Hatched Hats

For several decades after the 1880s, seeing birds on women’s hats in the United States was very common. It was fashionable to have everything from a couple flowing plumes to a whole pheasant on a hat; the ornithologist Frank Chapman found forty species in the millinery district of Manhattan.

Less than a decade earlier, wild passenger pigeons had gone extinct in North America, due to unfettered hunting and deforestation. It looked like the same was happening to several other species, but instead of being hunted for food like the pigeons, these other birds were killed solely for their bodies or feathers.

Snowy egrets and great white egrets were nearly decimated … The millinery trade in the 1880s and 1890s cleaned out tern, heron, gull and egret rookeries up and down the Atlantic coast, from Maine to the Florida Keys.

This quotation is from Jennifer Price, author of “Flight Maps: Adventures With Nature In Modern America,” who used the second chapter of her book to explore the bird-hat fashion and its effects on society and birds. She tells a surprising story of the rise of Audubon Societies in American cities – most people don’t know that most of the founders and members of these Societies were upper-class women campaigning against the use of birds on hats. As one of these women said, “In the name of humanity, of womanliness, of motherhood, we ask women to refuse to wear the aigrette.”

In the coming days I will elaborate on Price’s account and analysis of the fight against the female fashion of feathered hats.

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