It was in the late seventeenth century that women’s headgear began to emerge in its own right and not be influenced by men’s hat fashions. According to HatsUK, the word ‘milliner’, a maker of women’s hats, was first recorded in 1529 when the term referred to the products for which Milan and the northern Italian regions were well known, i.e. ribbons, gloves and straws. The haberdashers who imported these highly popular straws were called ‘Millaners’ from which the word was eventually derived.
By the mid 1800’s Swiss and Italian straws, together with imitation straws made from paper, cardboard, grass and horsehair were available to women, along with the introduction of velvet and tulle. Throughout this journey, as hats evolved, they became works of art. True craftsmanship was required to create hats, which at this time were all made by hand. The fact that many antique hats in good condition exist today is a testament to the quality of haberdashery and the care taken by owners to preserve their hats. A hat put on display can become a beautiful conversation piece, or simply a lovely object to fill a special corner of your home. And for those of us with that certain sense of ‘style’, they can still be worn — for the right occasion, of course.