Below is an amazing article on the costs of hats for Easter in the U.S. for 1896 Easter Parades. This report comes from the Annual Report of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture ©1897.
MILLIONS OF DOLLARS SPENT ON HATS.
There took place in Atlantic City last Sunday the most extravagant parade the resort has ever seen—the parade of the Easter hats. More hats and more expensive ones, were sold than ever before.
There are 10,000,000 women in the United States old enough and rich enough to wear Easter hats. These 10,000,000 women spent $100,000,000 upon Easter hats. This places each hat at an average of $10.
Many wore Easter hats that cost less. Miss Poverty Row bought only a bunch of violets, which she pinned on last year's frame—total cost 15 cents. Miss Upper Flat purchased a hat upon the bargain counter and got a cheap wreath plume to dress it out with—cost $1.50. And some bought no hat at allcost absolutely nothing. But Mrs. Veryrich, on the next street, whose back windows lookrd into the rear ones of Miss Poverty Row, purchased an Easter hat that cost $40, and that is where the matter evened Itself up.
Mary Ellen Lease would say: "It one women went without an Easter hat It was because some other woman had a hat that cost twice as much as it ought to." But that is another story and does not affect the enormous figures that must be thought out, when the Easter parade of last Sunday is figured.
Of the one hundred million dollars spent on hats,
Twenty-five millions went for ostrich plumes.
Five millions went on Bird of Paradise feathers.
Birds, wings and other feathers cost six millions more.
Twenty millions were spent for ribbons.
Flowers cost fifteen millions.
The straw hats themselves footed up to ten millions. The labor upon the hats is estimated at ten millions moTe. The wire that was covered with velvet and twisted into hats cost eight millions.
Incidentals, linings, trimmings, etc., came to a million.
The ostrich plumes cost one-quarter of the entire Easter outlay. The work of getting these plumes and the high price at which they can be held year after year is responsible for the expense of the Easter hat. Ostrich farming is both uncertain and expensive. The land Is held high in California and South Africa, where the birds can live, and even when once secured the ostrich is a hard bird to raise. The feathers must be plucked when exactly "ripe" or they crack after being dried and are useless as far as high prices are concerned. In the natural state they are brown or gray, and unlike the plumes of commerce, until they are dried, dyed and seasoned and curled. They bear no resemblance to the original feather beyond the featherlness which Is the charm of the Easter hat.
The ostrich plume acts as a frame to the hat, Just as the hat frames tht face, and its demand year after year shows the high esteem In which it is held by milliners and women. Birds of paradise plumes are the costliest of all decorations for the money, and "pay" so well that the ladies of France raise them for pets and sell the feathers.
The cost of the ribbon begins, like the plume, at the animal that bears it. The silk must go through all the processes of manufacture from the time it is unwound from the cocoon of the silk worm until it comes into the mill ready for the weavers.
After the silky fibre has gone through the mill and comes out ribbon, yards and yards long, it passes into the hands of thousands of pretty girls, who take it and wind it upon wooden bolts, carefully laying a strip of paper in each revolution until It is wound tight and hard—a roll of ribbon. In more modern mills, with winding machinery, they stand ready to feed the paper strips to the maichine that turns and twists the roll of ribbon, until it lies flat and hard and smooth ready for the shop counter.
The making of flowers is one of the most interesting steps in the manufacture of hats that paraded so gorgeously last Sunday. This is done in back streets by men, women and children, who take home the flowers to make. They are mostly foreigners and do the work at sweaters' prices. To get the privilege of making the flowers and to obtain enough raw material to work upon they must deposit a considerable sum of money with the flower manufacturer, which is held as a guarantee that they will bring back the materials made into sellable flowers.
The more expensive roses and the silk violets are made at long tables In the factories by all who can handle them deftly. This is work that the Chinese have long tried to get on account of their skill at handling small things. But the Greeks have outbidden the Chinese on personal grounds, and they do most of the work. Men, women and children gather around the tables, the men and children banding up the bits and the women wiring, sewing and twisting them into the wonderful flowers that bloom on my lady's hat.
The making of the hat frames is remarkable, for It is mostly done by hand. German wire twisters, with a marvelous facility for turning the wrists quickly, take the long strips of silk-covered wire and turn out a hat brim with lightning rapidity. Those who have ever seen the ladies of Berlin at work upon their wonderful beaded passementerie which the wealthiest of them make for the shops, will appreciate this almost sleight-of-hand with which German women twist the wire hats.
