Where better to find an authentic hatpin, than on the local vide grenier/boot fair in Espéraza, the town known for its history of hat making industry here in the South of France. After all, fakes are a major thing in collecting hatpins. So I was lucky this Sunday, as amidst other interesting finds, I discovered some lovely hatpins on that local market. When my eyes, wondering on every stand, caught the sight of these beautiful and authentic hatpins, I had to buy them for my shop.
Of course, hats were a men’s right in the old days, women had to wear hoods, simple bonnets with strings drawn tightly under their chin. Once they had the right to wear them, they wore them with buckles, beads, flowers, stuffed birds and the famous ostrich plumes. They needed three to six handmade hatpins to hold their wimples, veils in place, or to secure or anchor their hats, pins with an average length about 20 centimeters (7.9 inch), but some measuring 45,7 centimeters(18 inch) long. Stealing handmade pins, was a hanging offense in some American States!
Hats got bigger round the1910’s and so did their pins.
The pinhead became the most decorated part. The hatpin era reached its height around 1890 to 1925.
From silver as basic material, they went to gold, brass, less often copper. But even glass and porcelain (Satsuma was the known type of porcelain used) could be found. Insects and butterflies were popular themes in hatpins and I couldn’t believe my luck to find this beautiful butterfly brooch on the same stand at the market:
World War I made resources less available, all metals went to the weapon industry and suddenly soldiers’ buttons were used to create hatpins. France became the hatpin source for English women, as metal became precious and sales of these “frivolous things” were restricted in England in the 1820s. The Queen’s pins were paid with tax money and the purchase of handmade pins by her subjects was limited to the first day of the New Year.
The American John Howe designed a pin-making machine that later on was used to create hatpins (1850). The labour intensive job of making straight pins took normally 7 people.
Situated in the Aude, the region Languedoc Roussillon, north of the foothills of the Pyrenees, Espéraza once used to be the capital of the French hat making industry till the mid 20st century and now owns its own hat-making museum. Worth a visit and showing you as a small factory, all the stages of hat making from felt to wool base.
Bugarach’s hat makers went, from 1765, on to this valley direction Espéraza and the industry started blooming in 1830. The railway in 1878 offered the ideal transport for this town’s hats. Most artisans and small “ateliers” suffered as the industrial revolution with its machines, took over the hat making business. More than 3 000 workers in 14 local businesses made Espéraza (and also Quillan and Couiza) the town of hat making in those days. More than 1 400 000 hats from this region, had seen the light in 1949.
But fashion changes so quickly, hats became less and less worn and the economical crisis struck this industry mercilessly. One small factory of French hat making survived in the neighbouring village of Montazels. Luckily the local museum in Espéraza, founded in 1992, can still show you the beautiful art of hat making, as it was done in those days.
Hatpins empowered women, they became their secret weapon in case of danger. “Never go walking out without your hat pin” even became a music hall ballad. So excessive lengths were forbidden by law in New York, Arkansas, Illinois, Berlin and loads of other cities. A longer pin required a special permit!
The Edwardian writers made them famous as the weapon for their heroines. Suffragettes were no longer allowed to wear them, as they might have used them as weapons in court or against the London Bobbies. Laws were passed forcing women to have a nib on the end of their pin to avoid people being poked in the eye.
A bit of local history from the South of France, in the shape of hatpins, awaits you in the Woo Hoo Cuties’ shop and I hope you love them as much as I do.