In the time I attended high school I had to bike about 15 kilometers (something like 9 miles) to go to school. Every day. And to get back home, again 15 kilometers. And every day my mother said ‘Florence, don’t forget to wear your cap…’.
‘It is cold and the wind is around your ears. Wear that cap to prevent you from getting a flue’. But I did not like wearing hats. They flew off my long curly hair, and our dog always hide the cap in his bed, to keep me at home to play with him.
Besides, I don’t have a ‘cap or hat face’ as I call it. Only on a very very bad hair day, do you see me wearing a cap.
My mother asked my grandmother to convince me to wear the cap. And she came up with a great argument. ‘Florence’ she said… ‘wear a hat with a hatpin and you will always have a weapon if a man comes too close to you’.
Granny, what? A weapon, against men? And then a hatpin? What on earth can you do with a hatpin to get rid of nasty men? Well… she must have been an expert, but she showed me how to use a hatpin, to defend yourself.
Just to please granny, I sometimes wear a hat, with a hatpin, even if it’s just for keeping that hat on my curly hair. But, you know me, it should be a nice, rather stunning hatpin I use. Otherwise, I might as well have pepper spray in my bag.
What is the (official) use for hatpins?
The size of those pins should be 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 centimeters) to secure a hat on a woman’s head. You can use ordinary metal or plastic pins.
But between the 1880s and 1920s, the heydays of the hatpin, there were special hatpin makers, who made them according to the wish of the ordering lady, with gemstones and other beautiful materials.
The hatpins were really practical in those days since women wore their hair long and with so much hair on top you needed to have an extra safety ‘pin’ to keep your hat on your head. They often go in a pair.
The hatpin was useless after the 1920s when most of the ladies wore short hair and the hats could be pulled deep down over your ears.
Development of the (hat)pin
Although the heyday of the hatpins was between 1880 and 1920 the hatpin existed and was used long before that time. They were especially popular in England, the traditional hat country.
In the Middle Ages when ladies wore veils and wimple pins were used to keep those veils and wimples in place. There was no discussion that ladies of class had to cover their heads, so a pin, although a shorter one than in the 1900s, was a very practical device.
In the 1800s the pins became not only functional, but they got also decorative functions. In the countryside, whole families made such pins, which was rather time-consuming. But the public needed a lot of pins, because they got lost so easily, and the countryside could use extra work and profit.
The demand for pins got higher and higher and the countryside industry could not keep up with the demand. Export from France was a solution, but the number of pins imported was so high that the trade balance of England was severely influenced.
The English Parliament intervened in the 1820s and an Act passed the parliament that pins could only be sold and bought on two days a year, the first and the second of January. Some people suggest, that this was the beginning of the ‘January sales’?
In 1832 someone in the United States invented a ‘pin-making-machine’ and after England and France could get hold of that same machine, the manufacturing of the hatpins with long tapering points began.
Maybe in those days, they did not change the fashion trend every season, but still the way how clothing and accessories looked changed over time.
Wimples and veils were not practical, certainly not in a factory, where women started to work on mass production of items in the 1850s.
By that time the heads were covered with bonnets and all kinds of ribbons and strings kept those bonnets safely on the heads of the women. And no pins were needed.
The heyday of the hatpin
In the 1880s the fashion was to wear rather large and high hats, decorated with ribbons, feathers, and all other kinds of garments. To keep those hats on your head you definitely needed a hatpin and a long one.
The ladies of class did not want an ordinary pin, not they wanted a stunning hatpin, made by a jewelry designer, and richly decorated with precious metals and gems.
The Charles Horner jewelry business became one of the British market leaders in mass-produced hatpins, that had high quality. Even Tiffany & Co interfered in making high-quality hatpins.
In the 1940s the heyday of the hatpin was over. Women had to replace the men in the factories and had to make bombs and other warfare items, while the men were fighting in Europe. Hats and hatpins were not important anymore.
This was the beginning of the Art Deco Period and the flapper became popular. A flapper is a tight bell-shaped hat, invented in 1908 by Caroline Reboux. They were very popular between 1922 and 1933.
The name comes from the word ‘cloche’ or ‘bell’ (in French) Not only the flapper and cloche but also berets, turbans, and toques got popular. And you might need a hatpin to keep the hats in their place.
The women wore their hair mostly short, which was easier while working in the factories. The bob line became popular, which suited excellent with a flapper or cloche hat, which represented the free 1920s style. Also highly promoted by Coco Chanel with her ‘garçonne style’ outfits (sweater and androgynous style clothes).
In the 1920s custom jewelry became popular. This custom or fashion of novelty jewelry was not made anymore from gemstones and precious metals but could be made from plastics and bakelite. The hatpins did not form an exception, and you find a lot of celluloid hatpins on the market, often combined with rhinestones, quartz, or colored glass.
