Tallest Feather?

It’s the discussion some of you have been waiting for-  what royal hat hosts the tallest/longest feather(s)?

One hat will immediately come to mind for many of us so I’m going to get it out of the way- Queen Máxima’s plumed beret by Fabienne Delvigne, worn October 20, 2012 to Hereditary Grand Duke Guillaume and Hereditary Grand Duchess Stéphanie’s wedding. It’s spectacular.

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So… what other hats can you find with exceptionally tall feathers?!

Image from Getty as indicated

50 thoughts on “Tallest Feather?

  1. Another one from Diana.
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  6. I feel like Sophie should have more mega feathers in her closet, but this is the only one I can find that really views for that title. Still an absolute gem, and should be revived in her current greatest hits tour. Embed from Getty Images

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  7. Braemar obviously inspires a tall feather. Diana loved to go literal and tartan up in Scotland Embed from Getty Images

    And I love this winner on HM in 1961 (I’ve scoured for a closer view but to no a avail…) Embed from Getty Images

  8. Margaret did love this turban… Embed from Getty Images

  9. Is this Diana’s tallest feather?
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    • Hmmm… how to some of her ostrich plumes compare in terms of length?!
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  10. While a high percentage of Queen Elizabeth’s hats utilize different sorts of feather trim, it’s relatively rare for them to include an upright placement….here are a few. One from 1950 — literally ready to take wing, another from 62 years later in 2012, and of course her plumed Trooping of the Colour hat — this one from 1952.

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  11. Sorry, I got hung up on longest instead of tallest with some of my other comments; we’ve had largest feather (which in some ways meant longest) and longest quill, but not tallest feather, which I think Máxima still wins.

    Here’s a tall one for HM during Ascot 2004:
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    Mette-Marit’s two tallest (for as few hats as she’s worn, she managed to secure this category pretty well!)
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    And another historical high feather, this one from Queen Kamāmalu of Hawai’i when she visited London in 1824 (incorrectly spelled Tamehamalu, hence why I probably didn’t find this for the Hawai’i series, argh):
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  12. Queen Mary and King George. In the 1st shot, he was either taking a selfie, or a picture of Mary.
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  13. Amidst a sea of giant plumes at the Garter Service, the Princess Royal seems to have one of the most impressive!

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      • There is a large pond behind my house, so we see a good assortment of birds throughout the year, including some very large ones. Feathers are often just dropped on the grass and the birds seem none the worse for wear. I assume new feathers grow to replace them, as I’ve never seen any birds with bald spots. I collect the most attractive feathers and “plant” them in a flower pot near my front door, but none are as tall as the ones seen on the hats in this post! The photo below is of sandhill cranes, the largest bird in this area. They live right among the houses. (They were actually here first, so presumably think of us humans as the interlopers.) I occasionally encounter them at close range when I’m outside, which can be quite daunting — the largest ones are about chest high on me.

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        • Thanks for sharing this, Catherine. It’s an insightful read. Culling birds for fashion is a practice I find cruel, unethical and unnecessary, and I’m glad there were brave women to stand up against it. I wonder… what can we do to oppose this practice today?

          • I’ve heard that one particular bird (osprey, perhaps?) was driven nearly to extinction for Edwardian hats, until a bird protection society appealed to Queen Alexandra… who simply announced that ladies wearing the feathers of that bird would not be received at Court. And that was that.

            The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson has a great deal to say about the demand for rare feathers and the birds from which they come, although the focus there is not hats but competitive fly-tying.

            Incidentally, I once had quite a collection of peacock feathers, gathered during a trip to a wildlife park where two peacocks had been having a go at each other earlier in the day. I really don’t know whether it still counts as cruelty if it’s a fellow member of the species doing the plucking…

      • I live in the US and work for a wildlife rehabilitation hospital. We are still governed by a federal law from 1918 called the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Here is a quick summary: “The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) was passed in 1918 to combat over-hunting and poaching that supplied the enormous demand for feathers to adorn women’s hats. State-level hunting laws were not working, and bird populations were being decimated. At first, the Act was based on a single, 1916 treaty between the United States and Great Britain (on behalf of Canada) to protect migratory birds. Later, similar treaties were signed with Japan, Russia, and Mexico, and protection for the birds covered in these treaties was added to the MBTA.”
        The Act means that it is illegal to pick up bird feathers, move bird nests, or kill migratory birds. How feathers for hats are now obtained is controversial, and I will let you decide how you feel about this topic. But mostly I want to emphasize that two women, cousins Harriet Hemenway and Minna Hall, led the fight that resulted in the Treaty.

        • Fascinating- thank you so much for sharing, Cheetah. When I hear discussion about the downturn of the millinery industry over the past century, it is usually presented as an unfortunate thing. Clearly, it has been a positive thing for birds in countries where laws and such treaties are in effect. Not all countries have signed such agreements- I’m thinking primarily of China here, whose feather harvesting practices are rumoured to be inhumane.

          I had an insightful conversation with a milliner recently about the difficulties of incorporating sustainability into their work. In a declining industry, where suppliers and supplies are declining as well (several longtime suppliers have not survived the pandemic), milliners don’t always have the option of choosing sustainable materials.

