Not many people realize that the hatpin was one of the most ingenious inventions of the Victorian Age. Nothing more than a piece of wire with a sharp point at one end and a bauble at the other, but it changed life in ways no one anticipated and few have acknowledged. A hat pin is a badge worn on a man's hat. A hatpin (one word) is a tool for holding a woman's hat in place. MS magazine, in a 1972 article about Angela Davis, said, "One almost sees the mark of the hatpin in her lapel where he pinned the corsage"-- a common misconception that the hatpin is the same as a corsage pin or a lapel pin. Not so.
Check the lists of the 100 greatest inventions of mankind. You won't find the hatpin there, and yet the pin has proven to be nearly as important as the invention of the wheel.
While men fought in the trenches of World War One, women were entrenched in the doctrine of women's rights, a movement born during the hatpin era, and bred in the Equal Rights Amendment defeated in 1982.
Harrient Stanton Blatch once wrote to the New York Times, "...in your telegraphic news from Paris recently we are informed that edicts have been issued twice against unprotected hatpins, but that the Parisienne merely smiles and goes her way." She referred to the Chief of Paris police being "held in terror by the Apache", and not being able to hold the fort against pointed "arrows" that darted out from Paris women's fashionable hats.
The wearing of a hat (rather than a bonnet with strings) is the true symbol of women's emancipation. From the beginning, the hat was more than a headcovering. It was the symbol of one's station in life -- or more accurately -- man's station. In saying "he wore many hats", the "he" was quite literal, for women had no "station" other than that realm of subservience suffragettes fought to free women from.
In truth, women wore no hats, only hoods, wimples, hennin or bonnets with strings tied under the chin. When women cut off their bonnet strings, figuratively speaking, they were cutting themselves free from the "queendom" of hearth and home that they ruled in nameless obscurity.
At its height, from 1890 through 1925, the hatpin was most influenced in design by the Aesthetic Period, the Arts and Crafts Movement, Art Nouveau and the Art Deco eras. But even before these periods came the Victorian influence which embraced innovations of Gothic elaborations, elegant scrolls, openwork and filigree with baroque details thrown in. Those fashioned between 1850 and 1925 are the collectable "period" hatpins.
The expert craftsmen of the Victorian period set the example and left footprints more modern jewelers have found difficult to walk in.
At first, hatpins were short and utilitarian, but they allowed wearers to demand larger, more fanciful hats with flowers, feathers, ruffles, bows and even bird nests. As hats grew in size and ostentatiousness, so did hatpins, from four inches to twelve, and from simple knobs or stones to the elegant and complicated designs of the true craftsman. In other words, the shorter the hatpin, the older it likely is, though the later models may be far more enticing.
The emancipated woman and her hatpin caused many new problems in society, including "the hatpin danger." In America and Europe laws required "all dangerous points of hatpins be covered by guards." In turn of the century closed-vestibule railroad passenger cars and the "street railway" in America, female passengers became more and more common, inevitably brushing and bumping against other people (men). Such close quarters did indeed create a hazardous situation with hatpins extending to twelve inches long. Looser, fuller hairstyles allowed for larger, more ostentatious hats that required several pins to keep in place. More than one judge outlawed hatpins as dangerous weapons. Having to lose their pins meant women must give up their hats, for without the pins, there was no way to keep the hats on. This insult to women's pride acted to further propel the suffragette movement, especially in America.
How amazing that something as simple as a hatpin could lead to such remarkable changes and chains of events. Every time I buy one for my antique collection I wonder what flamboyant headgear they might have secured, whose hands touched them, and if they were ever used in the defense of womankind. Alas, I have yet to find evidence of blood on their sharp tips. Maybe I will on the next one. I guess I'll just have to keep buying them to see.
Charlene Raddon is an award-winning author of several historical romance novels set in the American West. In love with the Old West since early childhood, she has studied and researched the period for many years and is quite knowledgeable on the subject. Her paperback books, published by Kensington Books, can be found in used book stores. Three of her books have now been released as e-books by Tirgearr Publishing and can be found at Amazon, B&N, Smashwords and other e-book stores. Charlene can be found at www.charleneraddon.com, www.charleneraddon.blogspot.com, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and other social media sites.