Saturday, March 16, 2019

How to Wear It: The Day Cap


The day cap is an item of clothing that ladies of the early 19th century were very familiar with. It served a practical purpose as well as a fashionable one. Many female docents find wearing a day cap awkward. It oftentimes appears the cap is wearing them not the other way around. The trick to being comfortable and looking like it’s a part of your everyday ensemble is to know how to wear it properly.

The first thing to consider is the purpose of the caps. There was a wide range of day caps worn by our ancestresses. Some were worn at specific times of day or specific times in life. When choosing a day cap think about who you are portraying and what you're interpreting. A fashionable cap of expensive lace and ribbons is probably not going to be worn by a laundress or field-hand.

Do you like the cap you're wearing? Does it suit you? Not every cap looks becoming on every face. If possible, try on a variety of different styles to find one that feels right and you like the look of. When you feel good in something it shows. There is a large selection of day cap styles in the Stephenson House wardrobe. Docents are encouraged to try them all. An important thing to keep in mind, as a docent, are interpreting the clothing of the time period in conjunction with the era. You want to give the illusion that these are your everyday clothes, not a costume.

Another thing to consider is whether the cap is the right size for your head. One size does not fit all in this case. If you have a cap that looks like it’s eating your head, then that’s a good indication it’s the wrong size. Some caps were originally cut fuller to accommodate more hair and others sat very close to the head. Many patterns on the market are based on measurements from extant caps. Resizing is a relatively simple thing once you know how a particular cap is constructed. Again, trying on House caps is a good way to check the fit since they are made straight from a pattern without modifications.

A day cap should frame your face not cover it up. The biggest mistake docents make is pulling the cap so far forward that it covers part of the forehead. Another no-no is wearing a cap like a chef’s toque. A day cap should sit on the back two-thirds of your head, not directly on top or over the forehead.

The early 19th century had a very distinctive day cap silhouette. When choosing a cap be mindful of fabric, shape and your hairstyle. A modern hair cut can drastically affect how a cap looks and fits.  Women in the 1820s typically wore their hair longer so it could be pulled back from the face and pinned up on the crown. Their caps were designed to accommodate this style. Docents can easily achieve a period profile while hiding a modern haircut underneath their caps. Stiffer, yet lightweight, fabrics such as organdy or well-starched linen will hold it’s shape without the need for a period coif for support. Whenever possible, modern hair should be pulled back from the forehead and hidden under the cap. Curls around the face are acceptable but not bangs. Bobby pins or headbands help to secure the hair when necessary. Don’t let a modern hairstyle destroy all the study, research and effort put into your historical interpretation.

It should be mentioned that day caps were not worn 24/7 by every woman. Ladies with fashionably dressed hair, often went with their hair uncovered. One historical myth often told at historic sites or by reenactors at events is that women who went without a cap were prostitutes...this is completely incorrect. Look at paintings from the period, there are lots of women from all social classes not wearing day caps.