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April 19, 2011

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Natalie Elder

@Laurel, It’s tempting, but we can’t try any of our objects on. However, the tiara is light and I don’t think it would have been uncomfortable at all. It’s made of fabric, with two plastic combs to secure it to one’s hair. The embroidered leaves on the tiara are made of metallic thread, which is literally strands of silver, gold, or other metals.

@Will, I asked myself many of these same questions, for instance, where were these made and purchased? Military manufacturing is a wide field of study; unfortunately it is hard to track down items that weren’t mass produced. I can say that formal wear items were often purchased privately (i.e., not through the government), but I’m not sure about the tiaras. Also, take a look at that photo again—three of the officers are wearing the tiara. It’s hard to see Colonel Bishop’s headwear because it’s in black and white, but it would be striking if the photograph were in color. Her tiara is the same scarlet red as the one from our collections. The Air Force was the only branch that didn’t have the tiara; I’ve tried to find out why, with little success. As to why the women chose to wear them, I would love to know more. I think you’re right; people probably had a range of feelings about them. Maybe someone who has donned one of these will leave us a response!

Thanks for your questions!

Sincerely,
Natalie Elder

Will Brown

This article is super interesting. I did not realize that military-issue tiaras existed, let alone that two of the branches had their own models. Do you have some idea of where they were manufactured, or where officers bought them? And who was responsible for the design? I also wonder how commonly they were worn. Two of the women in the photo are wearing one, but the other two aren't. Perhaps some women considered formal occasions a good time to express their femininity, while others wanted to avoid that kind of display, or accomplished it in other ways, or just didn't like the look. My guess is that the tiara had different meanings for different women, then as now: if it could be seen as a symbol of progress and accommodation, it could also be seen as a marker of difference.

ln any case, great find!

Laurel

So what is it made of? Is it heavy, uncomfortable? I assume you're not allowed to try it on...

D

Fascinating stuff - and it really shows the importance of material culture to historians as a body of sources not merely complementary to but distinct from written and oral evidence.

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