A Womens Prairie Bonnet was most often used by prairie women to protect themselves from the wind and the sun. ‘Proper’ women did not allow their facial skin to tan. A hardworking woman or girl always wore them from the start of their day to sunset as they were constantly outside doing chores. No matter where they went, whether to town and church or out in their yard, they would not be seen without one on their head. Should you have been able to be in their homes, you would not be surprised at a womens prairie sunbonnet hanging on a post, or a door, always ready at hand to be put on at a moment’s notice.
They were considered a country woman’s bonnet because they were usually worn for ‘casual’ use such at the garden and outdoor work on a farm or ranch. They were simple, yet sturdy and made from what was on hand. You might have seen a woman wearing a slat (split) bonnet, a button bonnet, a snap bonnet, or a gathered bonnet, which was one of the most common and one of the ones you see on our website today.
Most of these womens prairie bonnets were serviceable, not decorative, and made with plainer materials or scraps cut from dresses that were no longer wearable. Since they were worn outdoors for work, it didn't’ matter that a bonnet could even be made of different pieces or colors of material. All that mattered was to cover a woman’s face from the fierceness of the sun.
Older women often would wear darker colors like a dark blue, brown or the like. This unfortunately made the bonnet even hotter. Today, the replica bonnets are made with a lighter material and often much brighter, cheerful colors. Children and very young girls would get the brighter prints and bolder colors.
Now on Sunday, that was a different aspect. No woman would come to Sunday-go-to-meetin’ church without her very best. Even the poorest woman would have a special bonnet held in reserve for Sunday. This one would never be worn in the garden for work. If a poorer woman could manage it, she would actually have a bonnet that matched her Sunday dress….or at least complemented it. And possibly a bit of ribbon, maybe a tiny ruffle sewn on the edge of the brim or cap.
Adornments on a Womens Prairie Bonnet
Adding aprons to the ensemble was not unusual. In fact, aprons were often worn as a matter of decoration! Not just for work in the kitchen or yard, aprons served as an additional piece of a woman’s garment and could be decorative. It was often made to match or complement a women’s dress and could be decorated with hand stitching around the edges or wide bows. Because not much material was used in them, and because they were usually simply gathered at the top before decoration was added, these were a wonderful way for a poorer woman to add to her wardrobe without the cost of undue extravagance.
When Were Womens Prairie Bonnets Worn?
Because the prairie bonnet wasn't actually a bonnet worn for fashion but instead for practicality, these bonnets have been around for some time. But their use peaked around the 1850's as hats came in. Fashionable ladies of wealth would have lovely hats made of luxurious materials and fancy embellishments. However, the womens prairie bonnet remained in use for some time out on farms and ranches until eventually almost all women, except the most modest, wore hats instead of bonnets. Thus we now have the the impression that only little old lades were the old fashioned sunbonnet.
However, even today you will find women, young and old, using these gathered bonnets for gardening, protection from skin cancer, hiking, picnicking or even boating. Easy to fit in a back pocket when not being worn, easy to wash and clean.
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