Sunday 14 February 2021

Taffeta and velvet hats


Museum of London survival
For a few decades at the end of the sixteenth and beginning of the seventeenth century fabric hats, particularly of taffeta and velvet were very popular. Philip Stubbes in his 1583 work Anatomie of Abuses has a go at virtually everybody, complaining about “Cottagers' daughters in taffatie hats” and that “he is of no account or estimation amongst men, if hee have not a velvet or a taffatie Hatte.”


By the time Shakespeare wrote of “Taffata phrases, silken tearmes precise,” taffeta had already been in use for two hundred years. Taffeta is a silk fabric that is mentioned by Chaucer and in 1388 Chief Justices wore green taffeta, but what type of silk was it? The modern definition of taffeta in the OED is “A fine, crisp, and usually lustrous fabric of a plain weave in which the weft threads are thicker than those of the warp.” Bailey’s Universal Etymological English Dictionary of 1721 has it as taffety and says simply that it is a kind of silk, while Samuel Johnson’s dictionary describes it as a thin silk. One specific type of taffeta is changeable taffeta, in 1650 Fuller wrote of “changeable Taffata (wherein the woofe and warpe are of different colours) seems of severall hues, as the looker on takes his station.”

Velvet Velvet appears in English slightly before taffeta, it first being mentioned in 1320 in the Wardrobe accounts of Edward II. Florio (1598) has ' a stuff of silk called velvet.’ Velvet has a raised pile, and sometimes there are two piles one raised higher that the other, and even three piles, so in A Winter’s Tale a mercer states that “I have serv'd Prince Florizel, and in my time wore three-pile."

 Henry Unton 1586. Tate (CC-By-NC-ND)

Survivals and the construction of the hats.

In most, but not all survivals, the silk is gathered or placed over a hard base sometimes a felt. It is this that gives the shape. If a softer shape is required, then that hard base is not there. This applies equally to the brim. All, like most hats, are lined in the crown and brim, it is interesting that in 1631 the inventory of Frances Jodrell has an “ould taffatie lining for a hatt,” so this was valuable enough to be list separately in her probate.

There are a few survivals of these fabric hats, the Museum of London has one at  a black patterned silk velvet dating to 1580-1600.

The Germanischen Nationalmuseums  has two

The pink Example in the GNM

One c.1600 is of an originally pink velvet, lined with taffeta. Further information and a pattern is in Janet Arnold. Patterns of Fashion. The cut and construction of clothes for men and women c. 1560 – 1620. London 1985, p.34, 94.

The other from 1575-1600 is of silk, the fabric is a brown corded silk lined with a lighter weight silk. Again, the pattern is in Janet Arnold. Patterns of Fashion. The cut and construction of clothes for men and women c. 1560 – 1620. London 1985, p.33, 94.

A later survival, in the Livrustkammaren in Stockholm, was ordered for Queen Kristina's coronation in 1650. The hat is of purple/red velvet embroidered with designs in gold thred, over a hard felt base. The brim was originally lined with ermine, replacement ermine can be seen on the displayed hat.


Cost of the hats

The 1593 inventory of Exeter haberdasher Thomas Greenwood contains dozens and dozens of felt hats, and also a considerable number of taffeta and velvet hats, ranging from 6s 8d to 15s each. The cheapest would appear to be plain, while the 12s hats are taffeta lined with velvet, and the 15s hats are described as embroidered. His velvet hats were more expensive at 18s each. Another haberdasher in 1580, Richard Fitzherbert of Coventry, also had wide selection of hats in stock including velvet, taffeta, felt, worsted, and silk.

Who owned the hats?

While Simon Isam, a tailor of Ipswich, had “an old taffetta hat” in his 1618 probate inventory, notwithstanding Stubbes complaints, the majority of these hats were owned by wealthy gentlemen or those of some social status. Elizabeth Hurte, of Coventry, a widow worth at her 1578 probate £126, had among her belongings seven hats and four taffeta hats. The Earl of Oxford paid in 1579 'To William Tavy, capper, for one velvet hat, and one taffeta hat, two velvet caps, a scarf, two pairs of garters with silver at the ends, a plume of feathers for a hat, and another hat band. £4 6s 0d.'

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