Antique Headdresses & Crowns

Discover a vintage headpiece to make you travel in time through the aesthetics walkaway!

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A Crowning Achievement: Antique Headdress From 1850 to 1950

Antique headdress 19 century, glass grapes and silk leaves
Antique headdress 19th century. France. Glass grapes and ivory silk leaves

The Origin of the Antique Headdress

By the turn of the 19th-century wigs, which had been all the rage, were going out of fashion in Europe. By the 1850s Victorian women had abandoned them almost entirely. In fact, instead of hiding their hair, wealthy Victorian women chose to flaunt it. The more hair the better, so much so that it was rare for a woman of means to ever have her hair cut at all.

Long hair became a symbol of feminine virtue. A woman blessed with naturally strong hair, or with the means to purchase the emerging array of new hair care products, could easily grow her hair out past her knees. Displaying all this hard-fought-for hair was the topic of much discussion and careful planning.

Even the design of hats, so important for shielding women’s delicate skin from the deleterious effects of the sun, required that they not unduly hide the lustrous locks of their wearers. For this reason, the bonnet, which sat high atop a women’s head rather than covering it, grew in popularity, particularly amongst the younger generations.

The task of managing and decorating all the hair that Victorian women could grow demanded a variety of accessories. Headdresses, tiaras, and even crowns for special occasions became extremely fashionable. All of these accessories were worn to accentuate, compliment, and support a women’s hairstyle. Hair of such length was almost always braided, plaited, and/or rolled into various configurations that required the use of pins, ribbons, bows, and even entire headpieces to keep them orderly and in place. Each of the accessories was an opportunity for artistry.

Not Without My Headdress

The typical daytime “coiffure” might even include a pre-styled piece of false hair. While wigs were a thing of the past, fake hairpieces, usually made from human hair sourced from less well-to-do European women, but occasionally from as far afield as Chinese yaks, were carefully selected to match the hair colour of their wearers.

Glamour guides complete with pictures of various hairstyles were popular at the time, just as modern fashion magazines are today. In them, women were given the latest fashion tips and how-to guides on elegant ways in which they could fashion their hair and what headdresses were currently in vogue.

While daytime headdresses were usually designed with at least some measure of practicality in mind, evening headdresses were styled to impress and allure.

The effort and craftsmanship of many of these pieces made them incredible examples of transient artwork. During the middle decades of the 19th century the use of flowers and feathers was particularly popular after Queen Victoria, purportedly inspired by Chinese floral headwear, wore a wreath of orange blossoms at her wedding to Prince Albert in 1840. From then on Victorian brides followed suit and the floral bridal wreath tradition continues to this day.

Vintage floral crown. Silk, feathers and wax flowers. France, 1800s
Vintage floral crown. French bridal headdress, 1800s
Vintage floral tiara, 1900s.
Vintage floral tiara, 1900s.

Floral Tiara

Floral tiaras were also particularly fashionable for formal evening balls. Using seasonal flowers, these tiaras were intricately incorporated into the plaiting or braiding of a women’s hair.

Another decoration used frequently to adorn Victorian women’s hair and headpieces were feathers. Whether they were used to decorate a hat or weaved directly into the plaits and braids, feathers were a 19th-century fashion phenomenon. The so-called 19th century “plume boom” saw ostrich feathers from the Middle East and as far as Southern Africa imported and sold for more by weight than gold. Parrot feathers from South America and Birds of Paradise feathers from New Guinea were imported into Europe by the ton.

Although initially, these feathers were too expensive for the common lady, by the late 19th century so massive was the trade in feathers that the so-called “Ostrich Barons” of South Africa profitably reared Ostriches on farms solely for their feathers. The so-called “3-storey” hats of the 1880s were abundantly adorned with flowers and feathers and were veritable art pieces perched, sometimes precariously, atop women’s heads.

Hairnets to hold Victorian ladies’ voluminous braids and rolls were also popular. They could be mundane daytime affairs decorated with simple knots or bows or elaborate evening pieces adorned with gold, pearls, and other fine beads and precious stones.

Victorian Crown

The most elaborate headpieces of the Victorian era were crowns. While Victorians were deferential to the royal family, imitation of them was considered the highest flattery, particularly as mentioned, at weddings and very formal evenings. Interestingly many Victorian era crowns, particularly bridal crowns, were made of wax. The wax crowns were mostly molded to resemble floral arraignments. As stunning as they were temporary, the care that went into making them is breath-taking.

Whether because fresh flowers couldn’t be found, or as a way to respectfully differentiate their crowns from those of royalty, crowns of wax were fashioned in an incredible number of styles. Though usually white, wax crowns could also be tastefully coloured in pale hues of yellow, pink, or blue, and even green. Though the first wax crowns were made to imitate the orange blossoms originally worn by Queen Victoria, as time went on wax artisans branched out, as it were, to include other flower species into their headpiece arrangements. And because these “flowers” never wilted, wax flower tiaras could be reused through the generations or gifted to new brides-to be.

Even today wax crowns from the Victorian era survive and because the wax is so forgiving can usually be retouched to their former glory by contemporary artisans.

Wax flowers crown. Victorian bridal headdress, 1880s
Antique Victorian crown, 1880s.
Wax flowers and fabric leaves
That is exactly what you can find in HankiesHandkisses: antique crowns to buy, floral tiaras to wear.

20th-Century, Only for Very Special Occasions

By the turn of the 20th century, however, fashion trends began to turn away from the elaborate and exotic and turn towards a more sleek, streamlined, and modern sensibility. The use of flowers, feathers, wax, and jewels became increasingly restrained except for the most special of occasions.

The First World War disrupted international supply chains and marked the end of the “plume bloom.” The “roaring 20s” economic recovery following WWI ushered in a new fashion aesthetic. Most consequential for the fashion of head dressing was that women increasingly began cutting their long and lustrous locks into short “bobs.” Hairnets became unnecessary and the braids and plaits into which flowers and feathers wear once woven were increasingly shorn off. In their stead women of means in the first few decades of the 20th century began to adorn their heads and hair with smaller less cumbersome ornaments more in keeping with their shorter hair and busier lifestyles.

Headbands, often heavily adorned with jewels and sometimes even a feather or two, became increasingly fashionable among the 1920s “Flapper” generation along with the “cloche” hat. A snug-fitting bell-shaped hat the cloche, unlike the bonnet of the previous era, hid most of a women’s hair and was usually made out of monotone felt with minimal decoration.

Vintage Flapper style headdress. Bridal crown with wax flowers and golden tassels
Vintage Flapper style headdress 1920s

Vintage Headdress

Through the Second World War hats and headdress fell increasingly out of fashion. The world was preoccupied with other matters. But upon the war’s conclusion hats and headpieces, though increasingly reserved for special occasions, experienced something of a resurgence particularly in the high fashion industry where design inspiration was very eclectic.

Today we have the wonderful luxury to dress and accessorize in whatever style we wish. The vintage design aesthetic of the Victorian era can be appreciated and indulged in alongside more modern styling.

By mixing and matching you can create your style!
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