A 1780s Gainsborough hat


I don’t own a hatstand, so what you see is actually my… kitchen towel holder. It could be worse.

I actually needed a new 1780s hat for my new 1780s riding habit (as much as you need any 1780s hat anyway) and from observing the fashionable imagery of the 1780s, it became quite clear that I needed a hat with a high crown and wide brim rather than decorating my fifth bergere hat.

Now constructing such a beast from nothing isn’t that easy. I considered reshaping an existing straw hat, sewing one out of buckram, or blocking one out of wool felt but wasn’t really feeling any of it. Stabilizing a wide felt, straw or buckram brim is not easy and might have required endless tinkering.

But before the day I wanted to go out and buy some gum arabicum, I decided to go to  a local church bazaar. And there in the middle of the room, on an amazing hat stand was this wide-brimmed Gainsborough hat with a high crown, made out of Florentine Straw, costing about as much as a small bottle of gum arabicum glue.


Florentine Straw is a type of straw weaving that is no longer being done. In some places you can still buy old unblocked hats out of Florentine Straw but it’s a dead art. As you can see the hat is woven as a whole not by stitching together straw braid.

The only existential question remained was whether straw hats were worn to riding habits and the answer was yes:


Journal der Moden und des Luxus, June 1787 – It even has the round crown shape.

I took off the existing decoration and decided to go for an all white-on-white color scheme since I already had white ostrich feathers and silk ribbons in my stash and white goes with everything.

I made a wide, silk taffeta ribbon out of fabric since finding silk ribbon over a width of 2inches/5cm is not easy if you don’t want to spend 50 dollars for a yard. I then added actually white silk ribbon to the hatband to make a subtle pattern and hide an imperfection in the ribbon’s interlining. I made a big bow of the fake ribbon and then sewed together and shaped a few ostrich feathers to make thick plumes. Last but not least I made a large hatbox (not pictured because it’s ugly) because the Florentine Straw is actually quite fragile.





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