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Recent Acquisition: Pomona College Hatpins

November 5, 2013

Pomona College hatpins circa 1910

Although no longer familiar items today, hatpins were a must-have fashion accessory for women from the late 1880s through the 1920s. Well-known actresses and film stars of the time, such as Lillian Russell, inspired a new taste for hats that were broad-brimmed and often extravagant in design. Lacking the familiar bonnet strings of old, the newly fashionable hats required long pins to secure them to the head. Initially used solely for this practical purpose, hatpins evolved over time to incorporate decorative and fanciful designs reflecting the wealth and status of the wearer. By 1910, hatpins had lengthened, from ten inches to twelve, to accommodate ever-widening brims. 

Jewelry historians believe that, along with a fashion shift from caps and bonnets to progressively larger hats, the increase in hatpin use resulted as well from a trend toward long hair worn gathered high on the head, requiring that hats be firmly secured, and the development of automated pin-making machinery that greatly reduced costs.

The use of hatpins in the early 20th also reflected larger sociopolitical currents. At the height of hatpin fashion, suffragettes were advocating for women’s voting rights and increasingly involved in public political discourse. In response, lawmakers developed legislation that restricted the length of hatpins out of fear that suffragettes would use them as weapons. The impact of these seemingly inconsequential fashion accessories indicates their significance in the broader historical and political setting of the time.

These two Pomona College hatpins were recently transferred to the Archives from Alumni Relations. They were donated by Mary L. Hill, who graduated from Pomona College in 1910, at the height of hatpin use. Each of the sterling silver pins (8” and 11” in length) shows a distinct emblem of Pomona College, one including an intricate design around the head of the pin. The presence of Pomona emblems indicates pride in the College, demonstrated, in this case, via student fashion.  

 

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