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.

Crinoline Cartoons

ARABELLA MARIA: “Only to think, Julia dear, that our Mothers wore such ridiculous fashions as these!”
BOTH: “Ha! ha! ha! ha!”

I love the dialog in the cartoon above. The two young women are making fun of their mothers’ (or more likely, based on the Empire Period dress in the portrait, their grandmothers’) fashions. The irony is, according to the cartoonist, that their own dresses are ridiculous and impractical.

The Crinoline Period was particularly ripe for satire with the exaggerated silhouette of the skirts. The cartoonists loved to poke fun at how women’s skirts interfered in social interaction. It was an easy target as you can see here.