Monday, October 24, 2011

More hat pondering

Petrus Christus, after 1460, Portrait of a Young Girl
So I've been poking around at all the Burgundian hat pages I can find (not too many, sad to say, though there are a few) and the current generally accepted "right" way to make these things seems to be willow, cane or some other basketry method as opposed to stiffed fabric.  Huh.  I suppose this makes as much sense as another else, we know they knew how to weave straw, we know they wove straw into hats, so why not?  Of course, we also know they made felt and fabric hats and some of them (like the Phrygian style caps and loaf hats) are pretty architectural so I'm not really 100% convinced, but lacking any extant hats to look at, it's as good an argument as any.

What bothers me about this argument though is that many, if not all, of these cone type hats seem to be covered with fabric (though I can think of one that sort of looks like woven ribbons or a basket type surface, it's hard to tell).  Covering woven straw or reeds with delicate fabric seems like a bad plan, as the straw would wear through some of the clearly very delicate cloth that's on these hats. Sure, you can pad it out to protect the cloth, but that makes for a pretty chunky looking hat.

I don't know.  I have a lot of buckram so since I have that to hand and am not entering that hat in an A&S competition, I'm going to use that for the first version of the hat.  I've always loved the simplicity of the hat in the Christus portrait, and the neck drape is all kinds of fun, so I might go with that look instead of the more formal gold thing in the original painting I'm basing the actual dress on.  The black hat strikes me as less formal somehow, which I think would work better with my wool gown.  The dates on the paintings are close enough that I don't think it will be a problem, plus the hats are very similar in shape and sitting in the same position on the head (the gold hat is a little more rounded in shape) so the style doesn't seem to have changed much.

One other interesting structural mystery about these hats is the loop.  What are they for?  What are they attached to?  You can see in the Memling picture here, showing ladies with loops but no hats, that the loops appear to be attached to headbands or something attached to the hair, not the hat.  It might be that the hat sits over the loop/headband thing and attaches to it, with the loop acting as a counterbalance.  This makes a certain amount of sense to me.  When I was in college, I had to do a theatrical version of a horned hennin as part of my senior project and it was very difficult to counterbalance.  I solved the problem with some creative shaping in the back of the hat, which looked ok but prevented me from turning my neck in certain directions.  That same semester we had to make these big bubble-shaped head pieces based on the same hennin idea and solved the problem with little close fitting caps that went under the whole mess, so perhaps the loop-band is serving the same purpose. 


  1. I do believe you are right about the construction of such a hat; a felted base seems much more plausible than one made of straw!

  2. For the loop, you can also see some sans hats in this image:

    Which is from this book:

    In the lady on the far right, plus the lady on the far left, the loop appears to be attached to a band, which appears to be attached to a hairnet of some sort.

  3. Cynthia Virtue also has an article about the headband loop which includes an image of the band without a hairnet:

    Yet another theory on how to keep the hats on...