        • Thank you for sharing the info about the Wildlife Act, Cheetah. The sandhill cranes (whose photo I posted above) are actually also protected under Florida law, where I live — I don’t think they’re officially on the endangered list, but may be on the verge as a lot of their natural habitat has been taken over by houses. However I think their biggest “predator” must be the automobile, since they do a lot of walking around as much as flying — we often have traffic jams out here on our local roads caused by groups of cranes taking their time crossing the street. I do find it odd though that this Act forbids picking up bird feathers — what would be the reason for that? No disrespect intended but it’s not like the bird is going to come back and get it once it’s fallen off. (I also hope none of my fellow Royal Hatters will report me to the authorities for having confessed here that I collect the bird feathers I find around the area!)

          • Thank you Cheetah for supplying that information. Like Matthew, I also wonder why it’s illegal to pick up bird feathers, although I hazily recollect that I heard that years ago and never questioned it. It’s an interesting, diverging topic today.
            I also wanted to add that Matthew reminded me of the time I was driving in Australia and an Emu ran out on the road. I narrowly missed it, but that was alarming to see a bird taller than me burst out of the bushes (I’m more used to deer or moose doing that, which is also alarming). I wonder if the same laws for picking up emu feathers from the ground exist?

            I just found this in regards to the Migratory Bird Act and why you shouldn’t pick up feathers:

            In 1918, the United States and Canada signed the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, making it illegal to trap, kill, possess, sell or harass migratory birds, and the protection includes their eggs, nests and feathers. Other countries also have joined in on the agreement.

            The treaty wasn’t enacted on a whim. Some species of birds were being hunted to near extinction for the exotic pet and fashion trades.

            You are permitted to collect feathers from non-native birds, such as European starlings and house sparrows, and domesticated birds such as turkeys and chickens, but all native, migratory birds — and there are more than 1,000 species on the list — are protected.

            It’s not that they don’t want you to have the feathers discarded by birds, it’s just that they don’t know how you acquired them. Someone could say they found a feather on the ground, but officials have no way of knowing whether that person innocently found the feather, killed a bird for its plumage, or captured it to sell illegally.

            There are exceptions to the law and special permits may be given for taxidermy, game birds taken in season and for researchers. Native Americans also are allowed to possess certain eagle and hawk feathers.

          • I didn’t know about feather collecting until I started working in wildlife rehabilitation. You are permitted to collect feathers from non-native birds, such as European starlings and house sparrows, and domesticated birds such as turkeys and chickens, but all native, migratory birds — and there are more than 1,000 species on the list — are protected. This act is about migratory birds, not about the level of endangerment. It also includes bird eggs.

            It’s not that they don’t want you to have the feathers discarded by birds, it’s just that they don’t know how you acquired them. Someone could say they found a feather on the ground, but officials have no way of knowing whether that person innocently found the feather, killed a bird for its plumage, or captured it to sell illegally. Don’t worry, Matthew – I won’t report you!

          • Thanks for not reporting me, Cheetah! It’s interesting to note that in recent years, courts in the U.S. have been split over imposing penalties for what they refer to as “incidental takings”, where the violation of the law happened accidentally in conjunction with another activity, rather than being the accused’s intended purpose. I’m pretty sure they’re talking about birds killed by running into windmills rather than senior citizens picking up random feathers off the ground, but nevertheless, here’s an article that makes for interesting (though pretty dense) reading:
            https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/uncertainty-about-migratory-bird-treaty-1315972/

  14. I would guess this is Marie-Christine’s longest feather:
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    Followed closely by this one:
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    (I know I’ve seen her wear a white pillbox with other pheasant feathers that looks very similar to this one, but I can’t find a photo of it right now.)

    . . . and this one:
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    • Here it is!

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      • She also has this one
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  15. While not the tallest for HM, I believe it would be among the longest for her:
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    I imagine this is among Anne’s tallest:
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    . . . and this is probably Autumn’s tallest:
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    • The Queen’s royal blue dyed feather is certainly among her longest! How do these compare?
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  16. Sophie had some tall feathers at Ascot 2011:
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    And some long Lady Amherst pheasant feathers on a hat I would love to see make a comeback again (this was at Lady Rose Gilman’s wedding in 2008):
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    • I don’t know… if you unfurl these feathers, they seem just as long. Or longer?
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      • Didn’t we do “longest feather” here once? I seem to remember having that discussion, but I don’t remember if it was here.

        Longest feather and tallest feather could be the same, only the directionality is different.

      • Additionally, I would say Camilla’s ostrich feathered hats in black, off-white, and navy (seen below) would also have some of her longest feathers (albeit not the tallest):
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        Also, unfurled, this would be probably the longest for Kate:
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        • A secret about Camilla’s hat- it’s actually several ostrich feathers, joined together. You can see where the spines are joined in this photo. Brilliant illusion by Philip Treacy, isn’t it?!

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  17. I’ll get discussion going with some historical hats, beginning with Marie Antoinette
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    • Princess Victoria (daughter of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra
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    • Queen Maud of Norway
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