Essential vintage fashion accessories | hats & gloves
Sep 12, 2018 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
Welcome to the second edition of our series on essential vintage fashion accessories. In today’s post we’ll discuss hats and gloves. While faux pearls have kept their place in the hallowed halls of high fashion, it is incredibly rare to see a modern woman donning a topper or gloves (outside of a climate-related necessity). As time marches on it seems our society is shedding its layers – both in terms of formality and wardrobe.
While the woman in Victorian times followed distinct rules regarding correspondence and address, today’s gal can communicate through something as casual as an emoji. The calling cards of yesterday are today’s Instagram stories. If we subscribe to the theory that history does repeat itself, will we see a renaissance in personalized communications? If so, could this revival expand to include gloves and hats? Time will tell, but in the meantime let us know your thoughts in the comments…
History of Gloves in Fashion | Jazz Age
The early days of gloves are defined by their three, main purposes: indication of social status, protection against disease, and preservation of modesty. The rules around wearing gloves started to ease with the Jazz Age and this is the era we’ll discuss. For the woman in the 1920s gloves were no longer a requirement during the hottest months. The gloves worn during the cooler seasons contrasted the climate – bright colors and pattern work dominated the fashion scene. What’s even more interesting is that the very interpretation of social standing completely transformed during this time. At the turn of the century any bold hue was indicative of a lower class or gaudy person, but the end of the great war inspired expressions of luxury and individuality.
Suddenly ladies of means were taking every opportunity to match their gloves to the color of their attire. The women without disposable income donned neutral colors. The very lack of color that would have signaled their high status now indicated quite the opposite. Funny how much things can change over the course of a generation!
Beyond the differences in color scheme, the structure of the gloves themselves also evolved into shorter and more exaggerated silhouettes. A glove style called the gauntlet was most popular and defined by its large cuff. Advances in elasticity meant that women didn’t have to fuss with buttons any longer. Like the whimsy of a jazz tune, a gal could pull her gloves off and on with ease. The lack of buttons also meant the entire cuff surface was un-interrupted and a ready canvas for all manner of embroidery and decoration. Geometric patterns mimicking the architectural flavor of the day were a popular choice.
Flappers, those fiercely independent spitfires, abandoned many of the social cues of the past. Gloves, funny enough, was one tradition they didn’t entirely discard. Indeed, the long and luxurious opera gloves enjoyed by the aristocratic crowd found new life in the smoky jazz clubs of the day. Gloves survived the depression largely intact, but the rations of WWII signaled the decline of this vintage fashion accessory. The wild child of the 1960s dealt the final blow and gloves are now considered a utilitarian item.
Two Exceptional Toppers | Pillbox and Cloche
Much like gloves, hats are now classified as practical rather than essential. The only modern exception seems to rest with the entertainment community. But in the recent past, musical talent wasn’t a prerequisite for a stellar hat collection. Today we’ll look at two of my personal favorites: the pillbox and the cloche.
The pillbox hat can trace its origins back to Roman times (much like we discovered during our stroll through the faux pearl’s history). This brimless and flat shape adorned the heads of many a Roman soldier. As the decades passed, warriors for the British, Canadian, and Flemish armies would count this style of headgear as part of their kit. By the 1930s the growing millinery industry repurposed the shape for the wonder women of their generation. Known for a lack of adornment and streamlined silhouette, the hat enjoyed stable popularity throughout the war years. By the 1960s that distinction soared with the debut of a stylish new First Lady: Jackie Kennedy. Her distinctive pillbox hats were made by a young designer by the name of Roy Halston Frowick. Known simply as Halston by the 1970s, he continued a longstanding tradition of great designers cutting their teeth in the millinery trade.
The inventor of the cloche deviated from that trend, remaining in the millinery business and being dubbed the “queen of the milliners.” Caroline Reboux was an entirely self-made woman, arriving in 1850s Paris as an orphan and leaving a legacy beloved by iconic figures of society. As hat design was the entry point to haute couture, Caroline became the mentor for a generation of fashion designers. Caroline’s hats were so desirable it’s as if you can trace every stitch on a gown back to her collaborative spirit. Some scholars feel the cloche was a co-creation, alongside Lucy Hamar. While the moment of inspiration is debatable, what we can say with certainty is Caroline’s clientele cemented the cloche in fashion history.
Popular during the mid-1920s, the bell-shaped topper was a perfect accompaniment to the newly fashionable, shorter hairstyles. The cloche was typically made of felt, allowing it to conform to the head. For purists, the hat remained unadorned to showcase the structure. A few years later, designers began to personalize the shape with feathers, brooches, and ribbons. The addition of ribbons also meant these hats became a calling card in their own right. A tightly knotted bow indicated the wearer was married, whereas a flamboyant bow indicated the wearer was single and ready to mingle. Women allowed their fashion choices to speak for themselves in unprecedented ways. That kind of spunk has made the cloche part of 1960s fashion, 1980s trends, and more recently a participant in 2010s catwalks.
As we consider these two essential vintage fashion accessories, I am reminded again of the amazing Coco Chanel’s words: “Adornment, what a science! Beauty, what a weapon! Modesty, what elegance!” Today’s interpretation of science in fashion is a smartwatch or a responsive textile. The science of yesteryear seems somehow more individualized and expressive. Can fashion progress alongside modern developments without losing its essence of character? Give us your view in the comments…