During the Depression and the start of WWII women did not have enough money to change their wardrobes every year or so. They changed their look with new accessories. And the jewelry designers came up with a dress clip, like a bejeweled accessory.
Those dress clips were often worn in pairs on clothing and on the smaller hats, decorated with feathers and flower arrangements.
Another new jewelry invention was the double clip brooch, which was two pieces, that were mirror images. In the 1940s they developed into two asymmetrical pieces and later on three-dimensional jewelry.
The dress clip and the double clip brooch were great for decorating hats, but they had no function in keeping a hat on your head like was the function of the hatpins.
This was the decade of WWII and what started in the 1930s continued during this period. Women did not work at home but in the factory, replacing the men, who were at war.
Women wore their hair longer and for safety reasons wore it up during the day. When worn down the hair was parted on the side without bangs and curled at the base.
Hats were popular again to make a fashion statement. Especially the berets and broad-rimmed hats were in fashion, and later the brim got smaller and smaller.
Later in the 1940s new styles were introduced, like small hats worn on the side of the head and covered in a net veil. To be kept in place with a hatpin.
And a decade later the hair got shorter again, together with the pin curls along the cheeks. Or women wore long hair in a French twist or ponytail. Hats were essential for outside activities, like the new fashion invention, the pillbox.
Like the custom jewelry, also the hatpins were promoted by the actresses wearing them in popular movies. Mrs. Lillian Russell and Lillian Langtry, popular music hall actresses, wore huge fully decorated statement hats and certainly needed the hatpins, to keep everything in place.
In 1922 Howard Carter discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun and the world looked amazed at the treasures that were found. The jewelry design was highly influenced by the style of Egyptian jewelry found in that tomb. The style of the newest hatpins was no exception.
The hatpin as a weapon
In 1908 an English judge had to judge a group of suffragettes in court. What he was thinking is not really sure, but he asked the ladies to remove their hats and especially remove their hatpins. He considered them as a weapon, but asking ladies to ‘undress’ themselves in public was really ‘not done’.
In 1909 in Illinois and Arkansas (United States) a bill was passed that prohibited wearing a hatpin longer than 9 inches (or 22 centimeters). All longer pins had to be destroyed or shortened. The men did not want those deadly weapons to be on the ‘street’. I wonder if the same thing applied to guns?
In the 1910s ordinances were passed telling women to cover their hatpins to avoid hurting someone by accident. In 1918 the police in Kristiania in Norway ‘advised’ ladies with uncovered hatpins to leave public transportation. The staff of the tram sold hatpin covers on those days!
In the Edwardian Period between 1901 and 1910 the hats of the ladies grew bigger and bigger, so did the hatpins, to keep the hats on the heads. More women started to work and were walking around unaccompanied. If a man could not keep his hands to himself, the 10-inch hatpins became a deadly defense.
More and more attacked ladies showed courage and stabbed the attacker in the arm, head, or elsewhere with the hatpin. In newspapers you could read instructions on how to defend yourself the best: take your hatpin in your hand with the stump side in your hand, spin around quickly and stab the attacker in the face.
It is clear that the way you wear your hair and the length of your hair is crucial to what hat you can wear. The hatpin makes it possible to wear larger hats, but also the smaller ones, that could fall off your head.
Although in the mentioned period there were also very ingenious ways to cover your head with bejeweled hairbands or hairnets.
The hatpins were functional, but as always ladies want to look good and are able to make from every functional item a gorgeous piece of jewelry. Which happened to the hatpin too.
FlorenceJewelshop designs and makes unique and exclusive pieces of jewelry from gemstones and precious metals. Every design is used only once so that you can be sure that you don’t meet another lady with the same piece of jewelry, made by FlorenceJewelshop. You are unique and you deserve unique jewelry.
There are no hatpins in my collection because I really don’t know anybody who is wearing a hat, that needs a hatpin nowadays. Although I still have one, inherited from my grandmother.
There are lapel pins that might do the job if you really need one. The advantage is that they can be used on hats, but also on a coat or keep a shawl together. Have a look at my collection for them. Use this link and you will get there: FlorenceJewelshop brooch collection.
Ladies from all times want to look stunning and feel beautiful, with or without hatpins. But to get that confidence you need to know what kind of jewelry looks good on you. What jewelry accentuates your best features?
FlorenceJewelshop published a PDF with dozens of tips to find out what is the right jewelry for you, what jewelry accentuates your best features, and which ones camouflage your lesser parts. It is free of charge. Just let me know where I can send it to.
Florence from FlorenceJewelshop