Artifact Corner: 18th Century Mob Caps

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at a collection of beautiful women’s caps. These lovely pieces are just a couple of caps we have in our collections. We have quite a few of them, with varying styles and decorations. These caps are made from either cotton of linen, and some have hand embroidery, lace trim, and needlework. All of them are hand sewn, as they all date before the invention of the sewing machine. Let’s learn a bit more about the history of these caps, and women’s hair covering in general.

The first writing we have on women covering their hair is from an Ancient Assyrian text dating to around the 13th Century BCE. It was a law stating that women must cover their hair when they are out in public as a sign of piety. This law only required women to wear a hair covering when the were in public though, women at home with their families did not need to wear a hair covering. This practice was popular within many countries and religions. Nations throughout Asia, Africa, and Europe required that women going out into public cover their heads with either a scarf, hat, or veil. It was considered immodest or even scandalous to go out of doors if you were an adult women without your head covered in some way. In many communities, head covering were not required for children and young adults. In Europe, throughout the Middle Ages, women’s head covering became a part of their fashions, and changed as frequently as their clothing. Again, in this period, it would have been socially and religiously unacceptable for a women of any social standing to appear in public without her head covered for modesty…… I’m looking at you THE LAST DUEL: whoever did your costuming, did you a disservice.

In the 16th and 17th Centuries in Europe and America, hats and caps were still very much in fashion, but due to elaborate hair styles, crowns and hair jewelry was also very popular. In the 18th Century we see our caps, often referred to as mob caps see their hay-day. These mostly linen caps were worn indoors, and also worn under hats and bonnets. The caps were almost always constructed of linen because the cotton gin was not invented until 1794, meaning that cotton was incredibly cost prohibitive. The mob cap is a round, gathered or pleated cloth bonnet consisting of a caul to cover the hair, a frilled or ruffled brim, and (often) a ribbon band, worn by married women in the Georgian period, when they it called a “bonnet”. Originally an informal style, the bonnet became a high-fashion item as part of the adoption of simple “country” clothing in the later 18th century. During the French Revolution, the name “Mob Cap” caught on because the poorer women who were involved in the riots wore them, but they had been in style for middle class and even aristocracy since the century began. The caps went out of style in the Victorian Period, although they were still used by certain people in the Service industry, such as house maids.

Our beautiful collection of caps or bonnets are from the late 18th to the early 19th centuries. They all have some form of wear on them, some are stained, others have fraying lace, but given that they are all over 200 years old, this is unsurprising. These pieces would have been heavily worn, so they are actually in good condition. They are a lovely glimpse into women’s fashions from well over 200 years ago, and we are so lucky to have them in our collections. Thanks so much for stopping by.

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Sunny Morning by MusicLFiles
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