Green River Star -

Artifact of the Month: The once-fashionable nightcap


January 10, 2018

Courtesy photo

A nightcap on display at the Sweetwater County Historical Museum.

At first glance, it may look odd. What was its exact purpose? When would someone wear something like this? What is it exactly? This artifact is a nightcap, which was also referred to as a dust cap, boudoir cap, or bed cap.

Nightcaps date back to the 13th century. They were initially worn in cooler climates in Europe as a way to keep the head warm while sleeping. Both men and women wore nightcaps, with men's nightcaps often taking the shape of a triangle.

One of the most iconic depictions of a men's nightcap is the one worn by Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

The popularity of nightcaps lasted through the late Victorian era. However, at the turn of the 20th century, a revival of nightcaps came back into popularity among younger women.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a lady's hair was a valuable investment. Setting curls or finger waves took a considerable amount of time.

To help preserve curls from day-to-day until they could be redressed, women at the time often wore a nightcap. They were often made with silk or muslin and could be made of fabric, lace, or a combination of the two. The nightcap in our collection is a crocheted lace cap.

A nightcap such as this could be made at home or purchased from a milliner's shop. A milliner is a person who makes or sells women's hats.

A well-known milliner in Sweetwater County was Mrs. E.A. Gaensslen of Green River. She was born as Eleanor R. Eggs Nov. 17, 1875, in St. Louis, to Charles and Carolina Eggs, who were one of the first pioneers of Green River. She married her husband, Emil Albert Gaensslen, on Sept. 7, 1908.

Eleanor was a prolific business woman knowing she wanted to be a milliner, and opened her own store in 1905 at the age of 29. Advertisements for Mrs. Gaensslen's store were featured prominently in the Green River Star.

Even though she was a milliner, she also sold other women's clothing as well as children's clothes.

Gaensslen made sure to meet every Green River woman's fashion and practical needs, not excluding caps like this. She and her husband were active members in the Green River community until both their deaths in 1956. The nightcap will be on display at the Sweetwater County Historical Museum Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through the month of January.


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