead. See also Coif.


In the mid-18th century "house bonnets" worn by women and girls were generally brimless headcoverings which were secured by tying under the chin, and which covered no part of the forehead. They were worn indoors, to keep the hair tidy, ("illustration, left") and outdoors, to keep dust out of the hair. With hairstyles becoming increasingly elaborate after 1770, the "calash" bonnet was worn outdoors to protect the hair from wind and weather: a hood of silk or black taffeta stiffened with whalebone or arched cane battens, collapsible like a fan or the calash top of a carriage, they were fitted with ribbons to allow them to be held secure in a gale. In Paris during the 1780s, light, unstructured bonnets were fashionable ("illustration, right"): Mme de Pezé's is of gauze with a border of gold threads, while Mme de Rouget is even more informally coiffed "à la Turque", with a loose turban of striped silk.

From Waterloo, more structured fashionable bonnets made by milliners rapidly grew larger. A plate in "La Belle Assemblée" 1817 showed a:"Bonnet of vermillion-coloured satin, embossed with straw, ornamented slightly with straw-coloured ribbands, and surmounted by a bouquet formed of a full blown damask rose and buds, with ears of ripe corn. This ornament is partially placed on one side: the edge of the bonnet finished by blond [lace] laid on strait."

This was specified as a "carriage dress", with the understanding that when taking the air in an open carriage, the bonnet provided some privacy—such a bonnet was in fact an "invisible" in Paris ("caricature below")—and prevent wind-chapping, with its connotations of countrified rude health. Straw was available again after 1815: the best straw bonnets came from Leghorn. As a bonnet developed a peak, it would extend from the entire front of the bonnet, from the chin over the forehead and down the other side of the face. Some styles of bonnets between ca 1817 and 1845 had a large peak which effectively prevented women from looking right or left without turning their heads: a "coal-scuttle" or "poke" bonnet. Others had a wide peak which was angled out to frame the face. In the 1840s it might be crimped at the top to frame the face in a heart shape. As the bonnet became more complicated, under it might be worn a lace "cornette" to hold the hair in place.

Bonnets remained one of the most common types of headgear worn by women throughout most of the 19th century. For a widow, a bonnet was "de rigueur". Silk bonnets, elaborately pleated and ruched, were worn outdoors, or in public places like shops, galleries, churches, and during visits to acquaintances.

Under the French Second Empire, parasols took the place of protection from sun, and bonnets became smaller and smaller, until they could only be held on the head with hatpins. As hats came back into style, bonnets were increasingly worn by women who wanted to appear modest in public, with the result that bonnets accumulated connotations of dowager wear and dropped from fashion except on the prairies. Most middle-class women in the 19th century would have had at least two bonnets, one suitable for summer weather, often made from straw, and one made from heavier fabric for winter wear. This is where the tradition of an Easter bonnet originated, when women would switch from their winter bonnet to their summer bonnet. Wealthier women would have many bonnets, suitable for different occasions.

In some religious groups it has been customary for women to wear bonnets. This was the case among the Friends (Quakers) until well into the 20th century, and is still the case among the Old Order Mennonites and the Amish. [Bender, Harold S. and Sam Steiner. " [ Bonnet (1953)] ." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 2000. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 2007-04-27.]


Bonnets worn by men and boys are generally distinguished from hats by being soft and having no brim - this usage is now rare (they would normally be called caps today) although the word has been preserved in the military glengarry bonnet for example.

Those worn by Scots are called 'bunnets' or tam o'shanters.

The chili pepper Scotch Bonnet was named for its resemblance to a bonnet worn by men in Scotland (in the past).

The Salvation Army

Bonnets were adopted by The Salvation Army as part of uniform regalia for women. Initially, bonnets were introduced as protection for women soldiers and were reinforced with black tar to turn them into helmets. Later versions were smaller when there was no longer any need for protection. The bonnet has now been replaced with a bowler style hat.

Academic dress

A Tudor bonnet is a component of the academic dress of some universities.


External links

* [ Jonathan Walford, "Women's fashion headwear"]
* [ Mixed fashion plates 1800-1900:] with original descriptive captions
* [ Bonnets and Bonnet Caps]

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