Women’s Day 2021: In the year of Charlotte Maxeke

Women’s Day 2021: In the year of Charlotte Maxeke

In South Africa we celebrate Women’s Day on 9 August each year. This day celebrates the more than 20 000 women who marched to the Union Buildings in 1956 to protest against the extension of Pass Laws to women. Women’s rights were undermined for many years because of their gender, and this day is to celebrate all women and their important place in the world.

This Women’s Day we are focusing on the history of women’s fashion. The iconic Kappie is synonymous with the Boer woman in South Africa and was still worn during the Anglo-Boer (South African) War.

In the Victorian era, women were required to have as fair skin as possible. The harsh South African sun made that difficult, and therefore especially the women who were exposed to the sun on a daily basis, needed a way of keeping themselves from burning. The need for this encouraged the development of the traditional South African sunbonnet, known as a kappie. The word kappie refers to a headdress made of layers of material, instead of a bonnet that usually is associated with a headdress made of straw or a combination of materials. It is probably derived from the Dutch word kapje that means small cap or head covering. D.H. Strutt wrote that it seems that the forerunner of the kappie evolved from the Dutch hood in combination with the 18th century caps.

Many people know of the kappie, but many do not know that there are actually different types of kappies, depending on the period.

Voortrekker Kappie:  

The earlier versions of the kappie dates back to the early Victorian period (c. 1837-1850’s). They are referred to as Voortrekker-kappies, named after the pioneers (known as Voortrekkers) that migrated from the Cape colony during the Great Trek (c. 1835-1845). Due to its practicality the kappie continued to be worn by the pioneers as well as the farming communities in parts of the country that did not even participate in the Great Trek at all. The shape of the kappie was very prominent with a starched quilted and corded brim to keep it stiff and away from the face when being worn.

Different type of kappies:

  • Pofbolkappie (puffed crown bonnet),

  • Driestuk-kappie (three-piece bonnet),

  • Rondebolkappie (rounded crown bonnet)

  • Tuitkappie (poke bonnet).

Kappies worn for everyday use were usually made from white linen or cotton material. Tree bark or husks were used to colour the material cream or biscuit colour. Women wore a lace or cotton cap indoors, or the brim of the kappie was turned back when entering a building. The most outstanding feature of the kappie was the beautiful quilted and corded patterns that were painstakingly hand stitched through three or four layers of material. The designing, cording and quilting was done on the individual parts of the kappie before they were assembled. Women designed their own patterns and no two designs looked alike. Plant and flower motifs as well as geometrical patterns and traditional folk art were used as inspiration.

The Quilt Index:

The Quilt Index is an open access, digital repository of thousands of images, stories and information about quilts and their makers drawn from hundreds of public and private collections around the world. It represents the work of thousands of community-based and independent scholars, digital humanists, and professionals in libraries, archives, and museums who are dedicated to preserving and making accessible quilt history.

If you are interested in viewing different Kappies from the Museum’s collection, follow the link below.

LINK: Quilt Index


CHAVEAS, L.M., A study of the quilted and corded “kappies” of the Voortrekker women and their resemblance to French white work quilting of the 17th and 18th centuries. Navorsinge van die Nasionale Museum Bloemfontein 9(1), March 1993.

MALAN, A. en CARELSEN A., Kleredrag tydens die Anglo-Boereoorlog 1899-1902. Pretoria, s.a.

MERRIAM-WEBSTER DICTIONARY, Origin and Etymology of Kappie,

PRETORIUS, J.C., Die geskiedenis van Volkskuns in Suid-Afrika. Kaapstad, 1992.

STRUTT, D.H., Clothing fashions in South Africa. Cape Town, 1975.


White linen Voortrekkerkappie quilted by hand with flower motif.

White linen Voortrekkerkappie quilted by hand with flower motif.

Source: War Museum Collection 04314/00002


Coloured kappies (referred to as kiskappies) worn during the first half of the 19th century was usually worn by older women as formal wear when going to church or on special occasions such as weddings and funerals. Coloured kappies were completely differently constructed and decorated than the traditional white kappies since they had a long crown shape and were usually made from coloured cotton and shot silk or satin that could not be washed. During the middle Victorian period (c. 1860-1880’s) coloured kappies became more popular since they could be bought from traveling traders (Smouse in Afrikaans) and were therefore fittingly named “smouskappies”. After the introduction of the sewing machine in South Africa during the 1860’s coloured kappies were increasingly being quilted by machine instead of by hand.

Mid-Victorian, c1860-1880s

Mid-Victorian, c1860-1880s

Source: Quilt Index

Boerekappie / sloopkappie:  

During the late Victorian period (c. 1890-1901) the so-called Boerekappie or sloopkappie emerged and was especially worn by women and children in the concentration camps during the Anglo-Boer (South African) War of 1899-1902. It is interesting to note how much the shape and style of the sloopkappies resembles the contemporary American sunbonnets worn as country wear in the United States of America. The sloopkappie received its name due to the half-circle “pillow” shape when it was folded open entirely. The brims were often machine-quilted with straight lines and simple geometric patterns. Box-pleats or frills were attached where the brim ended and the crown started. The crown was also gathered in the middle with a drawstring to form the long neck frill that covered the shoulders. The Victorians had a predilection for the colour black that was especially favoured by older women who preferred to wear black cotton or satin sloopkappies. Often the brims of these kappies were covered by a layer of crape as an indication of mourning when a loved one passed away.

Edwardian cap circa 1902 Made and worn by Mrs JF De Lange during the Anglo-Boer War

Edwardian c1902

Made and worn by Mrs JF De Lange during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902)

Source: Quilt Index

Black satin sloopkappie quilted by machine with geometrical patterns, worn by Mrs. J.M.S.D. Venter in the Bethulie concentration camp.

Black satin sloopkappie quilted by machine with geometrical patterns, worn by Mrs. J.M.S.D. Venter in the Bethulie concentration camp.

Source: War Museum Collection 05128/00003

With the dawn of the Edwardian era, sloopkappies were made from printed cotton or German print (known as isiShweshwe) with excessive frills attached to the brim.

The kappie is an iconic headdress that forms part of South Africa’s unique clothing fashion history and cultural heritage.

Edwardian c1902

Source: Quilt Index

Posted: 2021-08-05 22:44:32