The Calash

calash, 18th century, from Metropolitan Museum of Art

In the second half of the 1700s, women’s hairstyles grew to be very elaborate in extreme sizes. The most fashionable and wealthy women were known to sport extravagant coifs. But women were still expected to wear hats for protection and modesty. For outdoor use, the calash was introduced.

The calash was a style of bonnet or hood designed to accommodate the large hairdos, without damaging them. Supported by semi-hoops, the calash was made of fabric and looked like a French carriage. It was worn through the mid 19th century.

calash, 19th century, from Museum of Fine Arts Boston

calash, c. 1820, from Metropolitan Museum of Art

calash, mid 19th century, from Museum of Fine Arts Boston

As you might expect with such an odd-looking, oversized accessory, the calash was ripe for satire. Cartoonists took aim in their illustrations.

The cartoons were exaggerations, meant to mock women for their fashionable choices in hairstyles and hats. But what did the calash actually look like in real life? The photos below reveal a more accurate proportion.

The above photos were taken in the late 19th century, many decades after the calash went out of fashion. The best guess is that the woman pictured is dressed up in historical 1820s fashions, specifically for the photograph. Even though the hat and dress are in essence a costume, it is still a great look at what the calash actually looked like on a woman.


  1. Karen Hendrix says:

    I am a collector of Antique Photographs. I just bought an image from a fellow collector and dealer. It is of the same image as above. Just the one on the left. It is not that image, but one printed at the same time. I thought you might like to know that this image can be dated. This is a Cartes de Vsite, AS luck would have it, mine has a tax stamp on the back.Due to the rising costs of the Civil War, a tax was levied on photographs beginning in August, 1864, and continued through August 1866. The tax was based on the selling price of the photograph.

    So know that you know the approximate date of the photo ( 1864-1866)..what are your thoughts? I find it fascinating that this young woman is wearing these clothes..why? The 1860’s date makes me believe this clothing and bonnet are not a costume. Why would she have her portrait taken in wildly out of date clothing? A mystery for sure.

    Thank you for your time.

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