Imagine the hardships of life 100 years ago today.
No WaterPic, no wipers, no central heat and air. 1922 filled in what it lacked in comfortable shoes with asbestos: asbestos everywhere. And hookworms. And even if times had turned against them, corsets.
And hats. Today, our friend the hat is worn voluntarily and admired as an intelligent precaution wherever he goes, especially at church. But in 1922, uncapped heads were judged harshly. The age and appearance of the hat was read as evidence of good or bad character.
You needed a new hat for every season, and that hat needed a stand, a rest, and often its own bandbox. Enterprising guys were always looking for an opportunity to steal their hat.
Worse was the expense borne by followers of the “correct” hat – the hat with style. One can feel how harshly incorrect hats have been criticized in the weekly fashion reports the Arkansas Gazette presented to female readers of its Sunday edition.
For delightful disdain and sniffling, it’s hard to top the prose of “Anne Rittenhouse.” Rittenhouse was the pseudonym of Harry-dele Hallmark (1867-1932). His smart parents were Harry and Adele. A former New York Times fashion editor, she wrote for the McClure Newspaper Syndicate and eventually for McCall’s magazine.
Here is some of his information from 1922 on the very last word in millinery. The essay “The horizon is the only limit to new wide-brimmed hats” appeared in the Gazette on May 21 of that year.
“Truly,” she begins, “no hat is too big for the head.”
Some women, however, clung like fools to their frumpy little hats:
“The woman who bravely ventures into an oblong turban, or whatever style the Queen of England adopts, needs all her bravery for the act. She is looked at with the kind of amazement the world still gives to the crumpled white Russian boots on the street in the middle of the day.”
Women in unstylish turbans have compounded their crime…she makes it look like a crime…by failing to tip those turbans too small to cover their eyebrows. Regardless of size, hats should all be pulled down over the eyebrows.
“It’s the least they can do in the name of style,” she sniffs. “Lady Astor set a bad example with her famous three-cornered hat by pushing it back from her eyebrows, showing an expanse of bare forehead, which is a severe test for any face. Even youth without wrinkles, because ‘thoughtless, can take away this angle of the headgear with complete satisfaction for the viewer.
“If middle-aged people wear their little hats on their foreheads, emphasizing wrinkles and revealing the age of the eyes – and no woman does this on purpose and with direct intent – at least let them soften bare skin with tendrils or waves of hair.”
Observers should not be upset, she specifies: “It is not a question of a coming and going of fashion. It’s about softening the face, treating it with gentle consideration.
“There are women who don’t even pull a few hairs around their ears. They viciously stick the hard headgear on their heads, ignoring the fact that hair is given to help us look more human.”
She was not a fan of a recent craze for Russian peasant styles.
“So it’s strange that in addition to the unmistakable Russian influence in all forms of clothing this spring, there’s also floating on the horizon the kind of hat we associate with strawberries, and those gargantuan strawberries. Why this link? Because the islands of Britain seem to sprout both the fruit and the huge umbrella hat. One has the impression of going to play tennis with the young priest when one puts on one of them. …
“If a young woman wears a parasol effect on her yellow straw head and garnishes it with clusters of yellow buttercups, she is bound to look like a 19th century garden party. At that time, however, they wore bangs or a wave of hair of water to show between the hat and the eyes. Today it is different. The hat is worn to conceal the eyebrows.
Again, ladies, please, eyebrows should be hidden. Rittenhouse continues…
“There is another type of huge hat that is not Victorian. It is a black straw with a crown as wide as a turban topped with a mean, slender black bird, sporting a tail out of all proportion This so-called tail strikes a path through the front of the hat and flies into space beyond the limits of the owner’s shoulders.
“Yet these two hats, expressing a different philosophy, are worn, copied and praised.”
How has Russian influence affected hats? Rittenhouse says: “As a milliner suggests a Russian hat for the new spring dress, the woman says irritably that she is tired of pointy crowns; that they were killed two years ago; that such hats were sold in wholesale centers for next to nothing and were worn by hundreds of people who seemed next to nothing.
“The milliner responds to this argument with a superior smile, a kind of mysterious smile like the one who is about to open a Jack-in-the-box to a child. She shows the new Russian hat of Suzanna Talbot of Paris, which gave hat to the dark corners of all the gopher meadows on this continent. Not that tedious Suzanne knows it. But neither do we. So it doesn’t matter.
“Referring to history, she took the hats of men and women who never stopped wearing elementary clothes of coloring, clothes intended to compensate for the monotony of the landscape in which they are condemned to live, and yet as brilliant as the clothes of southern Russia, where the people are like children in their love of bright colors, lively and boisterous dances, strident fashions.
“Talbot takes the bonnet of such an ancient Russian costume and touches it with enough French delicacy to transform it into something good to wear. [Auguste] Racinet does not realize that this new species of Liberty cap was the universal headgear of those who served under Peter the Great. …
“Caution is in order when adopting any of these imitation Slavic adornments. They are beautiful to look at, beautiful on stage under the colored lights, but often questionable on the head of the average woman going about her business. The problem with a young, imitative country like ours is that its people are eager to absorb, but often unaware of the occasions for which the originals were worn.A groom’s coat at a Cossack wedding n not quite appropriate for a shopping spree down Main Street at 11 a.m. on a hot day.”
I wish I could fit the whole diatribe in this space. Maybe another day.
Meanwhile, Harry-dele’s dry wit was on full display during the testimony she gave as Anne Rittenhouse in 1925 before the U.S. House of Representatives Patent Committee. Sample quote: “I just got back from Paris. I live in Georgia, I’m a Southerner, and I work in New York, like most Southerners do.”
You can read the rest here arkansasonline.com/516anne.