The popularity of enormous hats reached its peak during the Edwardian era, when the hat became an essential and increasingly larger fashion element, sometimes extending beyond the wearer’s shoulders.
The creativity of milliners saw no bounds with hats made of taffeta, silk bows, flowers, artificial fruit, bird feathers, and in some cases fully stuffed birds.
To secure these huge creations to the head, hat pins, sometimes as long as 18 inches, were skewered through the hair and the hat. The more elaborate the hat the more pins it required.
Background Image: Unknown woman, 1908. PCM Collection
The early pins were made by hand. They were expensive, in high demand and their shaping required eighteen separate steps. Early factories produced fewer than 5,000 pins a day, but in 1832 John Howe invented a machine that was able to produce 70,000 in the same amount of time.
Besides being functional and often beautifully designed, hatpins were also controversial. In 1908, fearing suffragists might use their hatpins as weapons, laws were passed limiting the legal length to 9 inches.
The one is our collection is 7.5 inches long. By 1912, ordinances were passed all over United States requiring hatpin tips to be covered to prevent accidental injury. During a city council meeting in Chicago in 1910, a supporter was quoted as saying that “if women care to wear carrots and roosters on their heads, that is a matter for their own concern, but when it comes to wearing swords they must be stopped.”
In 1913, the Milwaukee council passed an ordinance placing limits on the length of hatpins allowed within city limits. If a lady’s hatpin exceeded the legal limit, she was subject to arrest and a fine of one dollar, or $23 today.
By 1913, hats were becoming smaller and less elaborate. Gone were the enormous plumes and stuffed birds. Smaller brims foreshadowed the cloche Flapper hats of the 1920s.
The hatpin was donated by Vincent Gianella and belonged to his wife Catherine.
Vincent Gianella was a professor of geology, who spent his career at the University of Nevada and the Mackey School of Mines. He was a resident of Auburn for twenty years and was a member of the Auburn Rotary Club, the Placer County Historical Society, and the Placer County Historical Museum Foundation. He married Catherine Thiele Gianella in 1917. In 1957 she was awarded the title of Mother of the Year in Reno by the Nevada Federation of Women’s Clubs.