A nineteenth-century women’s hat that featured a large brim which extended beyond the wearer’s face.

The Details

M

ary Brooks Picken in the Fashion Dictionary (1973) describes the poke bonnet: “Bonnet with small crown at the back, having wide, rounded front brim projecting from top of the head beyond face. Worn as hat” (29).  A good representation of this sort of poke bonnet described by Picken is seen in the 1800 portrait of Henrietta Marchant Liston (Fig. 1).

As defined by Wikipedia:

“A poke bonnet (sometimes also referred to as a Neapolitan bonnet) is a women’s bonnet, featuring a small crown and wide and rounded front brim. Typically, this extends beyond the face. It has been suggested that the name came about because the bonnet was designed in such a way that the wearer’s hair could be contained within the bonnet. Poke may also refer to the brim itself, which jutted out beyond the wearer’s face.”

Henrietta Marchant Liston (Mrs. Robert Liston)

Fig. 1 - Gilbert Stuart (American, 1755 - 1828). Henrietta Marchant Liston (Mrs. Robert Liston), 1800. Oil on canvas; 74 x 61.3 cm. Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1960.12.1. Chester Dale Collection. Source: National Gallery of Art

Mourning poke bonnet

Fig. 2 - Maker unknown (American). Mourning poke bonnet, c.1840. Straw, silk. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.1431. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Mrs. James Dowd Lester, 1942. Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Poke bonnet

Fig. 3 - Maker unknown (American). Poke bonnet, c.1830. Silk; 27.5 cm. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 46.320. Gift of Miss Amelia Peabody and Mr. William S. Eaton. Source: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Poke bonnet

Fig. 4 - Maker unknown (American). Poke bonnet, c.1840. Silk, ribbon; 52 cm. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 51.1965. Gift of Misses Mildred and Margaret Allen. Source: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

In Fashion A to Z: An Illustrated Dictionary, Alex Newman and Zakee Shariff define the poke bonnet as:

“A bonnet resembling a hood, with a small crown positioned toward the back of the head and large projecting brim which, in its most exaggerated form, completely obscured the wearer’s face unless viewed from head-on. Particularly it was secured beneath the chin with a tie, and was often trimmed with ruffles at the front.” (147)

The Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion defines the poke bonnet as:

“Bonnet of 19th c. made with very wide brim slanting forward from small crown to frame and shadow the face. Also called poking bonnet. When made with rolled brim-one side extending beyond the cheek, the other side rolled back from face, it was called a conversation bonnet, a style worn in 1803.” (226)

Several surviving poke bonnets from the 1830s and 1840s in museum collections can be seen in figures 2-4.

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