Tunbridge Wells Museum & Art Gallery - November 2015

Edwardian hat-pin

Edwardian dragonfly hatpins

November's Object of the Month is this beautiful pair of Edwardian dragonfly hat pins. These artefacts were chosen by Madeline Amos, TWMAG Costume Inventory Volunteer.

Perched on twelve inch yellow copper alloy metal pins, the dragonflies are incredibly delicate and lifelike, with a striped green body and clear, transparent wings. In the late 1880's hats took over from bonnets as a key fashion item and so the fashion for hat pins emerged. A fashionable hat was seen as both a status symbol and a sign of femininity. Hats were worn across all social classes: from high society women to the 'step girls', who went from house to house cleaning.

By 1910 hat widths had reached their peak at about 60cm in diameter. These required hat pins as long as 16 inches to hold them in place. Hat pin manufacturers began to produce pins that were not only longer but highly decorative and became fashion statements in their own right. An article in Vogue magazine in August 1906 declared "No matter how costly or beautiful ones hat pins may be, they are not correct unless they harmonise perfectly with that hat in which they are worn".

Suffragettes were made to remove their hat pins before appearing in court at the Clerkenwell Sessions in 1908 in case they used them as weapons against the police. Their street protests, however, were being met with increasing violence by the police who would pull out the women's hat and hair pins, allowing them to grab their long hair. It also helped to portray the Suffragettes as disreputable women, prepared to go against the social mores of the day and be seen in public with loose hair and hatless. It is hard to believe that these delicate dragonfly hat pins from the museum could be brandished as a self defensive weapon. Conveniently concealed as a 'secret weapon', it was not uncommon for women to use them against men who harassed or assaulted them in the street, as shown in this San Francisco newspaper photo from 1904:

Madeline Says: When I unwrapped these hat pins from their tissue for the first time they stood out from the other more practical and sober examples in the Museum's collection. Exquisite and ethereal, they seem to flitter on their pins. Can you imagine the hat that might have matched these unusual dragonfly pins?

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