Hats & Cloaks

The suggestion that the photograph could be a portrait of the Bronte sisters has been criticised mainly because of the hats, or rather the hat worn by 'Emily', because it does appear to date to the 1860s and not to the 1840s. This page traces the origins of the hat in Britain.

The straw hats held by 'Charlotte' and 'Anne' (above) are partly obscured so it is not possible to tell whether they are exactly the same style as the one worn by 'Emily' (below). This has a round, low-crown with the brim turned up at the sides and is similar if not identical to a riding hat seen in photographs from the early 1860s. If the hat dates from the 1860s then these are certainly not the Bronte sisters because Emily died in 1848 and Anne in 1849.

The hat worn by 'Emily' in the photo.

 When was this hat introduced to Britain and Is there any evidence that it existed in the 1840s?


Women's hats in the 1840s

Bonnets - detail from a fashion plate in Le Follet, August, 1845.

In the 19th Century, women's fashions in Britain were strongly influenced by a mixture of propriety and Parisian fashions and this ensured that the bonnet remained the main outdoor headwear throughout the 1840s and 1850s. By the late 1830s hats had been demoted in status to informal headwear and they rarely merited an appearance in fashion journals until the late 1850s.

Wide-brimmed straw hat; detail from a fashion plate in Le Moniteur de la Mode, July 1844.

Women's hats did not disappear altogether in the 1840s. Milliners throughout the country continued to sell them in addition to bonnets. They were worn in the garden, at the seaside and in the country, away from larger towns and cities where dress codes were more relaxed. They were usually made of straw and most had a wide, floppy brim.

A satirical sketch of the floppy, wide-brimmed English straw hats worn in the countryside in the 1840s.

For wealthier women with an interest in sports, archery was about the only option available in the 1840s. Illustrations from this period show that whilst bonnets were often worn, others chose to wear the wide-brimmed hats.

Detail from an engraving of an archery meeting, Pradoe, Oswestry, Shropshire, 1844. Women did not participate in many sports in the 1840s apart from archery, which was extremely popular and where either bonnets or hats were acceptable headwear. The National Archery Meeting was held in York in 1844.

After walking, the most common outdoor leisure pursuit for many women was horse-riding and some found riding hats more practical than bonnets. Royalty also influenced Victorian fashion, just as it does today, and the styles worn by the young Queen Victoria in the 1840s were copied and sold by milliners throughout the country.

Advert for men's Albert Hats and ladies' Victoria Riding Hats, Ryan & Denton of Dublin, Cork, Limerick & Waterford, 1840.


The main outdoor headwear for women in 1840s Britain was bonnets with informal headwear consisting mainly of floppy rustic straw hats and stiff, formal, riding hats, with one notable exception.


The Jenny Lind Hat

 Jenny Lind
Jenny Lind (1820-87)

 The only radically different woman's hat to appear in 1840s Britain was known as a 'Jenny Lind', named after the Swedish opera singer who caused a sensation when she came to this country in 1847. Existing hats for women in the 1840s were limited mainly to the informal wide-brimmed straw variety, or the formal riding hat style. The 'Jenny Lind' was a complete departure from these modes. 1.

It was virtually identical to a man's 'wide-awake' hat, low-crowned with the brim sweeping up at the sides. The hat does not appear to have been the product of a Parisian fashion house, nor was it promoted by Jenny Lind.

It emerged out of the 'Jenny Lind Fever' or 'Lindmania' which swept through the country in the late 1840s. The adulation of Jenny Lind by the British (and later the American) public can only be likened to the Beatlemania of the 1960s.

The hat used by Jenny Lind in Donizetti's opera 'La figlia di Reggimento'.
Source: Wikimedia Commons 'Jenny Lind Fille du Regiment'
This style of hat did not exist in Britain until 1847.

The hat was based on the one worn by Jenny Lind in the opera 'La figlia del Reggimento' (The Daughter of the Regiment) where she played the role of Maria, a French vivandière. This was a replica of the vivandière or cantinière hat worn by women in certain regiments of the French Army.

The hat worn by 'Emily' in the photo.


The hat was produced in felt, but the straw version seems to have been more popular. These were sold in Britain from 1847 until about 1863 including smaller hats produced for boys & girls. Adverts also exist in this period for the 'Jenny Lind Riding Hat' which may have been promoting the same hat or perhaps some modified type with a narrower brim.


They probably first became popular in the West End of London in May 1847 but within weeks the hats were on sale in other parts of the country. They could certainly be found in the towns and cities visited by Jenny Lind during her tours of Britain. In the run up to her arrival the local shops stocked up on all 'Jenny Lind' memorabilia, such as mantles, handkerchieves, boas, hats, pictures, snuff boxes and sheet music etc.,.

