Put down that Hatpin-The history of fashionable self defense.

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Just to prove my versatility as a blogger I have decided to do a blog on fashion accessories. Had you there for a moment, I have absolutely no clue about fashion.But in this day where there are more and more accounts of sexual harassment I discovered that in the late 19th,early 20th century women had a particular way to deal with it.

Hatpins were sometimes used by women to defend themselves against assault by men.

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Laws were passed in 1908 in America that limited the length of hatpins, as there was a concern they might be used by suffragettes as weapons. Also by the 1910s, ordinances were passed requiring hatpin tips to be covered so as not to injure people accidentally.

Around the turn of the 20th century, advertising was on the rise, which meant advertisers were targeting women with an array of consumer goods. Among them? Hats. Huge, elaborate hats perched atop even more huge, elaborate hairstyles were the must-have item of the day. The towering monstrosities were crafted from taffeta, silk, ribbons, flowers (real and fake), feathers (some birds were hunted nearly to extinction for hat feathers), birds , and even artificial fruit.

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As you can imagine, ladies required some special hardware in order to affix these fashionable items to their silky tresses.Hence the hatpin

If you’re picturing those cardboard sheets of hairpins you can buy by the hundred at the drug store, think again. The 20th century hatpin was nothing short of a weapon – it was made of sturdy metal and could be up to 9 inches long (or longer, depending on the style(of course the perception of  9 inch for men differs then that from women)

Hatpin

 

This is just one account of how women resorted to  this fashion accessory as a means of self defence.

‘On the afternoon of May 28, 1903, Leoti Blaker, a young Kansan touring New York City, boarded a Fifth Avenue stagecoach at 23rd Street and settled in for the ride. The coach was crowded, and when it jostled she noticed that the man next to her settled himself an inch closer to her. She made a silent assessment: elderly, elegantly dressed, “benevolent-looking.” The horse picked up speed and the stage jumped, tossing the passengers at one another again, and now the man was touching her, hip to hip, shoulder to shoulder. When he lifted his arm and draped it low across her back, Leoti had enough. In a move that would thrill victim of modern-day subway harassment, she reached for her hatpin—nearly a foot long—and plunged it into the meat of the man’s arm. He let out a terrible scream and left the coach at the next stop.

“He was such a nice-looking old gentleman I was sorry to hurt him,” she told the New York World. “I’ve heard about Broadway mashers and ‘L’ mashers, but I didn’t know Fifth Avenue had a particular brand of its own…. If New York women will tolerate mashing, Kansas girls will not.”

Newspapers across the country began reporting similar encounters with “mashers,” period slang for lecherous or predatory men (defined more delicately in Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie as “one whose dress or manners are calculated to elicit the admiration of susceptible young women”). A New York City housewife fended off a man who brushed up against her on a crowded Columbus Avenue streetcar and asked if he might “see her home.” A Chicago showgirl, bothered by a masher’s “insulting questions,” beat him in the face with her umbrella until he staggered away. A St. Louis schoolteacher drove her would-be attacker away by slashing his face with her hatpin. Such stories were notable not only for their frequency but also for their laudatory tone; for the first time, women who fought back against harassers were regarded as heroes rather than comic characters, as subjects rather than objects. Society was transitioning, slowly but surely, from expecting and advocating female dependence on men to recognizing their desire and ability to defend themselves.’

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By 1909, the hatpin was considered an international threat, with the police chiefs in Hamburg and Paris considering measures to regulate their length.

In March 1910, Chicago’s city council ran with that idea, debating an ordinance that would ban hatpins longer than nine inches; any woman caught in violation would be arrested and fined $50. The proceedings were packed with curious spectators, men and women, and acrimonious from the start. “If women care to wear carrots and roosters on their heads, that is a matter for their own concern, but when it comes to wearing swords they must be stopped,” a supporter said. Cries of “Bravo!” from the men; hisses from the women. Nan Davis, there to represent several women’s clubs, asked for permission to address the committee. “If the men of Chicago want to take the hatpins away from us, let them make the streets safe,” she said. “No man has a right to tell me how I shall dress and what I shall wear.”

Despite Davis’ impassioned speech, the ordinance passed by a vote of 68 to 2. Similar laws subsequently passed in several other cities, including Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and New Orleans. Ten thousand miles away, in Sydney, Australia, sixty women went to jail rather than pay fines for wearing “murderous weapons” in their hats. Even conservative London ladies steadfastly refused to buy hatpin point protectors.

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