|Chrysoprase and stamped gold tiara, English ca. 1835. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum|
"The Tiara Has Become a Social Need"
(originally appeared in the Washington Post on 20 Jan 1907)
It was not long ago that a woman went to a metropolis from her country home to spend a night in a hotel. She brought her jewel box with her, and a clever hotel thief got away with her tiara. To this day she has never got the jewels back, and there are persons heartless enough to say that a woman who could not spend a night in town without her tiara deserved to lose it. They do not understand the importance that this form of jewelry has assumed. In explaining why she had come to town for twenty-four hours with such a valuable ornament, the victim of the thief called on English precedent and quoted a duchess, who said she would as soon go about now without her tiara as without her toothbrushes.
The ring of tiaras in the so-called golden horseshoe of the Metropolitan Opera House in New York bears witness to the importance that this form of headdress bears to wealth and social distinction. The outward and visible sign of a certain material condition is the tiara. In England, the duchesses have had them for years, and the wealthy intruders, whether they come from Australia or South Africa, immediately concern themselves about the style of their tiaras. In the large cities, the show girl or the actress who has acquired fame wants first of all a tiara.
|Mabelle Gilman Corey wearing a coronet-style tiara|
These crowns are not for the young women of the sort of society that understands their purpose. it is the dowager who has the first call. Young girls not yet married are allowed to enjoy the tiara only in a discreet form shown. A thin band of gold and jewels -- preferably not diamonds -- with the mitigation of an aigrette -- is the most ambitious form that any young woman with an idea to the fitness of things would aspire to.
|Silver filigree star tiara, Norwegian ca. 1873. Gift of Mrs. Harriette M. Arnold, 1906. Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used as a part of the museum's Open Access for Scholarly Content initiative|
Dowagers who have passed beyond a certain age would never be content with such a slight jeweled decoration in the hair, for when they wear a crown it is imperative that it have a certain weight and value. A well-known matron wears on state occasions a wonderful tiara of diamonds and pear-shaped pearls. The diamonds are arranged in two circles of large stones with a grilling of smaller gems forming a connecting network between them. Twelve large pear-shaped pearls rise from the top band of diamonds.
Queen Margherita of Italy wears her large diamond and pearl Musy tiara
The same treatment of pearls is seen in the tiara of Mme. Boninsegna , which is heavier in appearance and characteristic of the exotic taste of the Southern craftsmen. This tiara, which was made in Rome after one worn occasionally by the Dowager Queen Margherita, shows the Italian love of sumptuousness and impressiveness at the cost of grace and lightness. Such a headdress would, of course, be impossible except on a most formal occasion. The woman who appeared at dinner with such a structure on the top of her head would embarrass the waiters as well as the guests. The pictures of the court beauties of Italy show many of them attired with just such massive and magnificent tiaras. It is said that Elena, the present queen, has made the most emphatic protest possible against this ornate fashion by always assuming on festal occasions a very narrow coronet, which is in form very much like that worn by Miss Jeffreys.
It seems to be an unwritten rule that tiaras should be of diamonds, although there is no stone so trying to women not in the first blush of youth. A massive crown of flashing brilliants on any woman's head will absorb all the brightness from her own eyes, making them look old and dull in contrast. It is for that reason that Sarah Bernhardt long ago gave up diamonds for other stones.
Women who wear tiaras in this country do it, of course, with no idea of their political significance, while in Europe it is necessary in private life to avoid the pointed crown, which indicates rank, whether it be the five points of the countess or the nine points of a princess. Such precautions are not necessary in this country, and women take any shape which they can afford or which is becoming to them. It was this freedom in selection that led a foreigner to express his astonishment at a large ball given recently in New York. "How does it happen," he asked, surprised at the number of nine-pointed coronets, "that there are only princesses here in the United States?"
|Coral and gilt metal tiara, English ca. 1860-70. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum|
Another new style popular this season for the first time is the enamel tiara, made in imitation of flowers and leaves. They are for the most part low and compact, having the appearance of flowers entwined so as to make a wreath for the hair. They are usually much smaller than the size of the real flower or leaf, and are sometimes finished with diamonds and other stones. The ornamentation of the stones is slight, however, as the prevailing intent of the design is to imitate nature. These enamel tiaras sometimes reach $200 in price.
1. Mabelle Gilman (ca.1874-1966) was an American stage actress who married William Ellis Corey, the president of U.S. Steel, in 1907. Later in life, Mabelle was linked with Prince Luis of Orleans-Bourbon.
2. Ellis Jeffreys (1868-1943) was an English film and stage actress. She was married to the Hon. Frederick Graham Curzon, son of the 3rd Earl Howe, from 1894 to 1903.
3. Celestina Boninsegna (1877-1947) was an Italian soprano who was best known for singing Verdi's heroines in opera houses around the world.