Colonial Milliner Facts & History That You Should Know About | Kidadl


Colonial Milliner Facts & History That You Should Know About

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The term milliner is derived from Milaner, a native of Italy, Milan, and is also known for manufacturing goods like caps, hats, hairpieces, and other fashion accessories.

During the colonial era, milliners played an important role in designing clothes according to their customer-preferred style. They used a wide variety of fabrics, e.g. (silk, linen, cotton) to meet end customers' needs by providing the durability of clothes and at the same time fashionable dresses too.

A milliner is an expert who can remodel old clothing or hats into new ones, and it's for people who cannot afford new clothing. The trade or business done by any milliner is known as millinery. The business owned by only women folks during colonial times is millinery - in which they sold women's hats, aprons, clothing, knitted caps, hairpieces, shoes, and so on. During the 18th-century, the milliners in Virginia designed beautiful hats for everyone, and that's especially for women who were working in the scorching sun on those days. Virginia milliners preferred using cotton for their undergarments to protect them from the heat. Milliners were not just women who owned a shop that sold fashion accessories, dresses, or hats. Still, they also imported many goods from England and kept themselves updated with the latest fashion.

History & Origin Of Colonial Milliners

In the 16th century, the shop owners handled a millinery business in the 'Milanese' dialect and sold products, e.g. (swords, silk, armor, and ribbons). However, swords and armor lost their trend after mid 16th century. The major change that happened in history that helped milliners grow their business was' The Great Fire Of London' in 1966. This fire destroyed most of the places in London, which helped a milliner sell as many goods in different areas.

During the 17th century, both men and women were into the trading business, and the type of dress people wore during those days was called mantua style gown. Milliners were the ones who sold fabric to tailors and made a good amount of profit. The fabric they chose for the dresses was around 90% of the cost of a dress. Also, we could see those days milliners worked along with tailors, dressed up nicely with old fashion accessories. During colonial times, customers valued milliners because they mainly created children's clothing: caps, shirts, hats, aprons, and scarfs. In 1775, Robert Trio and Mark Hutter picturized tailor James Slate, join with other two women from the military camp to sew shirts and backpacks for the Virginia Army.

The milliners in Virginia were skilled hatmakers. They use a hat block, which is made out of wood, and used to make and repair hats. The hat blocks come in varied sizes, and they make different hats decorated according to customers' choices. The milliners decorate hats with flowers, bonnets, feathers, or any fashion accessories they come across. The milliners from Virginia county had a tie-up with London merchants, and they imported fashionable accessories from them. Usually, milliners put in a lot of effort in making fashionable dresses owing to customers' needs, and also, the price of each dress varies according to the fabric used.

During the 18th century, there were six millinery shops in Williamsburg, and women owned every shop. They displayed the art of creating clothes, portrayed enthusiastically, lively, and passionately at the Williamsburg millinery shop. This colonial shop concentrated mainly on following the latest women's hats caps for many years.

In the 19th century, hats became popular among women, and the place where milliners sold hats was called millinery. Janea Whitacre began her career as a sewer in Williamsburg in 1982. Today, she is the chief of fashion trades under six people working, which involves wig making, clothing, and millinery shop. Colonial Williamsburg Trade Council in 1995 authorized the six-year course of the internship, i.e. (a student has to spend three years learning sewing skills and the next years mastering in making mantua style gowns or any dresses).

Gabrielle Coco Chanel - a milliner, started her salon in Paris in 1910. She was recognized for cloche hats and her simple and creative ways of decorating hats that turned out to be all-time classy.

Aage Tharup - he was the first male milliner based out of London. He became famous in the 19th century, and when the duchess was crowned as Queen of England, he was appointed by Queen Elizabeth and designed many hats for Queen and the Queen's mother.

During the 20th century, women's lives had changed dramatically, and the wearing of a hat predominantly seen during colonial times changed to only important occasion wear.

Tools Used By Colonial Milliners

Milliners used many tools in their trading business, including tailor's chalk, pliers, threads, pins made out of tin-plated, brass, scissors, iron. The scissors were called dressmaking shears. They also used thimbles to sew and needles to meet their customers' preferences. They use animal fur sometimes to make coats.

