Women’s fashion is constantly undergoing changes, and big hats were important statement items in the early 1900s. And what good was a giant hat without a fancy hatpin?
First, what is a hatpin? Their f unction is actually right in their name, as they were intended to secure a woman’s hair to her hat, or simply to keep her hair in place. They were originally created for wimples and veils, but as hats became more in fashion, the hatpin’s purpose adjusted accordingly.
Of course, as hats got bigger, hatpins became larger and more ornate. Hatpins come in many varieties of shapes and styles. Animals were common designs for toppers, as well as elegant portrait designs.
In the earlier years of the hatpin’s lifetime, Eli Whitney, known for his patent of the cotton gin, had a surprising connection to them. During his teenage years, the Revolutionary War was in full-swing and caused a shortage of nails. As a blacksmith’s apprentice, he began specializing in nail-making after creating a device to produce nails at his home. After he was met with success, Whitney moved his trade to the hatpin business. In fact, he became the country’s only hatpin manufacturer for a short amount of time.
Hatpins also held another interesting purpose. Suffragettes used them as weapons of defense when harassed by men, and would prick them with the pin side to be left alone. Some of the pins could be almost one foot long, so this created quite an issue with safety. In 1908, American men fought to limit the length of pins to no longer than nine inches. While this vote eventually passed, women were undeterred. They continued to wear lengthy pins and pay fines or even go to jail rather than have their freedom of self-defense compromised.
Because of their continued use as weapons, there was a law passed in 1910 which forbade the pointy ends of the hatpins being exposed. They had to be covered with hatpin covers to avoid accidentally (and purposely) injuring someone nearby. But by the 1920s (with the help of World War I restricting resources for everything but necessities), the popularity for the hatpin had ended.
A symbol of social status and femininity, yet also an indicator of independence and women’s suffrage, the hatpin is a beautiful, multi-faceted tool. Visit us at the Gateway Museum and The Past Antiques Marketplace to view our historic and ornate hatpins on display! Some are even available for purchase. We are located on Route 85 in Montville, Connecticut.