The bonnet is a generic term used to describe a type of headwear. With origins in the Middle Ages it is often, but not exclusively, associated with female headgear. The male bonnet is particularly associated with Scottish soldiers where the term remains, whereas in England the word cap is more often used. The word bonnet in Scotland also referred to a steel helmet from the 16th century rather than the soft floppy cloth hat worn by ladies. The forerunner of the bonnet was the coif, a close fitting cap with chin strap worn by both sexes in Tudor times, becoming less fashionable by 1600.

miniature knitting
(A free pattern for this 1:12th scale mans knitted Highland Broad Bonnet is available to download on our Ravelry store)

The tendency to wear a bonnet has declined, as the number of ladies in service has reduced, leaving modern day wearing of a bonnet almost exclusively to babies. These are a smaller version of the common house bonnet of the mid 17th century. The house bonnet was a functional hat, as it kept dust from the hair during house cleaning and also provided weather protection outdoors. The outdoor bonnet developed into the calash, a silk stiffened bonnet that looked like the covered wagons of the wild west, with the ‘canopy’ being designed to fold back.

Bonnets were not restricted to cloth or knitting. Straw bonnets became popular from the early 19th century, especially in Italy, where it was felt the best straw bonnets were made. Designs continued to change during the early 19th century and a popular type was the ‘coal scuttle’, which had a peak covering the forehead and extended around the cheeks of the face.

The bonnet could also be worn symbolically. During the 19th century it was fashionable for a widow to wear a silk bonnet indicating her status. Wearing of ‘best’ bonnets at festival times gave rise to the Easter bonnet. The wearing of new clothes and a decorated bonnet goes back to the 1500’s and is referred to by Shakespeare. A more recent reference to bonnets is made in the song Easter Parade by Irving Berlin in 1933.

Though less common today the bonnet has played a large part in fashion historically and is a fine addition to any period setting.

miniature knitting
© F H Powell 2016

(A free pattern for this 1:12th scale Baby Bonnet is available to download on our Ravelry store)