Thimbles were very important for a milliner because they pushed a needle through the fabric to make clothes, and these thimbles were made during the 16th or 17th centuries. They used needles and pins for making the dress. During those times, the pins were available only in brass, and over the years, the quality of pins improved a lot.

Role Of Colonial Milliners

The role of the milliner was not easy during the colonial period. To become a milliner, you have to be a trainee. The young girls chosen for an apprenticeship were aged between 11 and 18. During their training period, the learners mastered the skills of cutting, mending, sewing, and ironing. The apprentices in training were taught how to write, read, and do certain mathematical calculations required for stitching clothes. The newbies lived with their trainers. As soon as they master the skill, they can open a shop independently.

A milliner's role is to produce everything from scratch for men and women, including making cloaks, shirts, caps, and designing and purfling their head gears. A milliner responsible for making hats for everyone and selling their decorated hats is called a millinery.

Milliners during the colonial era used different shades of fabric to bring out vibrant colors. The milliners follow a certain fashion to their weaving. Their main aim is to satisfy their customers' needs. They will design an article of lightweight clothing that will make people look skinnier. Besides being a businesswoman, milliners also sold many goods from London: shoes, jewelry, soaps, teapots, hats, dolls, hairpieces.

Milliners played an important role in designing clothes

Importance Of Colonial Milliners

Colonial Milliners was an era where the Industrial Revolution had not yet occurred. The milliners during the colonial period had to put in a lot of effort in handcrafting every piece of an item they produced. Also, there was no machinery available during colonial times to mass-produce dresses, hats, or other accessories. There was only limited skilled labor during those days, and most of the milliners available during the colonial time were women.

Those days, women's style was wearing a hat alone, which would be sufficient as the choices available for women's accessories were limited compared with the 21st century. Even for men, the range of choices during colonial times was minimal, and they habitually wore only pants and suits, and women wore mostly handstitched gowns. Most of the fabric they needed for stitching clothes during the 18th century became expensive, and it was very hard for the milliners to cope with the inflation at that time.

The milliners' role was very important during the 17th century because they stitched clothing for all school-going children and got business mainly during the summer season. Their sales were likely to go up mostly at that time. There were days when they could do good business and some days not, and that's all depends on their customer requirements. The milliners had to handcraft all clothing and matching accessories from scratch and most of the women during the 18th century did trading with other merchants as well. In the colonial period, an important fact is that there existed women entrepreneurs, even though most American households were expected to cook food, clean their houses, stitch clothing only for their family members, take care of their children, and maintain gardens or manage farms in their backyard.


What types of tools did tailors use?

A: The tailors used four different types of tools during colonial times. They are sewing tools, pressing tools, dress cutting tools, and fabric measuring tools.

What materials did colonial tailors use?

A: A colonial tailor gets materials mostly from importing from other traders. The material used is fabric which is cotton, wool, or silk.

Who is a famous milliner?

A: Based on the reviews, Philip Treacy has been in top records since 1990 for making feathered designs.

What does a milliner wear?

A: A milliner was very important during colonial times, and they made all types of clothing and wore shirts, caps, hats with bonnets, kerchiefs, made shifts and aprons. Apart from these, they even made cloaks, ruffles, stockings, and undergarments.

How much did a milliner get paid?

A: A milliner in the US gets 75% made around $48,580, and 50% of people made around $26 310.

What did colonial milliners wear?

A: Colonial milliners wore only handstitched garments with different types of fabric used in it.

What did a colonial milliner do?

A: The colonial milliner owned a local clothing store and sold many goods imported from England. They make accessories that match the particular outfit. Most of the milliners who traded in colonial times and ran a shop during colonial times were women.

Written By
Sridevi Tolety

<p>With a Master's degree in clinical research from Manipal University and a PG Diploma in journalism from Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Sridevi has cultivated her passion for writing across various domains. She has authored a wide range of articles, blogs, travelogues, creative content, and short stories that have been published in leading magazines, newspapers, and websites. Sridevi is fluent in four languages and enjoys spending her spare time with loved ones. Her hobbies include reading, traveling, cooking, painting, and listening to music.</p>

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