Revisited Myth # 92: An unmarried girl wore her bonnet streamers loose to attract a beau.


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.



7 Responses to Revisited Myth # 92: An unmarried girl wore her bonnet streamers loose to attract a beau.

  1. Moravian women in colonial Pennsylvania and North Carolina wore different color ribbons to tie on their white head coverings that indicated their marital status.

  2. Ocean Senta says:

    I’ve definitely heard this one before! Thanks for debunking it, I always find it very fascinating to find out the true origins of such things versus the “historical urban legends” that seem so rampant now-a-days.

  3. bethsage says:

    I think this myth came from the musical “Hello Dolly” which features the charming song “Ribbons down my back” in which the woman says that since she can’t actively do anything to attract a man, she will hope the ribbons catch someone’s attention. Cute, but its a 1960s musical, not a historic document.

    • Mary Miley says:

      Wow! I’ve seen Hello Dolly, but I don’t remember that song. You may be right. Good call.

      • Curtis Cook says:

        Yes, sung by the lady who owns the millinary shop (Irene Malloy, the lady Horace is travelling to the city to see) to her shopgirl.

        I’ll be wearing ribbons down my back, this summer —
        Blue and green and streaming in the yellow sky.
        So, if someone special comes my way this summer
        He might notice me, passing by.
        And so I’ll try to make it easier to find me
        In the stillness of July, because
        A breeze might stir a rainbow up behind me
        That might happen to catch the gentleman’s eye.
        And he might smile and take me by the hand, this summer —
        Making me recall how lovely love can be.
        And so, I will proudly wear
        Ribbons down my back,
        Shining in my hair,
        That he might notice me.

  4. katknit says:

    There is a song sung by the ingenue in Hello Dolly entitled “Ribbons Down My Back”. She’s hoping to attract a beau.

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