Monday, December 20, 2010

Fashion & Feathers

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Florida’s wading birds were being slaughtered by the millions to adorn fashionable women’s hats.

The rise and fall of the plume trade and Palm Beach County’s participation in it are the subjects of “Feather Wars: Surviving Fashion 1870-1920” at The Richard and Pat Johnson Palm Beach County History Museum in West Palm Beach.

The tale is illustrated with archival photographs, stuffed birds, plumed hats, guns, millinery ads and memorabilia of Theodore Roosevelt, whose conservation initiatives contributed to the demise of the trade.

Florida was one of the last great frontiers of plume hunting, because the state was settled later than most parts of the country. Plume hunters quickly made up for lost time.

Although legislation diminished the plume trade, it took war and the country’s love affair with the car to eliminate it. World War I disrupted shipping and quelled women’s interest in fancy hats. Cars did their part by not being scaled to accommodate oversized headgear.

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