Beware the Hatpin Peril!

     Hatpins have been around since the Middle Ages when they were used to hold the wimples and veils of proper ladies and nuns in place. The objective, in those times, was to cover the hair. Initially, the pins were small, but as hats grew larger, so did the demand for larger pins. Ultimately, they were anywhere from 6 to 12 inches in length, and made from materials ranging from precious metals to paste, depending on the social level of the wearer. The making of these pins became a cottage industry with entire families participating in their manufacture. As demand grew, so did the price for these little necessities. Less affluent ladies saved for an entire year to purchase a suitable accessory, thus originating the term “pin money.”  By 1832, a pin making machine was introduced in the United States usurping the production of hand-made pins.

     Of course, not only were these pins useful as accessories, but they also served a secondary purpose. They could be formidable weapons! If a “masher,” period slang for lecherous and predatory men,” approached a lady and behaved in an unseemly manner, her strategically wielded hatpin could quickly disperse any threat. It is no fun to have a 12-inch piece of steel thrust into your arm or thigh! Consequently, many states and even foreign countries had ordinances passed forbidding the length of pins over nine inches or requiring hatpin protectors. In this era of newly emerging suffragists , ladies protested to having men tell them what they could and could not wear, and even in proper London, society ladies refused to use the pin protectors. It was said that this was another painful illustration that men could not discipline women! In Australia, women went to jail rather than comply!

     As World War I emerged, large hats fell out of fashion, and by the 1920s, women were bobbing their hat and wearing both turbans and cloche hats over their newly trimmed tresses. By World War II when ladies had to step up and work in factories, as the men were off fighting, hats began to go out of style altogether. They became a Sunday church or “Easter bonnet” trend only.

     These elegant and utilitarian Victorian holdovers have now become collector’s items, especially for fans of Victorian ephemera. On the popular TV program, Antiques Roadshow, one such treasure made of gold from the Tiffany Company was valued at over $600. Others can be found for more reasonable budgets.

     They can also be used as decorations to be worn on coats or blouses, or simply to display. And– don’t forget in this day of increasing boldness by various members of society– they can also serve as a substitute for mace or pepper spray! Beware mashers!