Advert for Jenny Lind Hats, June, 1847: George Burrington, Hatter, 81 Fore Street, Exeter, Devon.

'Jenny Lind hats' were shipped out, along with other headwear, to milliners in other parts of the world. They were being sold in shops in Tasmania by January 1848. Tuscan and Dunstable straw versions arrived in Sydney, Australia by September 1848. They were also exported to America and by March 1848 they were on sale in Louisville, Kentucky, some two years before Jenny Lind arrived in the United States.

Jenny Lind toured America with P.T. Barnum in 1850-2 and the New York hatter, John Nicholas Genin, promoted his own 'Jenny Lind Riding Hat' which was immensely successful. Descriptions of this American version vary enormously so an example cannot yet be given.


In 1847 the hat was probably considered by most people in Britain to be 'popular' rather than 'fashionable'. It was not designed by a Parisian milliner and women's hats were still considered to be very informal headwear. The first 'known' illustration of it in a fashion journal is in 1856, as a straw riding hat. It was exactly the same hat, so it was probably sold by some British milliners as a rustic riding hat, but others continued to advertise it as the 'Jenny Lind'.

One of the last adverts found in a British newspaper for a 'Jenny Lind' hat is in 1854, when hats were becoming more socially acceptable, new styles were emerging. This style of hat went out of fashion about 1863 and the gradual demise of the bonnet began.

The Jenny Lind Hat in the 1840s & 1850s


The hat worn by 'Emily' in the photo.

The hat worn by 'Emily' in the photo can be seen in photos dating to the early 1860s, but these are usually carte de visite photos which were only produced from about 1860. It can also be seen in collodion photographs, which existed from the 1850s until the 1890s, but these are mostly undateable. Fortunately the hat does occasionally appear in illustrated newspapers and journals throughout the 1850s.


Depictions of Jenny Lind as Maria in La figlia del Reggimento 1847-9.

These images are taken from engravings of Jenny Lind as she appeared in the opera The Daughter of the Regiment. In June 1847 Queen Victoria, one of Jenny Lind's greatest admirers, made a small pencil sketch and watercolour of her in her vivandière hat and costume. These can be seen on the Royal Trust website (RCIN 980011.ad & RCIN 980011.ai)


Advert for Mrs E. Pratt, Milliner, 16, High Street, Wolverhampton (Wolverhampton Chronicle and Staffordshire Advertiser - Wednesday 28 July 1847 p.2) 1a.

Jenny Lind hats were smaller than the wide-brimmed hats worn by adults and children. 2.

"The polka-craze was certainly big in Paris, two or three years ago, but it is nothing compared to the result of the prima donna's songs which fashion has taken under its wing. In Paris we had polka clothes and that's all; in London, all fashions are Jenny Lind. Jenny Lind Dress, Jenny Lind Hat, Jenny Lind collars, Jenny Lind Tobacco Pouch.
Le charivari (Paris, France) 28 August 1847 (col.3) 3.

"R. Bissington respectfully invites the Attention of Ladies to these Goods in all the Newest Designs of the Season, embracing the PALAIS ROYAL, JENNY LIND, CLARENCE, PRINCE EDWARD, &c."

Richard Bissington, 34, Briggate, Leeds & 16, Market Place, Hull.
(Leeds Mercury, Yorkshire, Saturday 6 November 1847)


A Royal Staffordshire figure of Jenny Lind produced 1847-9.

Even before she arrived in Britain, pictures of Jenny Lind were on sale, mostly engravings made from portrait paintings. Some of these graced the covers of sheet music, including The Daughter of the Regiment where she wears the vivandière hat. The Royal Staffordshire figures produced c1847-9 were at least partly based on these portraits.


Before 1850s dress reform & Bloomerism.

Women's cricket was something of a novelty in the 1840s but in one of these rare events in 1849 these Hampshire ladies were not wearing floppy straw hats or bonnets:

 "On Thursday week, the return cricket match between the Ringwood [Hampshire] married and single females took place at Picket Post, and from the fineness of the day immense numbers attended. The ladies were dressed in white, wearing Jenny Lind hats, the single displaying pink sashes, and the married blue. The manner which many of them handled the bat and ball proved that they had not been remiss in practice, and had received tuition from one well skilled in the noble game. At the close of the game, the single were again declared victorious, with 5 wickets to spare."

(Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette - Thursday 20 September 1849).


Detail of wide-awake riding hat from an illustration in Punch magazine. vol 18, p.236 (1850)

Detail of wide-awake riding hat from an illustration in Punch magazine, vol.19-p.25 (1850)....John Leech was very aware of changes in women's fashions and created many of the illustrations seen in Punch Magazine.


