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The “winter beanie” seems to have been pushed aside this season. Instead, we’re seeing an influx for fuller head-coverage pieces like balaclavas, ski masks, and puffer hoods – but perhaps the next great hat alternative that ought to be on your radar is the bonnet. The bonnet that you see on babies, but sized to fit adults.
“There have been some bonnet revivals in the past century, but there are two distinct bonnet styles that seem to be popular right now: the tight-fitting monastic cap, similar to Tudor women, and the wide-brimmed, ‘prairie’ bonnet, reminiscent mid-19th-century sun bonnets worn outside by women who worked most of their day outside,” Sarah Jean Culbreth fashion and textile historian tells me. “The bonnet trend now might be a result of people watching period films and TV, or the popularity of antique and vintage sellers on Instagram, or maybe it’s a reaction to the cottagecore look that still pervades the fashion system.”
Skull Cap Bonnets
Culbreth says that women have worn a cap or bonnet for many millennia. He is referring to the bonnet’s rich and centuries-spanning history. “One of my favorite early examples is a sprang net cap worn by women as early as the Bronze Age. Caps were usually made of white linen and were used every day by 17th- and 18th century women in Europe and Americas. These are the places where most of the modern bonnets have their stylistic roots.”
Modern-day bonnets come in many styles, materials and fits. However, Culbreth explains that bonnets are typically made in two parts: a crown or a brim. These could be simple or elaborated to the very last inch of their lives with pintucks and lace. The changing shape and style of the bonnet could define 19th century fashion in many ways. This could also be reflected in the silhouettes of corsets and petticoats.
Fashion brands are releasing more bonnet- and hood styles this season. This could be considered a younger version (and less intense) of the full-head Balaclava. Both Etsy sellers and DIY crocheters are seeing a greater demand for bonnets. They are warmer and cuter than the beanie, and are easier to wear than, for example, a ski mask.
According to Olivia Irja Strautmanis, a NYC-based crocheter, “Bonnets are to me a perfect beanie/balaclava hybrid. I made my first bonnet four-years ago, when I was short and desired something that would cover my ears. It also made me look flattering as most winter hats made at the time made my appearance bald.” The rise of the bonnet coincides with the second winter of the coronavirus epidemic. Strautmanis says that many makers used the pandemic to sharpen their skills and craft. “We were searching for a way of making money after we lost our jobs in 2020.” Bonnets were a practical accessory that could also be stylish and practical during the pandemic.
As a Bonnet lover (I own seven versions of the removable winter hood, including one from Strautmanis), I can tell you that I prefer this style of cold-weather hat. I love how a bonnet cradles my head and works with my hair. A beanie makes me feel like I’m trying to shove my head into a sock. The ear coverage is a huge plus when you want to keep warm.
“I like to wear caps and bonnets because they are practical and because I think they showcase your face in a sweet way,” says Culbreth, who is also a skilled needleworker and makes antique-inspired bonnets. “A brimmed bonnet that has a skirt, where the fabric falls below the crown, offers neck and face protection. A wool cap with a tie under the chin that stays on during windy conditions is warm. Bonnets are what I think of as a baseball cap or beanie. These accessories, strangely enough, I never feel comfortable wearing.”