I have a thing for hats– well, for bonnets, really. I know I made stays and a shift before I made anything else for the 18th century, but I might have made a bonnet before I made a proper gown. It’s a condition I inherited from my grandmother, and a great aunt who was a milliner, so there’s little to be done about it– except to dive in deeper.
As people do more research and generously share it with me, I’ve come to realize that I need to synthesize what we are seeing. It’s a tricky thing, what with that single (known) extant bonnet at Colonial Williamsburg and only prints and images to go on. What I’ve done to compile a stack of references from newspaper ads (primarily Mid-Atlantic and New England colonies at the moment) and interfiled them with images. This has given me a much better sense of the change in shapes and construction over time, as well as the range of colours– yes, colours, available and popular.
It’s not just that wool bonnets are a thing– there’s the ““a reddish coloured worsted bonnet” in the April 8, 1776 Pennsylvania Packet an ad for runaway Margaret Collands, and the “black durant” recommended in Instructions for Cutting Out Apparel for the Poor– but close reading shows that the colors are more varied than we’ve accept lately, but they vary by region and time period.
There’s been a rule that “all bonnets are black silk,” which is too broad a statement. Most bonnets are black, that’s true. But in 1768, in Boston, a place where folks would have you think that black is the only colour bonnet you can ever have, you can have “Black, pink, blue and crimson sattin hatts and bonnets” (Joshua Gardner and Com. ad, Boston News-Letter, November 24, 1768).
Heck, if you shopped at Caleb Blanchard, you could have a green bonnet, too! Blanchard advertised “black, blue, green, white and crimson Sattin bonnets” in the Boston Gazette on December 18, 1769.
What does this mean? My SWAG is that roughly 60-70% of bonnets should be black. After that, blue, white, red and green would make up the balance. In Philadelphia, green bonnets– and green flowered bonnets– last longer in the ads. Philadelphia is also where I see more white bonnets, a brown silk bonnet, a diaper bonnet, a “queen’s grey” bonnet, and, in Trenton, a “lye coloured” bonnet. In Rhode Island, there’s a blue stuff bonnet. So yes, bonnets should mostly be black. But they can also be other colours.