Friday, August 4, 2017

Victorian Courtship: Love in Pa's Hat

While researching something else entirely, I stumbled across this little gem in Walnut Valley Times (newspaper) of El Dorado, Kansas of May 21, 1880. The original short story, titled "Love in Pa's Hat" reads like so many other Victorian-era fictional tales rich in mores of the era. It's a charming short story, encouraging obedience by young ladies to their fathers (who always know best), while reaffirming the rightness of true love. Good girls, naturally, who carry on a proper courtship will be awarded with the desire of their hearts. (Read: Virtue and Patience, two of Victorian America's most highly prized female attributes.)

The author of the tale remains unnamed; rarely, if ever, were newspaper columns attributed to a specific writer. More often, when syndicated, the column would disclose the original source. (Such as this story,  having been obtained "From the Hair-Dresser's Chronicle.") As you read this cute short, you'll see why such a tale was sold to that magazine pre-May, 1880--The hairdresser is cast in the role of Cupid.

"Love in Pa's Hat" Part 1, Walnut Valley Times of El Dorado, KS, May 21, 1880
"Love in Pa's Hat" Part 2, Walnut Valley Times of El Dorado, KS, May 21, 1880
"Love in Pa's Hat" Part 3, Walnut Valley Times of El Dorado, KS, May 21, 1880

What kind of hat? Top hat? Bowler?

More bowlers won the west than Stetsons, but wealthy businessmen like "Pa"? Probably a tophat.

According to, businessmen from 1850 to 1900 wore top hats.

Courtesy of (speaking of men's clothing and tophats)

Did men really have a barber (or hair-dresser for men) look after their beard and wig twice per week (as Pa did in this tale)? Oh, yes.

The amateur historian will find rich elements of daily life (at least for the middle- to upper-class American) peppered through the story: brushing of men's hats, ironing of the hats by a professional to restore its shape (I suppose) or perhaps its finish. Use of the term "swain" prompts a quick dictionary check, as the term is outdated. Swain simply means a young suitor or lover (which we know is a G-rated term in the Victorian era).
Definition of 'swain', courtesy of Google.

Did you learn something new? Or have thoughts to share about the elements of Victorian-American life gleaned from this short story? Please scroll down and comment.

Do you know someone who would enjoy this article? Please share!

Copyright © 2017 Kristin Holt LC


  1. I enjoyed this post so much, Kristin! The old story was so cute. I love hats! I would love to have them come back in style, but they really are a nuisance at times. Guess I will just have to keep happy with my floppy sunhat for wearing to the beach :-)

    1. Thanks, Kathryn. I find glimmers like this to be such fun springboards for my own fiction writing.
      Thanks for stopping by, sharing your love for hats as well as your own brand of sunshine. You always make me smile!

  2. These are the tidbits that make the rest of the research so much fun. I'm glad you found it and shared it. Doris

    1. Many thanks, Doris. We two definitely share a love for research and history and all things American West. =)

  3. Fascinating reads of the old times, Kristin. I am always interested in how things were back then. Thank you for enlightening me. Good research means great books! And i love you sharing things like this.