Our antiques expert Allan Blackburn takes a look at what was chic around the start of the 20th century...
For the last two weeks, we’ve looked at ladies clothing and accessories. Surely nothing says “occasion” more than a stylish hat and Victorian ladies took their appearance (and head wear) very seriously indeed.
Ladies hat pins were created in great quantities during Victorian times. Before this time, while gentlemen communicated their status by wearing hats, ladies covered their heads with hoods and bonnets tied under the chin by ribbons or strings.
These strings became so symbolic of womanly style that early feminists rushed to get rid of them. Freedom from “bonnet strings” was identified with the drive for equality. Some historians actually theorise that the women’s suffrage movement began with the invention of the hat pin-making machine in 1832. So, when we admire the gorgeous hatpins worn between the 1830s and 1920s, it’s poignant to remember that these were much more than just fashion statements.
Although they quickly evolved into ornate jewels, the first commercially produced hatpins were simple skewers of base metal with tapering tips, ranging from about four inches to a foot long. They were for practical purposes rather than decoration. Women who enjoyed sporting activities needed bigger pins to keep their hair and hats in place. Other ladies expressed more sedate tastes with ornaments such as musical instruments, animals and seashells. Ladies at the top end of the market opted for silver or gold pins embellished with cameos, gemstones and pearls.
Producing functional and decorative pins was a thriving industry at the start of the 19th century and these handcrafted pins were so costly and treasured that stealing them was a hanging offence. Despite their high price, demand in England skyrocketed.
The finest hatpins frequently have adjustable ends, allowing their gemstone ornaments to swivel toward the light, regardless of how the pin is inserted. Some even hold containers that screw open to reveal a tiny mirror and powder puff or a vinaigrette filled with smelling salts.
Many people who are interested in fashions of a by-gone age love collecting hat pins. They take up very little room and are easy to store. A good collection can be built up reasonably cheaply, leaving a little spare cash for when you find that extra special jewelled or ornate pin.