Monday 25 November 2013

Hats On for St Catherine - Joan Lennon

Today is the Day of St Catherine - patron saint of unmarried women.  (Well, one of them.  There's also St Andrew, St Agatha, and a disconcertingly large number of others.)  I've always envied Roman Catholics all their saints for odd things.*  And I love the way something as ghastly as martyrdom can morph over the years into, for example, a day of wearing outrageous hats and celebrating the notion that a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.  

It didn't start that way, of course.  According to good old Wikipedia:

The French say that before a girl reaches 25, she prays: "Donnez-moi, Seigneur, un mari de bon lieu! Qu'il soit doux, opulent, libéral et agréable!" (Lord, give me a well-situated husband. Let him be gentle, rich, generous, and pleasant!") After 25, she prays: "Seigneur, un qui soit supportable, ou qui, parmi le monde, au moins puisse passer!" (Lord, one who's bearable, or who can at least pass as bearable in the world!") And when she's pushing 30: "Un tel qu'il te plaira Seigneur, je m'en contente!" ("Send whatever you want, Lord; I'll take it!"). An English version goes, St Catherine, St Catherine, O lend me thine aid, And grant that I never may die an old maid. 

And there was certainly a side to the St Catherine's Day festivities that was aimed at humiliating unsuccessful (i.e. unmarried) women - just look at that mocking gargoyle face peeping round the corner below!  

(Two Catherinettes in Paris in 1909)

But then look into the faces of the Catherinettes themselves and see the confidence.  The strength.  The sisterhood. 

(A bevy more in 1932)

(Henri Matisse drew this sketch of a Catherinette in 1946.)

(And here are Issaac Israel's confident beauties)

I look at these images and I see subversion!

If I'd known about it, I would have loved being a Catherinette, tromping about the place in a crazy hat and enjoying being taken out to lunch and given flowers and drinks all day.  Sisterhood, solidarity, and silly hats.  St Catherine, I salute you!

*  To read more History Girl posts on saints look here.  My favourite so far is still St Neot, patron saint of fish.  With or without a bicycle. 

Joan's website.
Joan's blog.

(Thank you to On this day in fashionBlackriders  and Wiki commons for these images.) 


Ms. said...

Delightful. Thank the power of sisterhood for the transformation of that terrible legend, They had a real 'Monty Python' sensibility for the most part, playfully chiding the norm, 'Mad Hatters' all! You made my day Joan. Thanks.

The Greenockian said...

What an interesting post and what an amazing collection of weird and wonderful hats!

Ruan Peat said...

It is easy to think that those before us just mildly accepted the way of life but the pictures and their very stances tell much more of a story than the fairly mild words of St Catherine. Thank you for a great post.

Joan Lennon said...

Thank you for your comments! Hats and bicycles - all part of the revolution!

Zizou Alphonse Corder, PhD said...

Superb! Let's bring it back -

Penny Dolan said...

A post that brought smiles! Now feel I must go and find a daft hat to wear as a sign of true "Catherinette attitude" sympathy.

Petrea Burchard said...

Shades of what was to come, so soon, after WWI. I hope those women had hats and sisterhood to help them through!