Some years ago, I had the most magnificent and huge Edwardian hat in Suffragette colours. It would have been worn by a lady of high society and must have been rare indeed. It went to a museum in the south of England, and I was thrilled for it! As I grew up in the 1950's and 60's, the Suffragette's, along with the far later Dagenham women, formed my view of women in society and the struggle they had to make their voices heard, even at the time I was born.
Since then, interest in the Women's Suffragette Movement has grown exceedingly. Today, the 'Me Too' Movement has revived & replenished young women's fascination in quite modern social history with continued disbelief that, until the 1920's, women in the UK were not allowed to vote in our long standing democracy.
I was delighted then, to find two more Edwardian hats with the familiar Suffragette colours decorating them. Unmistakable combinations of purple, white & green, which [as I read recently], would never have been used as a combination in a purely fashionable item of clothing, being not naturally complimentary! So I was sure they were Suffragette hats. A very good provenance and a little research taught me facts I had not known before, and confirmed their purpose. So here I am sharing my findings with you.
Hat 1 shown top of page, has a shop label inside. Hat 2, shown right, does not.
Both are for 'middle class' ladies and not as grand as the one I had some years ago.
This makes them more rare in my opinion.
This is because very expensive garments are often kept in families through generations, as examples of finery from times gone by.
Middle class ladies would not have the luxury of keeping a hat for it's history. With the middle classes being quite a new phenomenon and innovations in manufacturing methods allowing mass produced fashion garments, the lady of modest means was taught to be frugal. A hat for a special event could be quickly adapted by the replacement of trims and decorations, to give it a completely new look. To find these, therefore, with their original Suffragette colours, in ribbons, feathers and flowers, is quite something.
The reason these hats have survived is because they come from a rather special family. I doubt very much that the grand ladies of the family actually wore them. Rather, the family were known as great collectors and I am told that costume collected by them has gone to the Bath Costume Museum and others. These hats were retained by one of the family descendants, thank goodness!
The image left, is of the superb Elizabethan manor house of Prideaux Place in Padstow, Cornwall.
It was built over 400 years ago for the Prideaux family, who remained there for generation upon generation.
Prideaux Place is open to the public and you can visit the website for full information. I have not been myself, but images of the interior look outstanding.
I am thrilled to say that these Suffragettes hats were owned by a member of the Prideaux family until recently, and a better provenance I cannot imagine.
Having established this extraordinary provenance for the hats, I still wanted hard evidence to show that the hats had been worn for Suffragette marches and other events. It had always been my assumption that the women of the movement must have some kind of 'hidden' cottage industry behind their cause, all kept quite from the authorities. But where did all the clothing in Suffragette colours come from?
The first of the hats [shown top of page], has a rather famous department shop label that didn't seem to 'fit' my assumptions. This hat was sold in the 'Dickens & Jones' Department Store in the West End of London. I started to investigate.
To my amazement, it was relatively easy to find the link with the Suffragette Movement. My first find was an article written at www.houseofgharats.com, called 'Suffragette Style, Practical Power.'
This article talks about the Suffragette publication called 'Votes for Women', which they tell us, by it's peak, sold 40,000 copies every week! I had no idea that the Movement was so widely and publicly followed.
The article goes on to explain that many of the West End department stores in London, took out full page advertisements in the 'Votes for Women' weekly, and openly entreated followers of the movement to buy good from their stores, in Suffragette colours.
The article includes a page printed from 'Votes for Women' in 1911, and there we see an advertisement for Dickens & Jones'! The double page spread advertises clothing and hats suitable for a Votes for Women procession to be held in the near future. Result! [The original publication is held in the British Library]
To confirm this information, I also found a Blog: 'Irishwomenshistory.blogspot.com' entitled 'The Colours of the Suffragettes' that confirms the information above, and tells us that a very good business relationship grew between the Suffragette Movement and the Department Stores of London, leading to important funding for the Movement in order to grow it's followers.
So there we have it - the first hat, with it's department store label, confirms for sure that these rare pieces were part of one of the most important movements in women's equality in the early 20th Century.
[Just for fun!]
By doing this research I learned that, in the USA, women also wore the colours of purple, white and green with the same meanings for them. However, they added gold to their standard colours. Gold represented the sunflower. You can read all about this by going to the National Women''s History Museum, in Virginia, USA.
Why am I telling you this? Look above. Can you see the tiny leaf, covered in gold glitter? Ha! Just a flight of fancy, an added little trim, or was it placed there in the hope that ladies visiting from the USA would purchase their Suffragette hat at Dickens & Jones in London, the gold leaf making them feel at home?
I have decided to auction these two hats in my Ebay shop, where is may reach specific collectors. I have no idea of their value. You can go straight to my Ebay shop by clicking the link on the home page of Poppies Cottage.
I wonder how they will get on? If they are not popular, I shall be seriously thinking about keeping at least one of this rare and charming pair, with a significance that has shaped my entire life.
As always, thanks for reading, Ann at Poppies Cottage