Within the context of antique jewelry, the term aigrette refers to a jeweled hair or hat decorative piece that would have originally held a feather or plume. ‘Aigrette’ is French for egret, a type of heron. Originally an Indian fashion, aigrettes were worn on turbans as far back as the 12th century.
London, c. 1585-1640
Design for an aigrette
By the late 17th century the style had spread to Europe, no doubt brought back by the colonialists. By the mid-1700s aigrettes became shaped like stylized feathers or plumes and were originally nearly always set with diamonds. Around 1800 colored stones became popular and aigrettes became somewhat more accessible for ordinary people. The Georgians loved aigrettes as they went so well with their wigs and elaborate hairstyles.
The aigrette fell out of fashion for most of the 1800s but experienced a revival by the end of the century. With the fashion for large hairstyles and Rococo flavored styles, the aigrette was once more in favor. Often, they would be set en tremblant and they were considered perfect for wearing to balls and parties. Feathers in general became a very important fashion accessory and hats were often covered in them, with or without aigrettes.
By the 1920s the popularity of the aigrette was at a height. The ‘flapper’ girls loved to wear aigrettes with headbands and their signature short bobbed hairstyles. Once usually only with a feather or plume motif, an aigrette might now have another motif: flowers, birds, crescents or shooting stars. Nowadays, we often think of the aigrette as a particularly ‘Art Deco’ fashion.