Gainsborough Chapeau

The Gainsborough chapeau was a women's hat style that was first popularized at the turn of the nineteenth century. Based on the hats often seen on the ladies painted by famous British portrait artist Thomas Gainsborough (1727–1788), the Gainsborough chapeau was a large hat with a wide brim, trimmed with feathers, ribbons, and flowers. Made of velvet, felt, or straw, Gainsborough hats were big and showy, and they sat high up on the elaborate hairstyles worn by most women of the day. Very popular at the end of the eighteenth century, the large Gainsborough chapeau became fashionable again at the end of the nineteenth century atop the high pompadour styles of the Gibson girls.

Woman wearing a Gainsborough chapeau, a large hat with a wide brim, trimmed with feathers, ribbons, and flowers. Reproduced by permission of © .

Gainsborough hats were also called picture hats, garden hats, and cartwheels, because of their large size and the elaborate decorations that adorned them. These decorations usually included large feathers, and even whole stuffed birds. During the early 1900s, when the Gainsborough chapeau reached its largest size, some countries passed laws forbidding the use of certain bird feathers on the hats to prevent whole species from being killed off.

Rather than sitting down over the head, the Gainsborough style was to frame the head by sitting up above the hair. A cloth band below the brim of the hat fitted over the top of the hairstyle, and long hatpins were stuck through this band to hold the hat on the head. Hatpins grew so long that they sometimes poked people walking by. Some states in the United States passed laws limiting the length of hatpins for public safety.


Bigelow, Marybelle S. Fashion in History: Western Dress, Prehistoric to Present. Minneapolis, MN: Burgess Publishing, 1970.

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