SNARK WEEK: Bonnets Are the Derpiest


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It is a truth universally unacknowledged that bonnets are the item of headgear that will make even the most elegant, refined woman look derpy. No-one wants to admit this, but the bonnet was actually invented in the 19th century as a birth control device. Queen Victoria was worried about over-crowding in England — and let’s face it, she was a total prude herself — so she mandated that women wore giant fugly bonnets that made them look infantile, ridiculous, and totally unsexy. Of course, she and Albert were bangin’ like cray-cray behind closed royal doors, so she was a complete hypocrite, but this wasn’t the first or hardly the last government to be founded on a “do as I say, not as I do” philosophy.

Victoria (2016)

-5 points for shaping Vicky’s head into a cone, -10 for lining the cone with a paper doily.

Young Victoria (2009)

You’ll wear a placemat on your head, and you’ll like it.

Historical costume movies and TV series clearly have picked up on this fact. If they want to make sure a Victorian female character looks hot to trot, ditch the bonnets. Likewise, an actress with enough clout can require that she wear only wide, face-framing portrait hats or perky little toques so she doesn’t look derpy on screen in period costume. The original example is Gone With the Wind (1939) — Vivien Leigh plays headstrong and bonnet-free Scarlet O’Hara, while Olivia de Havilland portrays sweet as pie Melanie Hamilton in her childishly dorky bonnets. It’s all downhill from there.

Gone With the Wind (1939)

Sexah without a bonnet, boring derp with one. Easy choice.


The Gorgeous Hussy (1936), Joan Crawford

Bonnets made Joan Crawford cry, so she basically avoided frock flicks after 1936’s The Gorgeous Hussy.


Yes, bonnets are historically accurate headgear for women to wear outdoors in the 19th century, but dayum, they look dumb. Bonnets make adult women look like babies or little old biddies, plus they obstruct the face and leave little room for interesting hairstyles. Accessories like caps, frills, flowers, and bows layer on the dorkitude level of bonnets.

Shirley Temple, 1930s

Go ahead, put baby in a corner.


2016 War and Peace ep 2

War and Peace (2016): Crappy costume with bonus derpy fur-edged bonnet.

Pride & Prejudice (1995)

In crucial scenes, Lydia demands for independence while wearing her trademark beret, but her meek sister Kitty lags behind in a bonnet. See???


Pride & Prejudice (2005)

Maybe a pig would make this better?


Northanger Abbey (2007)

Wonder-derp powers, activate! (Northanger Abbey, 2007)


Northanger Abbey (2008), Eleanor TIllney

Sad old Eleanor Tillney in Northanger Abbey (2008) can barely be seen in her derpy bonnet (& I did lighten the image!).


Lost in Austen (2008)

Lost in Austen (2008): Lost in her derp.


Lost in Austen (2008)

So excited to take off these damn bonnets!


Pride & Prejudice (1940)

The 1940s Pride & Prejudice was set in the 1830s, but still, the bonnets…


Alice Wonderland (1951)

Remind you of anything?


Northanger Abbey (1986)

Your bonnet is totally embarrassing me! (Northanger Abbey, 1986)


2016 Roots

Roots (2016): White people owning their derp.


Cranford (2007)

Of course, then there’s Cranford (2007), the little town that derp didn’t forget.


The Brontes of Haworth (1973)

Yes, I know the Bronte Sisters had a rough life, but The Brontes of Haworth (1973) doesn’t need to add depressingly dorky bonnets to their troubles.


Jane Eyre (1983)

Is it possible to make Jane Eyre (1983) look even more pathetic? No. It is not.


Perhaps no historical costume genre is more more rife with awful bonnets than Charles Dickens adaptions. Because, as we know, the 1840s to the 1850s is the death of fashion. On screen, these ladies look fugly and derpy combined — so, uh, ferpy? Dugly? It’s just bad.

Little Dorrit (1988)

Little Dorrit (1988): Wishing for sweet death.


David Copperfield (1999)

This bonnet in David Copperfield (1999) manages to make Maggie Smith look both babyish and more ancient than she is. Not fair.


Bleak House (2005)

Bleak House, bleak bonnets.


Little Dorrit (2008). Amy Dorrit

Clair Foy is falling sick from the derp.


Little Dorrit (2008). Freema Agyeman

Freema Agyeman will cut the bitch who put her in this crappy outfit for Little Dorrit (2008).


In the American Civil War, North fought South, brother fought brother, and women fought women over not having to wear goddamned bonnets. That’s really what Scarlet shook her fist in the sky about.  (And it should be noted that there were other outdoor hat styles available to women in the middle of the 19th century — like the Eugénie hat! — and none were as butt-ugly as a bonnet.)

North & South (1985)

The cheesy 1980s TV miniseries North and South knew that leading ladies didn’t wear bonnets, only derpy chicks in the back did.


Cold Mountain (2003)

Nicole Kidman had a no-bonnets clause in her contract for Cold Mountain (2003).


Little Women (1933)

But back in the 1930s, under the studio system, Kate Hepburn was stuck wearing a bonnet for Little Women.


Mercy Street (2016)

Maybe if I push the bonnet waaaaay back on my head, it won’t look so bad… (Mercy Street, 2016)


Little Women (1949), June Allyson

She’s gonna wash that derp right outta her hair.


