Bonnet styles varied throughout the 19th century, with the material, the shape, and the size and angle of the brim changing according to fashion. Coal scuttle, sugar-scoop and poke bonnet were some of the names given to an early style where the wearer's face was tantalisingly hidden from view by a long curved brim. A contrasting style was the cottage bonnet where the crown formed a continuous line with the short brim, and it either closed around the face demurely or opened out to reveal the front of the head.
Bonnets followed different styles depending on the occasion. For special occasions, which meant dressing up in finery, the bonnets would be made of silks or rows of lace or folds of gauze. Plainer bonnets were worn for everyday outings. The Easter bonnet was a brand-new spring hat trimmed with flowers and worn to church on Easter Sunday.
Styles also changed to suit the seasons. The sunbonnet was made of cotton or straw and had a large brim to shade the face from the summer sun. This was very important in an age where a pale complexion was much admired. An alternative to the sunbonnet was to wear an extra brim called an 'ugly'. It was made of semicircular cane hoops, covered with silk and worn round the front of the bonnet like a canopy. On the other hand, winter bonnets were designed to keep the wearer warm and were made from velvet, and sometimes trimmed with fur.
Sometimes trimmings could be elaborate and even bizarre - small birds, beetles or fruit and vegetables occasionally featured on the most striking hats. It was more usual for bonnets to be trimmed with ribbons, feathers or flowers, usually pinned to the sides. The inside of the brim was seen as important as the outside. It was often lined, and sometimes decorated with frills of lace, velvet, net or tulle.
Widows wore black crepe bonnets draped with a heavy veil. In 1861 Queen Victoria went into mourning when her husband Albert died, and she wore black for the rest of her life. At her Golden Jubilee celebration in 1887, Victoria refused to wear a crown for the royal procession. Instead, she wore a bonnet and long dress.
The bonnet went out of fashion towards the end of the 19th century, by which time it was mainly associated with spinsters and widows. However it continues to be worn by women in the Salvation Army.