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poke bonnet / poke-bonnet

A bonnet of a long, straight, projecting form. — Webster, 1882

White felt poke bonnets, trimmed with white uncut velvet, white feathers and gilt braid are to be very stylish for young ladies. – Iroquois Herald, December 1882

In the early 1880s, the poke bonnet, which had been in vogue at least fifty years earlier, once again made an appearance on the fashion scene. Newspapers in the 1870s repeatedly mentioned poke bonnets as something hideous and old-fashioned or worn by old crones, an item scorned by the currently fashionable. The earlier bonnet, with its rigid crown and deep sides, hid the face entirely, except from directly in front. Its sides became so exaggerated and “high up and poking, like things that are put to keep chimneys from smoking” that it soon became ridiculous, and women learned to speak of unbecoming design as “poky.” [Jackson (Michigan) Patriot, February 4, 1884, page 2.]

Then, in January 1881, French opera soprano Marie Roze appeared in New York at a time when the world was gushing over the clothes worn by Sarah Bernhardt. Marie was seen wearing a cream-colored poke bonnet, decorated with a bunch of ostrich plumes to match the shade of the hat, which were colored brown at the tips but graduated to lighter shades. Sound familiar? Who knows; stranger things have been known to happen in the fashion world, but it was only a matter of months before straw poke bonnets were showing up “all the rage” in Godey’s Lady’s Book. And Laura Ingalls, who hated wearing a sunbonnet as a child because it blocked anything but the tunnel view in front of her, excitedly picked for herself as a young lady the “utterly too-too” poke bonnet that covered her head and framed her face so that all she could see was the tunnel view in front of her, but maybe not quite so much as her grandmother’s version had done.

A June 1881 New York Post reported: The newest poke bonnets are decidedly pronounced in shape, fitting closely to the sides of the head, and towering high above the crown. They are extremely becoming to full-faced ladies, and are wholly in accord with the present antique style of dress. [They] make quaint and attractive pictures upon the promenade and in the drive, the like of which this present generation has never before seen, except in picture galleries and in “ancestral halls.”

The drawing above left shows a poke bonnet featured in a summer 1884 Godey’s, and similar hats appeared again on millinery fashion plates the next year. The August 28, 1884, Trenton Evening Times had this to say: The poke bonnet makes the plainest girl look comely. It dresses the face up picturesquely, as it were, and throws a charm all around the countenance. When the wearer of a poke bonnet smiles, the bonnet helps the smile along… It enables the wearer to introduce all the wiles of flirtation to advantage. A little side glance of the eye seems twice as cute beneath a poke bonnet. An incline of the head is twice as bewitching when the poke bonnet bobs up and down…

One thing I wonder, though. If Ma was able to make such beautiful straw hats in Little House in the Big Woods and Laura learned the craft from Ma; and, if Pa grew such beautiful oats on the homestead in Dakota Territory, couldn’t Ma or Laura have made that rough straw poke bonnet described in These Happy Golden Years?


poke bonnet / poke-bonnet (THGY 19-21, 31, 33; PG), see also bonnet