Lingerie For Your Hair; Can Hats Be Underwear?

This exhibition is split into chapters, which can either be navigated page by page or through your area of interest with a full list of links at the bottom of each page. Clicking on images will take you to their dedicated object page, where you can learn about the individual piece in detail.

All photography by Tigz Rice Studios

Curation, object descriptions and commentary by Karolina Laskowska & Sophie Grapentin

Extended essay by Sophie Grapentin

Chapter 1: Introduction & The Boudoir Cap's Predecessors

“Madame has no need to fear … the forgotten bill from the couturier; with an unconquerable smile and the magic aid of a coquettish madcap creation, what is easier than to hypnotise Monsieur into signing the erst-unready cheque as though it were his greatest pleasure!”

(quoted in Probert, 9). Here, the seductive power that allows ‘Madame’ to spend her husband’s money stems from the lingerie she is wearing – the ‘madcap’, a garment usually called boudoir cap. But how can a little lace cap have so great an effect?

Boudoir caps are heavily decorated soft hats made of lingerie fabrics like lace, chiffon and satin. Most caps are sewn out of fabric, but crochet was also popular. They can include trimmings out of velvet or glass beads. Colours range from pastel pinks and greens to black and gold but light colour schemes with white lace prevail. Immensely popular between the late 1900s and the early 1930s, boudoir caps were almost exclusively worn inside the house. There they accessorised undress garments like tea gowns or pyjamas, and functioned to protect the hair and flatter the face. The most spectacular versions included decorations like gold lace, tissue ribbons and even fur (Clark, 76). Some designs were so eccentric that Vogue named them ‘madcaps’.

In 1917 Vogue claimed that they could save the wearer from the “meanest badness a woman can do in all this big, bad world…to look ugly in bed”. (quoted in Probert, 9). An article in the Manchester Guardian from March 1924 distinguished between ‘The Right and Wrong Kind of Invalid’ depending on how well the woman is dressed when ill. While the good sick will dress up in a “becoming boudoir cap” and some pretty nightwear to receive visitors, the failed ill woman “neither possesses a boudoir cap nor will consent to wear the one that is generously pressed upon her”. (Manchester Guardian (12 Mar 1924), 6). This shows how essential the garment was considered to be for women in British society of the early twentieth century.


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Ivory Tulle & Lace Boudoir Cap c. 1890s, Great Britain. The Underpinnings Museum, photography by Tigz Rice

Ivory Tulle & Lace Boudoir Cap

Date: c.1890s

Origin: Great Britain

Fabric: Cotton tulle and lace

Brand: Custom made

The crown of this boudoir cap is made of an incredibly fine cotton tulle, voluminously gathered into panels of machine made lace. Bands of broderie anglaise (a finely embroidered woven cotton trim) embellish the sides of the cap. The cap is entirely hand sewn.

Broadly speaking, at times when the bonnet was popular as female headwear, so were caps. Generally caps for women were meant to be worn inside the house and made of linen or other undergarment materials. Designs covered the hair and they were considered especially suitable for married women and members of the bourgeoisie (Clark, 70). The great importance of indoor caps for middle-class women is visible in novels like Cranford which is set in the 1830s. Whenever a visitor would require a change into a better dress, the women of Cranford would change their caps. They were so popular that “[t]he expenditure on dress in Cranford was principally in that one article” (Gaskell, 80). By the end of the Victorian period the caps had lost their appeal to younger women. After the 1870s they were worn only by women past their middle age. Madame Marie Bayard mused in her 1876 book on The Art of Beauty that it is “a pity that caps are so entirely forgotten by young people. They seem to be considered only fit for servants and great grandmothers.” (Bayard, 21). The cap would, however, appear once more on the fashion stage during the 1910s and 1920s under the guise ‘boudoir cap’, before departing the world of lingerie in 1930. The shape of the garment changed and became closer fitted to the skull with frills and decorations framing the face and concentrating around the ears.

Considering both the colour scheme and the type of garment, boudoir caps do appear to be stylistically out of place in the time they were most widespread. Regardless, they were immensely popular because they were able to fulfil several social and emotional functions that went far beyond their practical use of preserving hairstyles overnight.

Yellow Silk, Lace & Ribbonwork Bow Appliqué Boudoir Cap, c. 1910s, Great Britain. The Underpinnings Museum. Photo by Tigz Rice

Yellow Silk, Lace & Ribbonwork Bow Appliqué Boudoir Cap

Date: c.1910s

Origin: Great Britain

Fabric: Silk & lace

Brand: Custom made


This cap is made from a gathered crown of pale yellow silk crêpe, trimmed with bands of machine lace trims. Decorative silk ribbon bows are appliquéd to the sides of the cap. A silk ribbon is stitched to the hem of the garment, originally forming a channel for a piece of elastic to run through, to give the cap a closer fit (sadly the original elastic has now perished).