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more info R. R. Donnelley Sons & Company, Chicago, after S. D. Zuckerman, 1912

At the turn of the last century, stylish women wore hats with the latest feather-topped design from Paris, New York, and other centers of fashion. Millinery houses in Europe and America traded internationally and indiscriminately for birds and bird feathers. The more exotic or unique the hat design and feather display, the larger the sales.

By the 1890s, women were wearing whole bodies of birds on hats and clothing. In 1886, noted ornithologist Frank Chapman counted 40 varieties of native birds, or bird parts, decorating three-fourths of the 700 ladies' hats that he had observed in New York City.


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Postcards and photos dating from about 1880 to 1910

more info Gray velvet hat trimmed with ostrich and egret plumes, about 1880-1890. Gift of Mrs. Henry Kirk Porter.

For centuries, ostrich plumes were worn as decoration for hats, especially by prominent men. By the 1600s, women of means adopted the fashion. In the 19th century, the focus on the natural world created an increased demand for feathers, especially those of the ostrich.

Beginning in the 1880s, ostrich farming became a successful enterprise in California, Arizona, Texas, Arkansas, and Florida. With new legislative restrictions on hunting, feathers clipped from these farmed birds satisfied American millinery demands.


Woman with ostrich-plumed hat. After Carol Aus. The Saturday Evening Post, February 1, 1913.

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"Buy Direct from the Cawston Ostrich Farm in California." The Delineator, An Illustrated Magazine of Literature and Fashion, Vol. LXII, No. 4, November 1903. Courtesy Smithsonian Institution Libraries.

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Ivory silk satin and black velvet hat trimmed with ostrich plume, 1910-1912. Gift of Mrs. Alice Matthews Terry Love.
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Fancy Feathers, a millinery supply catalog, 1901 New York Millinery and Supply Company, Inc., New York. Courtesy Smithsonian Institution Libraries.

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Peale's G Street Parlor, Washington, D.C., 1862. Photograph by Titian Ramsay Peale (1800-1885). Courtesy Smithsonian Institution Archives.

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Fancy-work display of eastern North American birds, 1850-1870.

Displays containing arrangements of preserved or fabricated flowers, birds, shells, and other natural objects appeared in middle- and upper-class American homes in the 1850s. Like trophies or paintings, these displays were meant to bring nature into the home.