Tribute to the Sunbonnet: Symbol of a Simpler Time

holly hobbieI have fond memories of tea parties with my sister and our Holly Hobbie tea set.  I imagine that my memory is shared by many other girls of my generation.  We set up our tea set on a tree stump in our backyard and circled it with our dolls.  All we needed to fill the empty dishes was our imagination.

Holly Hobbie was created in the late 1960’s and beloved by girls of my generation.  In her hay day, her image was on everything from lunch boxes to paper dolls.  Laura Ingalls (another bonnet wearing icon) was also popular around the same time.  I remember scheduled dates with my grandma to watch “Little House.”  It was our favorite show.  Oh, how I loved those times with her.  I even played dress up with her jewelry and accessories, wishing that she had a bonnet just like Laura.

sunbonnet babiesBonnets have been a symbol of a simple country life for generations.  They are still celebrated in the famous “Sunbonnet Sue” quilting pattern.  It has many different variations, but the one constant is always the sunbonnet.  The design was adopted to use in quilts from illustrations called “Sunbonnet Babies” drawn for children’s reading primers published in the early 1900’s.  I have its counterpart “Fisherman Fred” on a quilt made by a friend of mine for my little boy.  It’s a simple pattern, but has so much warmth and personality.

In the most recent decades, bonnets have only been deemed appropriate attire for little girls and babies.  But it was not always that way.  The simple bonnet as we know it today evolved through many stages back as far as the 17th century.  It took on various forms over the years, both simple and very elaborate.  I often think of Scarlett O’Hara’s extravagant wardrobe in “Gone with the Wind”.  Today, the bonnet is most thought of as sun protection in the style worn by pioneer women throughout the 19th century.

Scarlett Green Bonnet

Although the bonnet is essentially just a hat, to me it symbolizes so much more.  It hearkens us back to a simpler time.  Dare I say, a time when girls were girls and boys were boys and there was no confusing them.  Bonnets were both feminine and practical at the same time.  They were charmingly simple, just like the women who wore them.  These women were our homestead predecessors.  They were beautiful, strong, and courageous.  They often just had two bonnets, a woolen one for cold weather and one made of cotton for warm weather.  Instead of merely fashion accessories, they were practical tools for keeping the hot sun off their faces and their hair in place.  Their bonnets saw a lot of hard work.

I think it’s time to bring back the sunbonnet.  Maybe even now more than ever, since life has become increasingly more complicated in our day.  Holly Hobbie gave girls an image of simple femininity that is so lacking in girls’ toys of today.  Oh how it would do my heart good to know that little girls still have tea parties!  I sincerely hope that somewhere out there girls are still propping up their dolls and pretending to feed them tea and sandwiches, enjoying the simple pleasures of girlhood.

As for me, I’ve been wearing my sunbonnet proudly this summer! As a practical tool and heart-warming image of beautiful homestead women that came before me.  It puts a smile on my face to remember my own girlhood and pretend to be Laura Ingalls for just a little while.



Benefits of a Sunbonnet

Every summer of my homestead life, I’ve been frustrated with sun hats.  They just don’t stay on my head.  And I hate the chemical sunscreens, as well as the time they take to apply.  My new sunbonnet is the answer I’ve been looking for.  Here’s why:

  • The wide brim provides shade for my entire face, as well as ears.
  • It won’t fall off when I lean over.
  • It is made from light breathable cotton.  I can even get it wet to keep my head cooler.
  • The back is really roomy so it fits all my hair when I put it up, even in a big claw clip or messy bun.


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About JaimieB

Jaimie lives with her husband on their off-grid homestead known online as An American Homestead. They live with their two sons and her parents Tim and Joann on 50 acres located deep in the American Ozark Mountains.

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  1. My little girl likes to have tea parties with her dolls. She tries to get her brothers involved, but it doesn’t usually work out very well! 🙂 Someone suggested a bonnet to keep my daughter’s hair out of her face. I should find one for her. Thanks for the post! I always enjoyed looking at some Holly Hobbie books that we had when I was little. I loved the pictures!

  2. Thank you for this post Jaimie! You have made me thing about making a bonnet. Sure would save the burnt neck from weeding! 💖

  3. I have been looking for a nice head cover for when outside in the garden. Do you have a pattern for the sunbonnet, I was thinking on sewing up a couple for myself. Thank you for the post and I do follow you on facebook and watch your videos.

  4. Seems I’m not the only one that had the same thought. I think I’d like to make one for myself. Now to find a pattern!

  5. McCall’s has a pattern (9423) for the complete outfit including a apron.

  6. About 22 years ago my husband and I moved into our house and started our first small garden. This was before we even realized we had started our journey into suburban homesteading. The first gift I received from my father at that time was a sun bonnet. He told me that my grandmother, who was a suburban homesteader back when that was the norm and not the exception, always wore one in her garden and when tending her animals. Therefore, I needed one as well. I still have that bonnet along with one my husband purchased for me a few years back. My neighbors may look at me like I’m a little strange when I wear them but I don’t care. I love my bonnets and the memories that they hold for me. Thank you so much for this post!

  7. Love It !!!!!

  8. Yes little girls still have tea parties. My youngest granddaughter enjoys setting up her parties and sometimes I give her juice and cookies when her Friends come over.
    And I love my sun bonnet still wear it when I work out side.
    I also wear hats some are probably old fashion but I also get at least one compliment a few from women. But many from men telling me they wish all women would still wear hats.

  9. My Grandaughter loves Tea Parties so much that her Mom ( sweet daughter-in-law ) gave her 6th birthday party to her as a Tea Party! Everyone dressed up with hats, sundresses and gloves, if you had some. Outside on the lawn, under a favorite tree where tables to sit at and a table with wonderful little sandwiches, etc (even the Dads, Grandpa and Uncles liked the food!). It was so much fun, to my precious Grandaughter , cake and presents seemed secondary…!

  10. I have no problems with a visor staying on my head. I think a full head cover would be hot in summer. For my hair a ponytail, pigtail or bun.

  11. I was just thinking on this recently as I worked in the Texas sun and had to keep picking up my big brimmed hat as it fell off my head while bending over. Years of working out doors has caused sun damage and I had a skin cancer removed a couple of years ago. I try to cover up and I think a sun bonnet would help.
    Love you on You Tube and your page here! I so want an outdoor kitchen!

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