Feathers have been used in fashion throughout history, but the trend became more widespread from the late 18th century when the Industrial Revolution made luxuries more available to the masses. In the 19th century, new technology improved the speed of production and the millinery industry boomed. Hats with feathers became a status symbol coveted by a new mass market and were produced on an industrial scale.
Birds were hunted around the world to supply plumes to centres of fashion such as London and New York. In 1886, American Museum of Natural History’s ornithologist, Frank Chapman, infamously observed on a walk in New York some 40 native bird species on women’s hats, some with an entire stuffed bird attached. Indeed, women were oft blamed for the trend: in The Ibis in 1887, women were pointed to as “the indirect, but real, instigators of this slaughter”. The author continues: “all that can be hoped for is that the freaks of feminine vanity may take some other and less harmful direction.”