In good old colonial days, when imported servants were scarce and very dear, the good old puritanical dames who were beginning to get a taste for dress took care to bring over none but workers upon wire and weavers of silk and wool. And this accounts for the marvelous creations in millinery which adorned the heads of our grandaunts of a century ago.
Of the one hundred million spent for hats one million only went for "labor." This means the labor of putting the hat together. The girl who sat up late at night for six weeks before Easter poising the bird of paradise upon the side of the English walking hat, so that it would float far behind my lady's head, who heaped ribbons at the back to make her the acme of grace and style, who stood bird wings In profusion around the crown to give the hat that exquisite Parisian chic, and studied every art of color to place the ribbons and flowers so as to win approbation and dollars, got only one million, minus "incidentals," divided among thousands of her. The statistician got down to twenty cents for trimming each hat, and stopped for fear of getting it too low if he investigated further.
But a girl can trim more than one hat a day, so she is satisfied. And she works willingly to bring forth the brilliant plumage which is the pride of the Easter parade.
Horace Greeley, In one of his addresses to working men, showed that a man, if he were to make his own watch, would work a lifetime. The digging of the gold, the melting, the refining and shaping, the making of the machinery and placing of it In the frame, and finally the adjustment of the watch, each would require months of work and study. Before completing his watch he .would have to learn twenty-seven trades and occupations and go into forty-seven distinct employments to the final polishing and burnishing of the case and the making of the spring to close it. But by division of labor he "makes" his watch in much less time.
So with the Easter hat. The man off on the ostrich farm, the dyer in the factory, the ribbon weaver, the girl who winds, the flower maker and the wire twister, all work industriously, with the result that my lady came last Sunday Queen of Easter in a gorgeous production that she would not have produced herself had she worked until too bent and too old to enjoy the sun and sky.
I am informed by a member of the House of Representatives that in one of the counties in the western part of Pennsylvania a professional "bird hunter" has for some years past engaged extensively in the slaughter of bright-plumaged and other insect-eating birds. He skins and preserves the harmless creatures, and ships large consignments, several times each year, to Europe. It is believed these skins are used in the millinery trade.
Hon. Wm. M. Kennedy, of Allegheny City, President of the Board of Game Commissioners, and his colleagues, have prepared a section in the game bill which, if it becomes a law, will unquestionably put a sudden stop to this kind of wanton bird-butchery.
The Pittsburg Commercial Gazette of January 25th, 18i)7, says, in referring to the annihilation of bright-coated birds:
"The State Game Commission Is particularly interested in the protection ol song and beneficial birds. The destruction of these birds is being carried on to an alarming extent for millinery and other purposes. The absolute necessity for preserving the lives of these insect-eaters is a matter that the State Agricultural Department is giving considerable attention. Fine plumaged birds are killed irrespective of their species. Hunters send them to the East, where the feathers are used in the large millinery stores for the decoration of hats. This fact is receiving some attention from women's societies throughout the State. It Is not desired that the birds should be killed mereiy for the gratification of a fashionable whim. The birds are useful so long as they destroy the Insects that do so much harm to farm crops."
A correspondent from Elk County, Pa., writes to the Department of Agriculture, under date of April 4th, 1S97, as follows:
"Our county is well adapted to all kinds of game, as it was at one time covered with a dense growth of hemlock, and as the bark was used by our tanneries in large quantities, much waste land is the result. A new growth of a different forest vegetation is coming up, which will be very suitable as a trysting place for birds, wild animals, and fish. I also mentioned the killing of robins; they were killed by the farmers during the time of ripe cherries, and now and then by some of our latest importation of Huns and Italians, who eat them. Last year a very marked decrease in the robins was noticeable, and as yet we have but few this spring."
In one consignment recently a feather dealer In London received 6000 birds of paradise. 360,000 birds of various kinds from the East Indies, and 400,000 humming birds. In three months another dealer imported 356,398 birds from the East Indies. Some of our most desirable birds are threatened with extermination. The common quail and ruffed grouse are becoming very scarce. Wrens and bluebirds are driven from their old haunts by sparrows. Terns are slaughtered by thousands for the millinery business, and Florida is similarly despoiled of its herons, ibis, pelicans, and smaller birds. The wild pigeon has disappeared. Fashion at present is the greatest enemy of bird life, but collectors of eggs are also responsible for great destruction. Protection of birds must come through the education of the people, especially the rising generation, and by protective legislation sustained by game wardens. Thus far no state legislature has given the subject the attention it deserves and must soon demand, if the present ravages continue.—St. Louis Globe-Democrat.