This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
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Ladies in Hats

03 April 2015

What catches your attention first in this woman's photograph? Her violin or her hat? Maybe it is her clear eyed gaze at the camera? Perhaps the patterned embroidery on her dress? Did you spot her wedding ring? For me it was the hat. In my photo collection there are dozens of photographs of individual female violinists and band musicians. With the exception of women wearing uniform band caps, this photograph is the only lady in a hat. It makes her special.

The photographer was The Baker Studio of Vermillion, South Dakota. I have been unable to find any records for this photographer, but the woman's pose in front of a painted stairway is typical of the 1890s. Her puffed shoulders are very similar to fashion styles I've seen on other dated photos from 1891-1895. South Dakota became a state in November 1889 so the photo is certainly after that year. Vermillion is almost, but not quite, on the Missouri River in the southeast corner of the state near Sioux City, Iowa, so it was a community easily accessible to traveling photographers by either rail or riverboat.

I imagine her dress might actually be red or scarlet and not the somber black shown in her sepia toned photograph. Her hat has a texture that looks like velvet to me with a satin bow rather than a feather. Her long dress hides what I expect were sensible shoes. Does the hat indicate a traveler? Was she a professional musician who toured the "opera houses" of America's wild west? I'm afraid there are not enough clues to learn her identity. But it is a fine photo from a place that not many years before was a wilderness on the Great American Prairie. 

I keep a special category on my blog labeled hats, and there are now 101 posts with that tag, which makes it by far the largest topic on this supposedly musical blog. Recently I acquired some non-musician cabinet photographs of elegant ladies in hats from this same decade. This woman has a splendid hat with feathers, jewels, and bows. It accentuates the curve of the high collar and puffed shoulder of her winter weight coat. I looks like a wool fabric to me but perhaps it is a type of fur. Unfortunately she posed for a photographer that left no mark so we can never know where she is from. Perhaps I should add spectacles as a tag, as she looks very professional with her Pince-nez glasses (see comments).

Bloomington, IL Pantagraph
Sept 10, 1896

This young woman was also photographed by an unknown photographer. Her light colored winter jacket is surely made of lamb or sheep skin. Her hat has several feathers artfully arranged on a brimmed white hat. Her right hand holds a pair of fine leather gloves. Is she also dressed for travel?

Chicago, IL Daily Tribune
September 23, 1897

This last duo of young ladies seem dressed for spring rather than fall. They wear differently styled hats, one with a bristle and rosette, and the other a straw hat with a feather and bow. The girl on the left also has Pince-nez spectacles. The photographer is Park of Lambertville, New Jersey, just up the river from Trenton.

Chicago, IL Inter Ocean
October 6, 1895

Open any newspaper of this last decade of the 19th century to the women's section and you will discover more varieties in feminine hats than any fashion accessory found in today's modern clothing. I am constantly amazed at how a hat could indicate class, trade, prosperity, season, region, ethnicity, and nationality, as well as taste too. The millinery code is no longer part of common cultural conversation, so don't expect me to explain it. But these women certainly understood it.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone believes in recycling.


Unknown said...

Boy, those shoulders are really something! Makes me look positively petite...

Jofeath said...

Beatiful hats for the times, and I like the adverts too. You've obvioudly researched them in detail, as you normally do. Thanks for sharing that with us.

Kristin said...

I noticed the hat first on the first photo.

Little Nell said...

Gorgeous hats. Your description makes the photos come alive; now I see her as the lady in red with a velvet hat...and a violin of course.

Cameron said...

The first lady in glasses seems to be wearing regular frames with temples, if you look closely. Compare it with the second lady's pince-nez glasses and you will notice the absence of temple screws on the edges of the lenses.

Mike Brubaker said...

Well spotted, Cameron! Don't know why I missed that as I wear glasses myself.

La Nightingail said...

Oh my, those are SOME hats! My favorite is the first one, though. So rich looking. I think you're right about its being velvet & ribbon. But what gets me are those high choking necklines! I don't know what I would've done in those days because I can't stand to have anything around my neck like that - not even the prettiest choker necklaces. I guess I would have been totally out of style - déclassé as they say. Oh well.

Brett Payne said...

So why was my attention immediately drawn to the bow? How odd, but I suppose that's the way one is supposed to hold a bow when waiting for your part to commence.

After many such attempts, I've come to the conclusion that it extremely difficult to date a portrait from the style of the hat, and so generally I look at the shape of the sleeves, the closeness of fit and ornamentation on the bodice, etc. I note that the profile view depicted at the top right of the 1897 Chicago Tribune advertisement is very much in the style of Manet's Portrait of Irma Brunner, painted c.1880.

Anonymous said...

The hats really dominate. Beautiful to look at but I don't fancy having to wear one as they look so heavy. Interesting discussion on temples and temple screws. Sent me back to look more closely.

Wendy said...

Such beautiful hats always make me wonder how they stayed on. Yeah, I know -- hat pins. Still, with all that hair, the hats nevertheless seem to perch precariously.

L. D. said...

The hats are all so wonderful to see. My mom of course was around for the small box hat and had nothing that flourished with decoration like these do.

Barbara Rogers said...

I enjoyed the hats...and even thought of how the feathers and ribbon ends and loose fringes would react to wind, or just the movement of the woman's head. Imagine that!

Tattered and Lost said...

My first thought was WOW HER HEAD IS HUGE! Hollywood would love her. Not sure why so many actors have huge heads, and not just full of their egos.

And I'm always fascinated by those high neck dresses/blouses because the heads often look like they've been stuck on. It becomes rather Monty Python-ish.


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