National Archery Meeting, Leamington, Warwickshire, 1851 showing various types of headwear including one Jenny Lind or wide-awake style hat, several wide-brimmed hats with high & low crowns, a child with a floppy straw hat and many bonnets.

Detail from an image in the Illustrated London News - Saturday 5 July 1851.

"Ladies' Fashionable Rustic Riding Hats, as generally worn at the West End of London."

Richard Bissington, London Hatter, 34, Briggate, Leeds & 16, Market Place, Hull.
Leeds Times, Saturday 19 July 1851.


Left: Copy of a pencil sketch of Jenny Lind as Maria, 1847.
Right: Detail  of wide-awake riding hat from an engraving in Punch magazine, June, 1853.



"R. Bissington respectfully solicits Attention to the newest Designs in SILK BEAVER and FELT HATS and BONNETS. The NEW JENNY LIND HAT is the most prevailing."

Richard Bissington, London Hatter, 34, Briggate, Leeds & 16, Market Place, Hull
(Leeds Intelligencer, Yorkshire, Saturday 28 October 1854)


Millinery, Bonnet and Fancy Drapery Establishment,
Opposite the Guildhall, Exeter.

Also, a New Stock of
including the fashionable "Jenny Lind" Shape,
And of which she respectfully solicits an early inspection.
58, High-street, June 15th, 1854.
(Western Times, Exeter, Devon - Saturday 17 June 1854 p.4)


In the Copdock Archery Club's Fete, at The Chauntry, Suffolk, on 22 August 1855, the ladies wore:

 "a green silk jacket, white muslin skirt flounced, and grey felt Jenny Lind hat, bound at the edges with green ribbon, and set off with a white or green feather."

Essex Standard - Friday 31 August 1855.


Changes in fashion were not unconnected to the alliance between Britain and France in the Crimean War.

Earliest known appearance of the hat in a fashion plate: Journal des Demoiselles, 1856, p.126-8.

ABOVE: Detail from a photo of Princesses Helena and Louise © Royal Photographic Society.

LEFT: Princess Helena © Royal-Collection-Trust. The photos (above and left) were taken in 1856 by the Lancashire-born photographer, Roger Fenton. The previous year he had spent three months making a photographic record of the Crimean War. BELOW: The hat worn by 'Emily'.


The English Hat in Paris.—The fashion set by English ladies of wearing hats instead of bonnets has, after being a good deal ridiculed, been adopted by actresses and lorettes. It is always those two classes of the community who experimentalise new fashions, especially those of an eccentric character.

There are indications that from them the new mode will soon reach ladies of respectability, and that it will in time become general. It is said that the Princess Mathilde has adopted it, but that the Empress has pronounced against it. As, however, Her Majesty in her shooting excursions at Compiegne and Fontainebleau figures in a hat, and as it became her remarkably well, it is probable that her pronunciamento against the new fashion is not final and irrevocable. (BEADS FROM THE BRACELET OF FASHION) Cheltenham Looker-On - Saturday 03 January 1857)

 The riding hat seen in photos of the early 1860s is a 'Jenny Lind Hat' in all but name. It can be traced back to London in 1847, was the only 'wide-awake' hat for women in the whole of this period, and the style remained popular for over 15 years.

The elegant form of the hat with a graceful, sweeping, brim was only part of its appeal, for some women it was far more practical than a bonnet, but there was also the connection to Jenny Lind. Most of the nation, including the majority of the British Press, held her in high esteem; she was a philanthropist and one of the few female role models of the 1840s. Her success in Britain, the 'Jenny Lind Fever' and the popularity of the 'Jenny Lind' hat, were all events taking place in 1847, just as the three Bronte sisters' ground-breaking novels were accepted for publication.

The 'Jenny Lind' hats, and what might today be termed 'Jenny Lind unofficial merchandise', was more common in towns she visited during her tours of 1847-9. In 1847 she performed in Hull. Her concert at York was cancelled at the last minute, but crowds did catch a glimpse of her at York Railway Station. Another concert in Sheffield the following week was also cancelled.

Did the Bronte sisters ever wear hats?

The sisters would have worn bonnets in the 1840s but there is mention of them wearing hats:

"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 looked grand.

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.

Descriptions of headwear in the Victorian era can be very deceptive because the terms "hat" and "bonnet" were, depending on the writer, interchangeable. Did this lady think that the Bronte sisters "looked grand" wearing "light-coloured hats" or wearing "light-coloured bonnets"?

The Cloaks 


The three women 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.



Any missing sources will be added towards the end of November 2018.
There is more information concerning the hats and so this page will probably be revised at some point in 2019.



