During the last quarter of the 19th century, feather decoration for hats, fans, and boas was at its peak; in 1886, 77% of women’s hats were decorated with feathers and a milliner’s window had a display of colorful ostrich tips and plumes. They were used not only on hats, but were also used in trimming dresses, wraps, and to a large extent used in making exotic fans.

Ostrich farming and ostrich feathers was a lucrative business; the authors of this treatise tell how you could start a business in your own kitchen; the equipment needed, instructions for the dyeing process and formulas for producing different colors. The author states “the greatest disadvantage manufacturers have had to contend with was a lack of knowledge of coloring… “ Another important feature of this manual is that it contains actual dyed feathers, mounted on plates, as color samples.

Dyed feather samples and hat dashions from Peterson's Magazine.

Dyed feathers from the Practical ostrich feather dyer, hats trimmed with ostrich feathers from Peterson’s Magazine,Vol.27, 1880.

A straightforward, down to earth approach was all that was necessary to succeed. The author’s preface states: “In the preparation of this work it has been my aim to present Recipes, simple, yet complete in every detail, for dyeing every color and shade of color known.…. I would ask that it be judged not from a literary standpoint, but as a thorough and practical instructor in the art of Ostrich Feather Dyeing, as simplified and perfected by me…Technicalities and high-sounding phrases for the names of colors and terms of the dye-house have no place in this work. It is not necessary for a man to be a chemist to be a practical feather dyer…Good practical common sense and  judgement and a knowledge of the nature of the goods you are handling, and throw theory to the winds. Alex Paul.

Publications such as Peterson’s Magazine and Godey’s Lady’s Book reported to its readers the latest fashion trends at home and abroad. These magazines advised that “the more carelessly the ostrich feathers are posed, the more stylish they are”, and that “white ostrich feathers are reserved exclusively for brides”. Fashions changed after WWI and the industry collapsed.

Dyed feather samples and fashion plates from Peterson's Magazine.











Dyed feathers from the Practical ostrich feather dyer; hats trimmed with ostrich feathers from Peterson’s Magazine,Vol.27,1880 and Vol. 28, 1881

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