Poke bonnet

Poke bonnet

Straw, velvet and silk
England
About 1830
Given by Mrs George Atkinson & Mrs M F Davey
Museum no. T.202-1958

In the early years of the 1830s, women's fashion was firmly focussed on the upper part of the body. Above the waist, pleated bodices, wide necklines, balloon-like sleeves and intricate hairstyles were topped off with striking bonnets such as this example in the V&A's collection. This hat is made from a base of straw plait, carefully stitched together to form the high crown and dramatic brim. The straw has been covered entirely with velvet and subsequently decorated with wide silk satin ribbons which have been carefully pinned into place. The ends of the ribbons have then been cut into a zig-zag finish. Bonnet trimmings were constantly changed and updated in order to give a new look, and as such ribbons and trimmings are often pinned into place as opposed to being sewn, especially on a fabric such as velvet which would mark easily. Until the mid-19th century, black dye was often created from wood components and was notoriously unstable, often fading to a brown or purple shade. The velvet on this bonnet has faded softly to a dark brown but the ribbons retain their colour.

The 'Merry Widow' cap designed by milliner Stephen Jones for his 'Albertopolis' collection, Autumn/Winter 2009 was directly inspired by this bonnet.