A Skull for a Bonnet: 1896

 

a brooklyn woman whose bonnet is a skull

It is once again “World Goth Day,” a time to celebrate the dark, the decadent, and the black-garbed—although, frankly, Mrs Daffodil tries to quietly exemplify those qualities year-round.  And what better way to celebrate than with a superlative example of morbid millinery?

A SKULL FOR A BONNET.

A BROOKLYN WOMAN HAS THE MOST SENSATIONAL HEAD COVERING IN THE WORLD.

A Brooklyn woman is the proud possessor of the most gruesome headgear ever seen atop of a feminine head. She is proud of her curious bonnet chiefly because it is unique, and the consciousness that it cannot easily be duplicated by her envious sisters adds not a little to her feminine joy.

About a month ago the lady’s husband, a well-known physician of the City of Churches, took home a human skull, which the woman laughingly placed on her head, saying: “How is this, John for a stunning effect?”
“By Jove!” replied the husband, “the effect certainly is stunning. But the authorities would arrest you if you appeared on the street in that sort of head-dress.”

There the matter dropped. But the wife, full of a new idea, had the skull carefully cleaned and polished and, with a deftness known only to the hands of woman, fashioned an affair of skull, feathers and ribbons which, when completed, was as original an arrangement as one could imagine.

“It will make a great sensation,” said the lady of the skull bonnet to a horrified woman friend. And she was right, for wherever the grinning death’s-head, in its downy bower of feathers and ribbons, is seen it causes people to gape in utter amazement. The woman’s audacity is admired by the men, but roundly condemned by the women.

Still, the lady of the skull bonnet is quite indifferent to the criticism of either sex. To be sure, it is only on very especial occasions that the hideously pretty headgear is worn abroad, and then it is generally at night.

You may imagine the surprise of the woman’s husband when he first saw the very practical use to which his wife had put the skull he so innocently brought home. He remonstrated with his wife but to no end, for she contended with true womanly logic, that if it considered proper to wear the dead bodies of birds as a means of decoration, why should not a mere skull be just as properly employed for an artistic effect?

Even so convincing an argument failed to alter the view of the do tor, and he has gone so far as to offer his wife a splendid new bicycle if she will cast aside her queer headgear and don something more conventional. But the bonnet is still in readiness for my lady’s first walk abroad, and will be until she accepts her husband’s munificent compromise.

The St. Louis [MO] Post-Dispatch 11 October 1896: p. 28

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil rarely wonders at the morbid vagaries of the human race, but she is pursing her lips dubiously about the strict veracity of the tale above. The lady and her well-known physician husband are not named and the image does not convince us it is anything more than a portrait drawn from the artist’s fancy. One wonders if it was merely a satire about the hyperbolic hat styles of the late nineteenth century?

On the other hand, medical students and physicians, quite aside from their proclivities for stealing corpses and treating dissection-room subjects with levity, were known for some very grisly fancies, such as turning human remains into articles such as shoes, tobacco pouches, jewellery, tobacco jars, and drinking vessels. So one cannot entirely rule out the possibility of a skull being casually brought home by a physician. And the late nineteenth century was known for some decadent entertainments, such as the Cabaret du Néant, where the waiters dressed as undertakers and patrons sat at coffin-shaped tables, drank from skull-shaped cups, and watched Death-themed floor shows.

Surprisingly, the term “skull bonnet” was a well-known millinery term. For example:

A fashion writer refers to  “the ugly old skull bonnet we used to see during the war.” in The Weekly Era [Raleigh NC] 8 October 1874: p. 2

A small skull bonnet of straw, the crown surrounded with flowers, is worn with this [spring morning] costume.” (spring morning costume)

The Huddersfield Chronicle and West Yorkshire Advertiser 5 May 1881: p. 4

Tiny skull-cap bonnets are mentioned in The Graphic [London, England] 29 April 1893: p. 20

And in other advertisements we see “French Skull Bonnets” [1897]; Silk Skull Bonnets [1906] and the phrase is used to describe the 1920’s cloche: “The modern skull-tight bonnet” [1924]. The term seems simply to mean a bonnet with a tight-fitting crown.

Mrs Daffodil would be delighted to see proof that this was a genuine lady with a taste for truly macabre millinery.  And she wishes those who celebrate it a happy World Goth Day.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

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