Styles of ladies' hats in the 1850s & 1860s

Updated November 21, 2016

Not to be outdone by the lavish dresses, hats during the Victorian era were absolute works of art. Milliners created a wide variety of styles for the women of the day, from tiny caps of artificial flowers to giant-brimmed hats for teas and parties. Hat designs and their placement on ladies' heads were adapted to suit the changes to hairstyles in the 1850s and 1860s.


Throughout the 1850s and 60s, women wore caps both at home and out at social occasions. At home, women and girls wore indoor caps, which were of basic design and made from cotton or muslin. Women pulled their hair up into a basic, unadorned bun and wore caps over the bun to cover their hair. When going out, women also wore caps over buns on the top of their heads or at the crown. These caps were made of silk or satin and decorated with embellishments such as flowers or feathers.


Bonnets were a big trend in Victorian head wear, in both Europe and the United States. They consisted of caps that fit the back of a woman's head and a rounded brim that rose from the head in front. In the 1850s, bonnets were altered to not overwhelm a lady's head. Smaller bonnets came into vogue; they sat farther back on the head to show off a woman's face. They were adorned with colourful accents and had wide ribbons hanging down which tied beneath a woman's chin to hold them in place.

Forward Tilted Hats

As the Victorian Era progressed, updo hairstyles became more elaborate works of art themselves. Simple chignon buns were often replaced by updos with ringlet curls and sophisticated designs for more formal events. Milliners adapted hat styles to accommodate these hairdos. By the beginning of the 1860s, small, forward-tilted hats that sat at the front of the woman's head came into style. These hats were as simple as a gathering of feathers or a sprig of flowers, or as complicated as miniature versions of silk or straw hats.

Larger Hats

Large hats with wide brims and copious amounts of decoration were worn throughout the era for social occasions such as parties and balls. In the 1850s and 1860s, as hairstyles themselves grew more elaborate, women usually wore either a simple bun hairstyle with a fancy hat, or a lavish hairstyle with a small, understated hat. Large-brimmed hats worn at an angle were in vogue in the 1860s, with feathers or flowers placed on top of the hat. These hats were often created to match formal party dresses and might include accent materials such lace or velvet from the dress itself.

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