Mr. Turner (2014)

Yeah, we’re all kind of upset about the bonnets (Mr. Turner, 2014).


Dark Angel (2016)

Dark Angel (2016): Horrible bonnets drive woman to murder.


Tess (1979)

Tess is both innocent and sexy at the start of her eponymous 1979 movie, because she’s wearing a pert little hat.

Tess (1979)

But once she’s a fallen woman with an illegitimate baby, she wears a super-derpy bonnet.

Tess (1979)

At the end of the movie, when she’s an adulterous kept woman, she wears chic hats again. Moral of the story: Bonnets are dumb, hats are hot.


And really, if that’s not enough … derpy bonnets can lead to violence.

Firefly (2002)





52 Responses

  1. Susan Pola

    Were not there bonnets, super derpy ones, in Lark Rising to Cranford?
    And I seem to remember one or two in Raintree County starring the marvellous Liz?
    I wonder if Meryl also had a no bonnet clause in Out of Africa? Her hats are most excellent. (Said in a Bill & Ted’s voice)
    And didn’t both Elizabeth & her big sis in P&P wear one?

    • Trystan L. Bass

      Yes, yes, yes to all! I have a HAAAAAUUUUGEE file of derpy bonnet photos, actually, but this post was going on & I was getting tired of looking at the damn things ;-) I’ll just have to do another bonnet-derp post next year!

    • Trystan L. Bass

      We’ll have to do an ‘all the unfortunate bigginses’ post one Snark Week (we do have an explanation of why they’re unfortunate on the site, but y’know, a gallery would be helpful!).

      • Susan Pola

        *snorts while drinking a Sprite and …* lol.I’ve read the explanation and I laughed all the way through.
        Wonder what would happen if the ‘unfortunate Biggins’ and ‘derpy bonnets’ had offspring? Whatever, it’ll be a fashion disaster.

      • Melanie Woltman

        You will call it “A Series of Unfortunate Bigginses”, won’t you..? ;)

  2. Shawna Spiteri

    Trystan, you slay me! Your bonnet-castrating snark brought a true smile to my face after an un-lovely day at work. Although I will confess to owning a couple of bonnets that I do really like. Guess I drank the derp-aid…

    • themodernmantuamaker

      Same here, I do have a couple I like, one in particular that I will argue to the end is as smart as a smart hat! But, lordy, yes, the Derp is strong with these and many other bonnets!

  3. Liutgard

    What’s worse than a derpy bonnet? A derpy bonnet with bad hair. Trebly so if it’s bad *modern* hair sticking out. GAG.

  4. SarahV

    My God, It’s True! They make even Alex Kingston (Alex Kingston!!!) look derpy! They are a scourge!!

    (meanwhile, how snazzy and chic by contrast do the Main sisters look in the North and South Image?!?! Terri Garber’s Ashton is sorta my secret hero, even though she is a terrible floozy and sleeps with Col Bent and everyone else, but my oy my, was she entertaining! – have the Frock Gals done a North and South write-up? I still thrill to the recollection of Kirtstie Alley’s emerald silk gown).

  5. Emilym

    I will take even the derpiest bonnet over a woman with no headgear running around outside. Every time I see it, I want to scream “whooooooooooore!” at the TV.

    • Susan Pola

      Lena Headey as Lady Catherine de Bourgh in P&P&Z didn’t wear an unfortunate biggins, a derpy bonnet but wore up hair up and with plenty of Bobby pins/Kirby clips and kicked butt. Very badass.

  6. Karen K.

    Love this post x1000. Also, does it not look like Nastassia Kinski’s Tess just took a child-sized bonnet and turned it the wrong way up to make that adorable hat?

  7. themodernmantuamaker

    You know, I read through much of the post thinking you were being really unfair to bonnets. But then I thought about it a bit and, OMG, you’re totally right! Smart historical hats are FAB, but (most) bonnets are just Derp-personified. I do still think there are some good ones out there and maintain that one of them is one that I made that I think is smart as all get-out. But, yeah, they’re heyday was really the 1840s-1860s, which, as you say, was the death of fashion.

    Now I’m just going to have to try not to get over-snarky when I talk about them in this term’s fashion history class.

  8. decrepitelephone

    I like bonnets too – but I’m one of the derpiest people that I know, so I guess it just fits.

    (Seriously, though, a lot of bonnets in costume dramas are done so badly as to look fugly, it’s no surprise they take on a derpitude.)

  9. Anne

    Agree completely and: all the points for Malcolm Reynolds’ bonnet. No bonnet list would be complete without.

  10. opusanglicanum

    I think the bonnet tess is wearing is a particular English country style called an ugli (my mum would know better, she studies English peasant dress)

  11. Lynn S

    CAPTAIN MAL!!!! *bows down* Excellent addition, and the exception who proves the rule. Pardon me while i wipe off the drool…

  12. April Valenine

    Yes, the bonnets are not cool, but neither is using an abelist term like “derpy” to describe them, especially when you use it over and over and over again and in the title. I love your site but please, using a term that describes the mentally less fortunate isn’t nice.

  13. ladylavinia1932

    Some of the women characters also wore bonnets.