Fashion in Song – Under My Merry Widow Hat – 1908

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Front cover of the sheet music for Under My Merry Widow Hat, 1908

Published in 1908, this popular song is making reference to the huge brimmed hats, usually trimmed with enormous ostrich plumes, that became popular in 1907-1908 and were known as Merry Widows (aka Picture hats/ Gainsboroughs.) The term for the hat came from the  London stage play The Merry Widow – an English adaptation of the operetta Die lustige Witwe by Franz Lehar. The lead character, originally played by actress Lily Elsie in the London production, wore enormous hats designed by the English designer Lucile. During the five year fashion for enormous hats the Merry Widow became a popular subject for cartoons, and at least one song.

 

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Comic postcard depicting an exaggerated Merry Widow hat, c. 1908.

I couldn’t find any recording of the music or song being performed – likely due to the racial slur in the first stanza, so here are the lyrics:

Susie and Billy by the light of the moon, were cooing,

Bill sang a song about an African coon,

He thought it was cute wooing;

He murmured to Susie, “Think how happy we’d be,

down in the jungle ‘neath a bamboo tree,

When we go a spooning Mister Moon won’t see,

Susie replied “not me –

 

Cause I need no bamboo tree, dear, to shelter me, dear from peeping eyes

I’m sure there is no moon dear can see its spoon up in the skies

I really can’t see that jungle, But you can build me a cosy flat,

Then I’ll tell you Billy come and spoon with me, under my Merry Widow Hat”

 

Promise me Billy this old African talk won’t last much longer,

If you would like to win my heart in a walk certainly you’ll speak stronger;

We’ll do no more rambling in an old everglade

My Merry Widow keeps me in the shade,

A nice little Auto for our Sunday parade, That’s just about my style –

 

Cause I need no bamboo tree, dear, to shelter me, dear from peeping eyes

I’m sure there is no moon dear can see its spoon up in the skies

I really can’t see that jungle, But you can build me a cosy flat,

Then I’ll tell you Billy come and spoon with me, under my Merry Widow Hat”

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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