by Elsie Walker
There was a time when hats were an everyday fashion accessory. However, these days, hats seem relegated to special occasions and the New York Easter parade.
As women evolved, so did hats and their role in fashion. This was especially true during the 1800s. Not only did hat styles change, but people’s “hatattitudes” towards them.
No one knows that better than Chester resident and author, Carlotta Holton.
Known for her horror works, such as “Salem Pact” and “Grave Matters,” Holton has a collection of 20 Victorian era hats from the United States, England and Ireland. Now, she has turned her interest into a presentation in which, dressed as a Victorian lady, she gives a glimpse into the sometimes whimsical history of fashion during the early days before the Civil War, and Reconstruction afterward, right up to the Edwardian period.
Given the look that some hats took on, the presentation is called “Hattitude” and Holton is taking it on the road to local venues including September 20 at 11 a.m. at the Chester Public Library, with another upcoming presentation being at the Chester 50 Plus club. She has plans for additional venues as well. Recently, Holton talked about what sparked her interest in hats, some history on them, and what it took to be a Victorian hat wearer.
“I have always been interested in the Victorian era, specifically because of the works of Charles Dickens and later American writers during this time,” she said. “I am impressed that Queen Victoria had such an incredible influence, not only in her home country, but here in America as well. Trimmed with frills, feathers, flowers, veils, jewels and ribbons, hats were a ‘must-have’ fashion accessory for women in the 1800s.”
Holton noted that she started collecting hats about a decide ago. It began when she joined a local chapter of the women’s group known as the Red Hat Society. For her red hat, she searched the internet, and from a website based in Georgia, she got red satin Victorian “touring” hat with lace and ribbons and a veil that became the hat which she wore at the group’s holiday events. Later, Holton began working at historic Waterloo Village, where her role in the village required her to wear a simple “poke” bonnet. Her experiences sparked an interest in historical fashion.
“I discovered that during the Victorian era women did not leave home without a head covering,” said Holton. “What determined the style was economics: who could afford what, and the function to which the hats were worn. In the early 1800’s bonnets of felt and cotton were eventually replaced by fancier satin or velvet bonnets with fringe, beads, lace and colorful ribbon.”
She noted, “By the mid-century hats became outrageous in style and stature with bird feathers, nests, flowers, and fruits and were worn to tea, garden parties, the races, church, weddings, touring in a carriage, riding horses and similar situations.”
Holton shared that the zest for bird-related adornment for the hats finally drove famed conservationist John James Audubon, and others like him, to call for the stop of killing birds just to use their feathers in hats.
In her presentation, Holton, dressed a white long sleeved high-collared Victorian lace gown complete with hoop skirt, sets the scene for a look back in time. Having done, in costume, a previous presentation on characters in a Dicken’s work, Holton has no trouble opening up to an audience. Also, she shared that the subject matter helps to bring in an element of humor.
“Many of the hats reached epic proportions,” said Holton. “That in itself was whimsical. I think women who paraded around in their hats had to be bold to carry off the look and that creates a sense of whimsy.”