More Bonnets, Modern and Historic

Quaker woman with bonnet, ca. 1890

The bonnet is a Plain woman’s declaration of her Plainness, I think. The bonnet is practical (keeps the head warm in winter, shaded in summer); is historically referenced (as this photo attests – and it seems this Quaker lady was making a statement with her bonnet) ; and is decidedly feminine (barring that the tocque Scotsmen wear is called a bonnet, but of a very different shape and decidedly masculine).

Before tanning was popular, and then not popular again but sunscreen had been invented, women wore sunbonnets and brimmed hats, but mostly bonnets. Bonnets stay on in a breeze, and will usually stay in place despite a stiff breeze. Brimmed hats blow off, or even if tied, wobble too much so that the face is exposed. Women with a life of leisure didn’t wear sunbonnets; they wore decorative bonnets or ornamental hats, with the implication being that they did not spend time outdoors, and certainly didn’t work outdoors. The parasol was their sunblock, and a woman with a parasol can’t do anything else but carry this shade on a stick and stroll slowly along on a pleasant day.

Vintage Amish sunbonnet from Lancaster County


 The sunbonnet a farm woman would choose for herself also covered the neck and ears. The back of the neck and even the earlobes are painful places to have sunburn. Children needed sunbonnets too, although little boys were usually covered with a straw hat like pa’s.

Amish child's sunbonnet, ca. 1950, Ontario

 I am placing this vintage child’s bonnet at about 1950 by the design and print. It could be later, made from a remnant or cut out of an older garment.

Sunbonnet patterns hadn’t disappeared with the advent of ready made brimmed hats. After World War I, women were ready to be feminine and fashionable, preferring mass-produced hats. But either because some of the older women preferred bonnets, or because there was still enough of a demand for practical farm attire, patterns were still available, although this one tried to cover all possible contingencies. My great-grandmothers would have liked this pattern, as they would have worn some sort of covering to church.

a whole wardrobe of toppers

 I would have expected sunbonnet patterns to have disappeared along with making your own bloomers by 1960, but even before the nostalgia of “Little House on the Prairie” and Holly Hobbie in the later 1970s and 1980s, there was this pattern.

Simplicity pattern, 1966

 The dress has that hippie-vibe of the mid-60s, unstructured, young, a bit daring at the neckline – it is a v-neck with an insert, so not too daring! The bonnet has a retro-chic to it, but maybe not too chic! While the shorter dress has a kind of California casual look, the longer version with the bonnet seems to say “Beverly Hillbillies.” Or maybe it is in the same line as this handmade costume for a “Tammy” doll, circa 1965 or earlier.

Tammy fashion doll

 My friend Beth had a Tammy doll about 1965, and I remember the outfit in the background. I suppose someone made the Amish-syle outfit, either because they wanted an Amish doll, or because it represented Tammy’s rural roots. (Tammy was from Mississipi, I think – and lived on a houseboat with her moonshiner grandfather. She definitely was not Amish.)

I am planning a post soon on other old-fashioned dolls that influenced many of us in our view of plain life. Contributions of your memories and photos are welcome.


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