The Yorkshire Vivandière

Just as a note of interest, in the 1850s & 1860s volunteers rifle corps were formed in most towns in Britain. The Leeds Engineer Volunteer Corps was probably unique in having in its ranks, a Vivandière. When the rifle corps paraded through the centre of Leeds they were led by a woman wearing the costume of a French vivandière. 5.

The Vivandière of the Leeds Engineer Volunteer Corps, 1865.


1. The English dialect dictionary, George Wright, 1903. Volume 4, p.358  Entry for 'Jenny Lind' (Yorkshire & London).

Brighton Gazette - Thursday 30 April 1857 col.5 "HER MAJESTY'S THEATRE" [London] "....La Figlia del Reggimento was presented for the first appearances this season.. Mdlle. Piccolomini looked more piquant and charming than ever. The dress of the vivandiere suits her to admiration, and then she has laid aside the Jenny Lind wide-awake — not to speak of it irreverently — and donned in its place the prettiest little undress or forage cap imaginable — the proper cap, be it observed, of the "Undecimo.”

1a. For information on Richard Bissington, hatter & milliner, of Hull and Leeds, Yorkshire, see the Thoresby Society website. There is a photo of the Leeds branch on the Leodis website.

2. "Labour and the poor" [a straw plaiter interviewed in connection with Henry Mayhew's research] " Morning Chronicle - Friday 05 April 1850 p.5, col.4.  : "The little 'Jenny Lind' hats we get 4½d [about 2p decimal] for. I dare say I could make three of them in a day. I never did much of them though; they're for summer wear. Them very large broad brimmed ones as the children wears they get 1s. 9d. [about 9p decimal] for making the finest quality, some 1s.6d., [about 7½p decimal] some 1s.[5p decimal], and so on. It all depends on the fineness of the plait; the courser the plait is, you know, the less time it will take us to make it."

Jenny Lind hats for adults were smaller than some of the children's hats at this time. In the late 1840s many children's hats became very wide-brimmed, as noted in the exaggerated illustration (below) from Punch,vol 8. (1847), p.28.


3. Le charivari — 28 August 1847 (col.3): "Certes la folie de la polka était bien grande à Paris, il y a deux ou trois ans, mais ce n est pas à comparer au résultat des chansons de la prima dona que la mode a prise sous sa protection. A Paris nous avons eu des habits polka et voilà tout ; à Londres, toutes les modes sont à la Jenny Lind. Robe à la Jenny Lind, chapeau à la Jenny Lind, faux-cols à la Jenny Lind, blague à tabac à la Jenny Lind."

4. Reminiscences of an 87-year-old lady, an ex-resident of Haworth, 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. pp.81-82. Smith, Elder, & Co., 15 Waterloo Place, London. Please note that in this article Mrs Ratcliffe's "photograph on glass of the three sisters" is mentioned but this was an 1850s photo of Branwell's 'Pillar' group portrait painting of the sisters.

5. Leeds Intelligencer - Saturday 23 September 1865, p.7.

"One of the most pleasing incidents of this inspection was the appearance for the first time in Leeds of a vivandiere. She marched in front of the regiment escorted by a Serjeant on each side, over the barrel pier bridge, through the town to the Militia Barrack Yard in Carlton-lane, and was very much admired by the tens of thousands who saw her, for her personal appearance, the excellence of her style of marching, and her very modest demeanour.

One of the officers of the Leeds Engineers being in France a short time ago, and seeing a regiment of the line on the march with a vivandiere in full uniform, marching at the head of the regiment behind the band, was so much pleased with the evident usefulness of such an officer, that he volunteered to supply the dress and accoutrements for one. A young lady undertook the office, her dress was a copy from the uniform of the French vivandiere, but with the colours of the engineers.

The jacket is scarlet with three rows of silver buttons; petticoat Oxford grey with stripes of garter blue and scarlet ; trousers, garter blue, with outside broad scarlet stripe; white shirt collar, with blue tie; French white apron with pockets, and trimmed with blue and scarlet; white gauntlets and kid gloves; straw hat covered with black oiled silk, and scarlet and blue cockade with streamers; a regulation pouch belt to which was strung a barrel containing a quart of fine old Cognac brandy; laced boots of black patent leather and red morocco. Altogether her appearance was most prepossessing. When the regiment marched past Col. Wombwell, the inspecting officer, in review order, she marched alone in front of Lieut-CoL Child and Major Smith, and was much admired by all who saw her.

It is to be hoped that at the next review many volunteer regiments will have followed the example of the Leeds Engineers, and that a regular staff of vivandieres will then be ready to assist in such cases of sudden illness as took place at one of the reviews at Doncaster, when the services of two nurses from the Leeds Infirmary had fortunately been previously procured."