Posted on May 19, 2020 at 5:00 PM by Sonya Harwood
While they may look unassuming or purely decorative, hat pins were used for fashion as well as protection in the Victorian Era. By 1880, the size of women's hats was increasingly larger and bonnets with strings became less popular. To keep these statement pieces secured to their heads, women would use hat pins, a thin metal stick usually with decoration on one end. Ranging from two to twelve inches long, hat pins were made for every occasion and every budget.
At the Farm House Museum, the collection of hat pins includes a variety of styles and sizes. From the very practical and simple with a single pearl on the end, to painted flowers and intricate metal with semiprecious gemstones, these hat pins were made to match the woman's outfit and occasion. They were an extension of jewelry women would wear. There is even one in the collection designed to look like a golf club! The popularization of hat pins also led decorative art manufacturers to create unique and ornamental hatpin holders in ceramic and glass to sit atop a women's dresser.
For many women hat pins were not merely a fashion statement. Around this time period women were pushing for equal rights, especially when it came to suffrage or the right to vote. More and more women were out in public without the protection of their brothers, husbands or fathers. As women have always found a way to "make do" with what they had, hat pins began to be used as weapons for women to protect themselves against unwanted male pursuance or attack.
The use of hat pins as protection became so popular that articles about self-defense in women's magazines began detailing the best way to use them. Newspapers published stories of women using hat pins to fight back against their assailants. In 1909, several state legislatures passed laws limiting the length of hat pins as the fashionable statement of the time was now being considered a threat to public safety. As a result, women had to cut hat pins to a shorter length if they wanted to wear them in public.
By the late 1920s, women's hair became shorter and hat designs began to evolve so that hatpins were no longer needed.
The collection of hat pins in the Farm House Museum are located in the Strawberry bedroom and can be seen both individually and how they would be stored in a hat pin holder. Although the museum is currently closed, you can view all of the hat pins in the University Museums' collection by going to the online eMuseum site here and typing "hat pin" in the search bar.
TOP: Hat Pin. Brass and amethyst. Gift of Miss Gertrude Chittenden. In the Farm House Museum Collection, Farm House Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. 79.23.4
MIDDLE: Hat Pin. Metal. Gift of Marian Danielles. In the Farm House Museum Collection, Farm House Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. 74.16.136b
BOTTOM: Hat Pin Holder. Ceramic. Gift of Clifford Smith. In the permanent collection, Brunnier Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. UM96.167
BELOW: A variety of hat pins are on display in the Strawberry bedroom of the Farm House Museum.