Thanks to Katie Lange for inquiring about this myth concerning bonnet streamers.
Bonnets of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries had ties made of ribbon, lace, or fabric (those were called lappets). When they were not tied under the chin, they might hang down the back or get pinned up. During the late nineteenth century, particularly 1865-1870s, long streamers down the back became a popular addition to hats and bonnets. According to the myth, the fluttering of these wispy streamers from the back of a hat were intended to encourage a courtship with a young man. An attracted beau would follow the young lady home and ask the father for permission to court.
Cute myth. No evidence. First of all, seeing an attractive girl and following her home was assuredly NOT the way to impress her parents. Second, these streamers were popular on hats of married women as well.
While I found no documentation for this myth, I did, however, come across a possible origin. During the nineteenth century, these long ribbon streamers were sometimes known as “follow-me-lads,” according to Althea Mackenzie’s HATS AND BONNETS (2006). Perhaps the tongue-in-cheek nickname led to the myth.
I discovered, on a recent trip to Lancaster County, PA, that the Amish in that region have a custom that sounds vaguely related to this one. At 16, a girl will begin to wear a black prayer cap to church, indicating her coming of age. This could also be seen as a subtle notification that she is available for courting, although I was told that few Amish girls marry that young.