|Lily Elsie from The Merry Widow|
|Bohemian Magazine, 1908|
this hat from the Mariachi Connection (as a bonus, they seem to have frequent sales too). The sombrero is plain enough that you might could replace the crown only and skip recovering it, but it is covered with a a velvet-like synthetic material that I wasn't crazy about, so I decided to deconstruct the entire thing and see if I could cover the base with my own fabric for a more sophisticated look.
The next step was to construct a new crown for the hat. I found an article in a 1909 edition of La Mode Illustrée that gives a pattern and instructions for making a similar style of hat, so I used those dimensions for building my new crown. The article called for a crown that was was 10.5" in diameter, 33.5" in circumference, and 4" tall. I built my crown using a double layer of buckram with wire around the top and bottom edge, and then I covered it with cotton velveteen. It is a bit silly looking on its own, but I had fun modeling it to show you exactly how huge the crowns of Edwardian hats are supposed to be. It felt like I'm wearing a lampshade on my head at this point, but you really do need to make the crowns this large or else they don't sit correctly over the large hairstyles of the period.
After the crown was finished, I then covered the brim with my velveteen. I decided to use spray adhesive to attach the fabric to the cardboard base, and I used Scotch brand Super 77 for this project, which worked quite well. Just be sure to spray the adhesive outdoors, and do it on the grass or on newspapers because the spray glue is incredibly sticky, and it is very hard to remove if you get it on something by accident. It took me two tries to attach the fabric to the cardboard base smoothly, and there are a few tricks that I learned that made my second attempt much more successful. Please forgive my quickie hand-drawn diagrams, but hopefully they will help to illustrate the concepts.
The brim was finished by sewing a bias strip of the velveteen around the outside edge. This step needs to be done by hand with a curved needle, and it was a pretty long and tedious process considering how large the brims is. You probably could glue some trim around the edge instead, but I think the hand-sewn edging looked really nice, so I'm glad I took the time to do it that way.
So at this point, it was finally a real hat, although quite an awkward looking one without the decorations. But never fear, because hats like these are all about the feathers and flowers and fluff. In the photo series below, you can see the hat as it looked bare, then with a super-wide vintage moire ribbon tacked around it, and then in the final shot, you can see the finished look with 5 extra long ostrich tacked across the front. Much better!
The last secret to making a Merry Widow hat look authentic is creating a large enough "Gibson girl" hairstyle to support a monster-sized hat. I taught a class on Edwardian hairstyles a few years ago, so I already had a variety of rats and hairpieces that I could use, plus a collections of images on Pinterest to give me inspiration. My hair is just past shoulder length right now, so I wore a long wavy wig to give me some more length to work with. I used the Stephanie wig by Wig America, and I hid the edges by combing some of my own hair over it.
The poofy sections along the front and sides of my head are made by combing the wig hair over a large rat on one side and a foam pad attached to a comb on the other. I made the rat by stuffing a stocking with wool, then I wrapped some lose braiding hair around it, then I covered it with a hair net to keep it tidy. On the back side of the rat, I have two toupee clips stitched to the stocking to hold it in place on my head. The smaller foam pad is something that I bought at a beauty supply store recently. It worked okay once I wadded some of the extra length of wig hair over it, but it was harder to secure, and I plan on replacing it with another home-made rat in the future.
Although 1910's hair-styles concentrated the fullness at the back of the head, earlier Edwardian styles were more like a pompadour with the bulk of hair hanging over the forehead and fullness at the top and sides. To create a similar look, I did not pad the back of my hair at all, and I just twisted the back length up and pinned it into to loose curls at the crown of my head. I was in a rush on the day of the party, so my hair is a bit messier than I intended, and I could have done a better job of covering the rat and arranging the back, but it still worked out okay, and I'm sure I'll do better next time. The large size of these Gibson girl 'dos are a bit of an adjustment if you are not used to wearing big hair with your costumes, but you really do need this sort of bulk to fill out the bottom of the crown and support the wide expanse of brim.
Be sure to check back later this week for more pictures of my new Merry Widow hat and the final reveal of how the whole outfit looks together!