18th Century Straw Hats for Women

Updated February 21, 2017

Straw hats for women came into their glory days in the 1700s. The pancake style, or shepherdess hat, became a favourite of rich ladies adopting country fashions. Of course, for the wealthier classes, the hats were richly trimmed with ribbons, lace, feathers and flowers. Another shepherdess style featured a larger, taller crown with a slightly narrower brim that was often curled up pertly at the sides. This style could be worn cocked on the side of the head, much as the gentlemen wore theirs. Colonial ladies during the 18th century also wore simpler straw hats and bonnets as well as the shepherdess.

Shepherdess Hat or Begere

Bergere, or shepherdess in French, is a flat-crowned, wide-brimmed hat made of straw or raffia. Originally worn by country people to protect themselves from the sun, these hats could be quite plain and simple, tied with string under the chin. When the shepherdess hat became à la mode for wealthy ladies, it naturally sprouted much more elegant embellishment. For example, the crown and brim could be fully covered with dyed feathers or with delicate fabrics or lace. The hat served its purpose of keeping the sun from the delicate skin of ladies, but made luxurious with flowers, ribbons and lace, it became the essence of romance as well.

Tall-Crowned Shepherdess

This style of shepherdess developed a taller crown, with a large brim shaped to turn up at the sides. For the upper class lady, these hats gorgeously embellished with silk flowers, ribbons, jewels, feathers, lace and whatever else the milliner might choose. The 18th century saw the development of millinery as a female occupation and milliners not only created hats, but became expert in accessorising hats to enhance an ensemble. Both tall-crowned shepherdess and the pancake crown version were traditionally worn only in the mornings, and never at formal occasions such as the theatre or a ball.

Colonial Straw Hats

While their European counterparts could indulge in elaborately decorated chapeaus, colonial ladies often wore more simple styles of straw hats. One was essentially a flat crown with a smaller brim (though enough to protect the face from the sun). Decorated around the crown, it had a large lace or ribbon attachment at the crown that would be tied around the chin. Shaped almost like a crisp, the hat curved attractively over the sides when tied. These hats might be worn over a cloth cap.

Straw Bonnets for Home

Colonial ladies required hats that were both practical and pretty, and a straw bonnet was fine for home wear. Women donned fancier hats if they were going out socially.

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About the Author

Patricia Neill began writing professionally in 2000, spending most of her career as managing editor of “Blake: An Illustrated Quarterly.” Neill published political satire at and other libertarian websites. She also has an essay in “National Identification Systems: Essays in Opposition." Neill holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Nazareth College of Rochester.