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What Exactly Is a Bonnet Anyway?


People having been using headwear for a very long time. After all, Otzi the Iceman died around 3250 BC in Chalcolithic Europe, which refers to a transitional period when people had started using copper but hadn't started combining copper with tin to make bronze. This is relevant because said individual was found with a bearskin cap that came complete with a chin-strap. Similarly, there is a Egyptian tomb painting from around 3200 BC that shows a man wearing a straw hat with a conical shape. For context, that means that it would've been created during the First Dynasty, which was more than a millennium before pharaohs even started being called pharaohs.

From that point forward, evidence of headwear becomes more and more common. This can be seen in how we have a fair amount of information about the Greek headwear of classical antiquity. To name an example, there was the soft, felt cap called the pilos. By the Late Roman Republic, it had become a symbol of freemen, which is why it was presented to slaves who were manumitted. That meaning survived until the 18th century when people confused the pilos with the Phrygian cap, which is quite different because it has a bent-over apex. To name another example, there was the broad-brimmed petasos that could be made out of either felt, straw, hide, or leather. It is notable because it is the first brimmed hat known to have existed, though that isn't the same as saying that it is the first brimmed hat to have existed. On top of these, it is interesting to note that respectable Greek women were expected to wear veils because they were expected to seclude themselves from the public in both a literal and a metaphorical sense. Something that wouldn't be immediately clear to people who are most familiar with artistic depictions. As such, it should come as no surprise to learn that a wide range of hearwear have been used and continue to be used. Unfortunately, the lines between different kinds of headwear can be very blurry. Thanks to that, the question of what is and isn't a bonnet can be much more complicated than what interested individuals might have expected.

What Is a Bonnet?

Generally speaking, a bonnet refers to certain kinds of brimmed headwear. However, there are certain characteristics that increase the chances of headwear being called a bonnet. For example, outdoor headwear is likelier to be called a bonnet than indoor headwear. Similarly, headwear that is pushed back with the result that the brim is forward-facing is likelier to be called a bonnet than headwear that is sitting on top of the head with the result that the brim is downward facing. On top of these, headwear that is tied underneath the chin using a string is much likelier to be called a bonnet than other kinds of headwear.

Blue Bonnets

Chances are good that most people would call the blue bonnet a hat rather than a bonnet. However, it is interesting to note that the Scottish continued to use "bonnet" and "bunnet" to refer to men's headwear even after the English stopped doing so before the 18th century. In any case, blue bonnets are soft wool hats that were once the traditional working headwear of the Scottish working class. They weren't just men's headwear. After all, they were worn by women of the Scottish working class as well.

Coal Scuttle Bonnets

Coal scuttle bonnets are named thus because they have the shape of a coal scuttle, which holds coal for use with a coal-fired stove or heater. They look a lot like poke bonnets. However, coal scuttle bonnets are different because poke bonnets have wider, more rounded, and more extended brims. Still, these bonnets were popular at around the same times, with the result that the two terms are sometimes used in an interchangeable manner.

Feather Bonnets

Feather bonnets were worn by Scottish Highlanders of the British Army until the start of the First World War. In the present time, they tend to be associated with pipers and drummers more than anyone else. Apparently, feather bonnets started out as blue bonnets. Over time, they received more and more decorations, which caused them to evolve into their current form. There is speculation that feather bonnets were influenced by Plains Indian war bonnets. This is because the Scottish Highlanders stationed in North America during the 18th century were more willing to decorate their bonnets using feathers than their counterparts still stationed in Great Britain.

Poke Bonnets

Poke bonnets are women's bonnets that have a small crown but a wide, rounded brim that tends to extend beyond the face. It isn't clear why they are named the way that they are. One line of thought is that the "poke" refers to how the wearer's hair can be contained within the bonnet. Another line of thought is that the "poke" refers to how the brim extends beyond the face. In any case, poke bonnets became popular at the start of the 19th century before proceeding to remain so for much of the same century.

Spoon Bonnets

Spoon bonnets had wider brims than most of their counterparts. As a result, they revealed more of the face as well as more of the hair. Spoon bonnets didn't serve much practical purpose in the sense that they didn't do much to protect their wearers from the elements. Instead, they were supposed to look good first and foremost, which is why they were often elaborately decorated using lace, ribbons, flowers, and so on and so forth.

War Bonnets

War bonnets are a very recognizable form of feathered headwear. They are often associated with the indigenous peoples of North America as a whole. However, it is important to note that war bonnets belong to certain tribes of Plains Tribes. Specifically, they were traditionally worn by male leaders who had managed to gain a great deal of respect from others, meaning that they possess enormous significance. It is no coincidence that war bonnets are made out of the feathers of a bird that is held in very high regard by the relevant cultures.

Lily Wordsmith

Written by Lily Wordsmith

Lily Wordsmith is a freelance writer who has had a love affair with the written word for decades. You can find her writing blog posts and articles while sitting under a tree at the local park watching her kids play, or typing away on her tablet in line at the DMV. In addition to her freelance career, she is pursuing ebook writing with an ever-growing repertoire of witty ebooks to her name. Her diversity is boundless, and she has written about everything from astrobotany to zookeepers. Her real passions are her family, baking desserts and all things luxe.

Read more posts by Lily Wordsmith

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