One of my mother’s favourite possessions is an antique porcelain hatpin holder, inherited from her mother. For years, she had thought it was a sugar shaker as it had small holes in the top and a cork filled hole at the bottom. Visiting a museum one day, she saw a similar piece with hatpins sticking out of it and realized what its purpose was. She collected a few hatpins so it could be put to its original use.
Once, when I was talking to her during the long 2021 covid lock down, we got onto hatpins and why we don’t use them now. This conversation led me to think about the history of hatpins. Their heyday was certainly the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, but they do go back many centuries, not perhaps as far back as the hairpin, but still a long way.
Metal pins were used to pin veils as far back as the 10th century in Europe. Women wore wimples from the 12th to the 14th centuries, and pins can be seen in some paintings of women wearing head dresses in the Tudor and Renaissance periods. Generally, the pins were short, around 1 to 3 inches in length with small plain tops. They were not meant for show.
In early Georgian times, longer pins began to be used to skewer ornate wigs into place and to anchor the large hats that sat on top of the wigs. They were designed to be ornamental. However, the beginning of the 19th century saw the introduction of bonnets and hats that tied up under the chin with ribbons and so hatpins were not needed. Bonnets began to go out of fashion in the middle of the 19th century.
Hair styles towards the end of the Victorian era and up until the beginning of WW1 were worn up in quite elaborate styles, so it wasn’t possible to just cram a hat over it. Pins were needed to skewer the hat into the hair. But the pins also became fashion statements. The key jewellery designers of the period like the Castellani family, Faberge, Lalique and Tiffany all produced beautiful pieces. There is a lovely example of a hatpin by Castellani from the 1880s in the Metropolitan Museum (https://images.metmuseum.org/CRDImages/es/original/DP-12365-005.jpg) (see below) and the British Museum has one by Lalique (https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/H_1978-1002-28).
Hatpins grew longer and by the end of the century some were as long as 12 inches.
Next week, I’ll talk more about Victorian and Edwardian hatpins.