Hats & Cloaks
Advert from the Leeds Mercury, June, 1840.
In 1840s England hats were considered to be informal headgear worn at the
seaside, in the garden and in the country; on most other occasions bonnets were
worn.1. The straw hats seen in the photo are similar to
those seen in British photographs and fashion engravings c1860-65 but in the 1840s this style
of hat was unique to Germany.
Although the Bronte sisters never visited Germany, Charlotte and Emily studied
the language whilst in Brussels in 1842. Emily did not return with Charlotte to Belgium in
1843 but continued studying German at Haworth Parsonage.
"any one passing by the kitchen-door, might have seen [Emily]
studying German out of an open book, propped up before her, as she kneaded the dough; but no
study, however interesting, interfered with the goodness of the bread, which was always light
Anne was working at Thorp Green Hall, near York and is also thought to
have been learning German because she purchased Rabenhorst's Pocket Dictionary of the
German and English Languages in York on 14 September 1843.
One of Charlotte's closest friends spent two years teaching in
Germany. Mary Taylor was an early feminist, keen traveller and lifelong friend of Charlotte Bronte.
She was teaching in Hagen, Germany, unusually for the time, at a boys' school. Charlotte was
invited to join her there but she declined the offer. In 1844
Mary returned to England and stayed at Haworth Parsonage in December and/or January
If the hats are German then it is probable that they came from Mary as
she had brought back foreign fashion accessories before. After her return
from Belgium in 1841 Mary sent "a very handsome black silk scarf, and a
pair of beautiful kid gloves, bought at Brussels" to Charlotte, who felt
embarrassed to receive such expensive gifts. 2.
ABOVE LEFT: An illustration of a
straw hat in Allgemeine Moden-Zeitung dated 1840.
ABOVE RIGHT: 'Emily' in the photograph wearing a hat
of a similar style.
English fashion plates of the 1840s are almost devoid of ladies' hats
but in the German equivalent there are a number of different styles.3.
Mary emigrated to New Zealand in March 1845 but continued to correspond with her
friends. In September 1845, Charlotte wrote to her other close friend, Ellen Nussey:
"I have just read Mary's letters; they are very interesting and show the
vigorous and original cast of her mind. There is but one thing I could wish otherwise in them,
that is a certain tendency to flightiness--it is not safe, it is not wise, and will be
misconstrued. Perhaps flightiness is not the right word, but it is a devil-may-care tone; which
I do not like when it proceeds from under a hat, and still less from under
Charlotte clearly distinguished between the informality associated with hats,
and the more formal bonnets. In Charlotte's novel 'Shirley' (1849) the character 'Rose Yorke' is
based on Mary Taylor.
Mary Taylor - Frau
Some twenty years after Charlotte's death, Mary Taylor, along with
four younger ladies, published a travel memoir "Swiss Notes by Five Ladies." The
introduction contains a brief description of "Frau Mutter" (Mary Taylor). A third of it is
devoted to her hat:
"The description would be incomplete without mentioning her hat; a disc of course straw,
about the size and shape of a cart-wheel; ornamented with limp white muslin, and tied with
scarlet braid, which she guards with jealous care; and when not wearing, in the orthodox
manner, carries on her arm, and cannot be induced to part with."
ABOVE: Mary Taylor (left) with straw hat and companions, climbing in Switzerland,
would have worn bonnets in the 1840s but there is mention of them
"Eh, dear, when I think about them I can
see them as plain to my mind's eye as if they were here. They wore light-coloured dresses all
print, and they were all dressed alike until they gate into young women. I don't know that I
ever saw them in owt but print. I've heard it said they were pinched [short of money] but it
was nice print: plain with long sleeves and high neck and tippets down to the waist. The
tippets were marrow to their dresses and they'd light-coloured hats on. They
If my memory serves me correctly, I
believe the Miss Brontes' dresses have been criticised by others as being somewhat quaint and
prim and old-fashioned and indeed anything but 'grand,' but then these critics had not lived in
Haworth all their lives and brought up a family on twelve shillings a week hard-earned in a
mill as had my old lady." 4.
The three ladies in the photo are wearing hooded
cloaks. 'Charlotte' and 'Emily' have thick fleece travelling cloaks with sleeves but 'Anne' is
wearing a cloak made of a thinner fabric.
It has been suggested that this may be because Charlotte and Emily travelled to Belgium in February 1842 whilst Anne
remained in Yorkshire, working for the Robinson family. Others
consider that the difference in the cloaks could be because two ladies have travelled a
long distance but the third has not. If the photo was taken in York then this could explain why. In
the first few months of 1845 Charlotte & Emily were living in Haworth and a journey to York
would take several hours; Anne was working at the Robinson's Thorp Green Hall, just twelve
miles from York.
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1. The Cambridge History of Western
There is also
evidence that ‘country ladies’ in this period did wear straw hats in public but this was not
accepted in the city. Jane Welsh Carlyle, who moved from Scotland to London, wrote to her sister in
"I am not allowed to wear straw hats here; the Cockney “force of public opinion,”
gazing at one with astonishment on the streets, renders it more advisable to submit patiently to
the absurdest monster of a felt. I tried the straw four years ago (a hat of her plaiting, which I
used to wear in Edinburgh); but found it would not do."The Carlyle Letters OnlineHERE
2. Letter from Charlotte Bronte to
Ellen Nussey, August 7th, 1841. The Life of Charlotte Brontë, by Elizabeth
Gaskell, Chapter 10.
Martha [Taylor], it appears, is in the way of enjoying
great advantage; so is Mary, for you will be surprised to hear that she is
returning immediately to the Continent with her brother; not, however, to stay there, but to
take a month's tour and recreation.... I had a long letter from Mary, and a
packet containing a present of a very handsome black silk scarf, and a pair of
beautiful kid gloves, bought at Brussels.
Of course I was in one sense pleased with the gift -
pleased that they should think of me so far off, amidst the excitements of one of the most
splendid capitals of Europe; and yet it felt irksome to accept it. I should think Mary and
Martha have not more than sufficient pocket-money to supply themselves. I wish they had
testified their regard by a less expensive token.
3. Copies of Allgemeine Moden-Zeitung from 1837-1867 can be viewed online on this German website. Unfortunately in many of the editions the fashion engravings have
been removed but some remain, often towards the end of the bound volumes.
Example of an illustration published in Allgemeine Moden-Zeitung, a German
fashion and cultural magazine, 1845. In the 1840s, each edition included one fashion plate and
bound copies of the journal exist, but often these coloured plates are missing. Books containing
all plates for the years 1843 & 1844 have not yet been found but the examples above and the one
below give some idea of ladies' hat styles in Germany between 1840 & 1845.
In British fashion publications of the 1840s illustrations of ladies headwear
almost exclusively depict bonnets. Straw hats did exist but they were perhaps considered too
informal or bucolic to appear in a journal of fashion. In the equivalent German publications of the
early 1840s bonnets predominate, but amongst them is a scattering of hats. Several are similar in
style to the one in the photograph and one is exactly the same.
3. The Letters of Charlotte Brontë: 1829-1847.,
87-year-old lady, ex-resident of Haworth, reminiscing in an article by C. Holmes Cautley, ‘Old
Haworth Folk Who knew the Brontës’. The Cornhill Magazine, New Series Vol. XXIX. July to
December 1910. Smith, Elder, & Co., 15 Waterloo Place, London. (to read or download the
free PDF version CLICK HERE)
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