The size of hatpins had grown as hats became larger. They grew from 5 inches to over 12 inches in length, and some were quite sturdy. As well, what had started as a simple hatpin with a black or white head had turned into a much more eye catching item.
A number of problems arose when larger hats became fashionable. Part of the problem was that women did not remove their hats indoors in public places such as restaurants, churches, conference halls and theatres. In the 1880s, hats were often adorned with feathers, flowers and ribbons which had the effect of making the profile of the hat quite large. Add a few long hatpins to keep it in place and they made quite a statement. In 1895, one man complained that the hat in front of him was about 18 inches across and 15 inches high (Segrave, Chapter one). In theatres, people began to complain that they couldn’t see the stage due to the hats blocking their views. In Ohio, an act was passed in 1896 requiring theatre managers to ensure people’s views of the stage were not blocked (Segrave, Chapter 1). Over the next few years, other US states and cities passed big hat laws or ordinances.
The hatpins themselves were the cause of other problems in that it was said that they (or their unprotected ends) accidentally scratched and hurt passers-by, travelers on public transport and even horses. Between 1895 and 1914, the press around the large hat-wearing world published various stories about the dangers of long and unprotected hatpins. The press in Paris published stories calling for the banning of ‘murderous hat pins’ (Segrave, Chapter 7). The New Zealand Times on 13th December 1912 reported that a tram conductor had received a hatpin injury and the Auckland Mayor had agreed to draft an ordinance to deal with the issue. A letter to the Editor of the Brisbane Courier in 1911 recounted a couple of incidents where men were hurt by hatpins, one seriously. Similar reports were occurring in the Baltimore Sun in 1909, the Chicago Daily Tribune in 1908 and the New York Times in 1909.
Despite the anecdotal nature of most of the stories about dangerous hatpins, some cities and states tried to ban the wearing of the hatpins themselves, others just tried to ban the wearing of hatpins without guards. Some tried to have the hatpins declared to be concealed weapons and some tried to restrict the allowable length of hatpins.
Kerry Segrave in her book, ‘The Hatpin Menace’, outlines in Chapter 8 efforts made to address the problem, some successful, some not. Cities including London, Sydney, Berlin, Hamburg, Vienna, Budapest, Zurich, New York, Chicago, Indianapolis, Seattle, Philadelphia, Kansas City, New Orleans, and Milwaukee attempted laws or rules. Jursidictions such as Massachusetts, Wisconsin and California, New Jersey, Michigan, Louisiana, and Connecticut debated legislation, again with varied success. None were particularly effective.
There is no doubt that there were some cases of people being hurt or scratched by hatpins without guards on the end and there is no doubt that the big hat fashion was rather ridiculous but the response by officials and legislators seemed extreme. It also overlooked the fact that some women used their hatpins to protect themselves from ‘mashers’, that is, men who accosted or assaulted them on public transport and in the streets. None of the legislative attempts to manage hatpins dealt with protecting women from sexual abuse.
The start of WWI saw a change to women’s hats. Over the next 15 to 20 years, the large hat (and the large hairstyles) were gradually replaced by turbans, cloches and rolled brim hats, tight fitting hats worn over plaited, permed or bobbed hair. Feathers and flowers might be still attached to hats but were thinner arrangements. Picture hats were still around but had much lower profiles and hatpins fell out of use.
Karen Abbott, ‘The Hatpin Peril’, 2014, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/hatpin-peril-terrorized-men-who-couldnt-handle-20th-century-woman-180951219/
Tom Lawson, ‘Hats. Hair. Pins and Hatpins in Circa 20,000 years’, 2011, https://web.archive.org/web/20130108011912/http://www.hatpinsociety.org.uk/downloads/hats-hairs-pins-hatpins.pdf.
Kerry Segrave, ‘The Hatpin Menace: American Women Armed and Fashionable, 1887-1920’, 2016, Kindle edition.
Anna Temby, ‘With Daggers in her Bonnet: The Australian hatpin panic of 1912’, http://www.auswhn.org.au/blog/hatpin-panic/
“The Little History of Stick-Pins’, https://www.lillicoco.com/blogs/love-lillicoco-blog/the-little-history-of-stick-pins
‘The HeyDay of the Hatpin’, 2014, https://kingdomsparkle.com/blog/2014/11/heyday-hatpin/