This smart hat is made from straw plait, spiralled and securely machine-stitched to create a shallow crown and medium brim. The straw has been dyed an elegant pearl grey shade, perhaps the colour sometimes referred to by contemporary fashion writers as ‘London Smoke’. In common with much millinery of the time, the hat is trimmed with ostrich feathers and ribbon; the brim is edged with a fancy straw ‘lace’, woven from split straw and horsehair. It was supplied by J.H. Holloway of Wells to a member of the Perkins family of Burcott Manor near Wookey Hole in Somerset.
Hats, whether broad-brimmed straws and felts, or chic, velvet-covered ‘pork pie’ shapes, were less worn than bonnets throughout the 19th century and tended to have a more functional as well as a decorative purpose. By the 1890s fashionable modern brides had abandoned veils and bonnets in favour of hats for a short time, whether smart or everyday. Outdoor bonnets began to be spurned as old-fashioned, worn only by the elderly and the working class, or for mourning.
As much cheaper straw plait was imported from the Far East by the 1890s, demand for English straw plait from Bedfordshire fell dramatically. Hat manufacturers and milliners did well though, forming and trimming the ready made hat shapes in profusion. Most large towns had a hat shop or milliners which supplied ready trimmed hats as well as basic shapes and the trimmings to decorate them at home.