18th Century Women’s Bonnets

Last updated: Jan 5, 2024

This page covers two styles of bonnets seen in the 18th century; silk bonnets for fashionable ladies, and poor women’s bonnets, which may have been made of wool. Calashes and related bonnets are discussed on a separate linkspage.

A few different types of bonnets are described in The Annals of Philadelphia:

I have seen what was called a bath bonnet, made of black satin, and so constructed to lay in folds that it could be set upon like a chapeau bras, — a good article now for travelling ladies!

… The “wagon bonnet,” always of black silk, was an article exclusively in use among the Friends, was deemed to look, on the head, not unlike the top of the Jersey wagons, and having a pendent piece of like silk hanging from the bonnet and covering the shoulders.

… As a universal fact, it may be remarked that no other colour than black was ever made for ladies’ bonnets when formed of silk or satin. Fancy colours were unknown, and white bonnets of silk fabric had never been seen. The first innovation remembered, was the bringing in of blue bonnets.

In contrast, Gottlieb Mittelberger describes bonnets worn in Philadelphia in the 1750s: “On their heads they wear black or beautifully-colored bannerts (bonnets) of taffeta instead of straw hats. These bannerts are of a peculiar structure and serve instead of parasols, but are much prettier. If our women could see such bannerts they would surely wish to have them likewise.”

The bonnets in this section are (or seem to be) made of silk, and of the type worn by fashionable ladies; note the use of trimmings, pleating, ruching, etc.

  • Colonial Williamsburg 1993-335, England, c. 1770-1780; “Woman's hat or bonnet of black ribbed silk. Boned brim of doubled fabric with 7 baleen stays and a stiffening (probably baleen) around the outer edge of the brim. Puffy, mushroom-shaped crown is pleated to the boned brim, adjusted with a ribbon drawstring at center back. Ruffled fabric and front bow are tacked at the juncture between the crown and the brim. Unlined.”

Depictions of silk bonnets

Instructions for cutting out apparel for the poor (1789) tells the reader to make bonnets from “black Durant,” (and later refers to A Black Stuff Bonnet”); Durant (per this glossary) is “thick, heavily felted woolen made to imitate buff leather also called Everlasting.”

The following bonnets, on poor women and working women, are less ornate than the ones above and may have likewise been made of wool. (Some may be miscategorized and may well be fabric-covered straw hats.)