Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Ladies' Caps of the Civil War

Hats and bonnets have been standard Civil War ladies' headgear for many years. But a new field of research is opening up as several vendors are offering a third option: Caps. More and more women are realizing that there are a number of occasions when a cap is the most appropriate item to wear.

There are many terms used to describe ladies' caps of the 1860s, but I'm going to divide them by these three categories: Breakfast Cap, Day Cap and Evening Cap.

Breakfast Caps
As Godeys Ladies Book noted, these were "a fashion becoming more and more universal since breakfast caps are now made extremely piquante (sic) and becoming." "Breakfast" or "morning" caps were generally worn with a wrapper while the lady was at home, perhaps doing housework or handwork. Typically only family and very close friends would see you in a breakfast cap and wrapper. These around-the-house caps were usually made in a gathered form to cover the hair (possibly still un-coiffed for the day). Here are a couple breakfast caps from Godeys Ladies Book.

Day Caps
Day caps, unlike breakfast caps, were typically worn to be seen. Generally worn indoors and at home, some pictures that indicate ladies may have worn them to church or other gatherings, possibly under their bonnets or put on once they arrived.

Day caps could be gathered like breakfast caps, but we also see many other styles from tiny little triangles of lace and ribbon to gloriously frilly confections dripping with lace lappets, ribbons and flowers.

This is a picture from Godeys Ladies Book of a day cap. I love this illustration because it shows both the front and back views. We are told this cap is created from muslin and trimmed with ribbons and flowers.

This is a lovely picture of a lady with a day cap. She looks so calm and peaceful and pretty! Interestingly, her outfit is almost the same as the Godeys print above.

Evening Cap
An "Evening" cap or "Fancy" cap was for formal wear. Beautiful lace, velvet ribbon, beading and flowers were used in profusion. Evening caps could be many styles, from tiny foundations of lace or muslin to large headdresses with dangling lappets and ribbons.

Here is a Godey's print from 1863 of a lady in a dress of "garnet silk" and "black velvet ribbon and bows." Her cap, amazingly enough, is made from tulle and trimmed with "apple-green velvet." Wow, what an eye-catching combination!

This is just a very brief overview of some basic types of caps. I look forward to learning more about cap styles as I continue to research this lovely ladies' item. Terms like Widow's cap, Marie Stuart cap, Fancy cap, and more keep popping up and I'm working on sorting out the differences.

There are many stunning examples of caps surviving in museums and private collections. I have a Pinterest board of some of them. Here's one that I love to drool over!

Courtesy of the Los Angeles County Museum

Meanwhile, I'm happy to see more and more ladies wearing these caps in reenacting. They can be worn by docents reenacting indoors and by ladies camping "at home" at their tent. If you are interested in purchasing a cap for yourself, there are several vendors doing a lovely job of re-creating them. Since my mom is one of them, I'll post a picture of one of her latest creations. :)

Link to Mom's shop:

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