La Sainte Catherine
Rather outmoded now, but nevertheless observed by some, particularly hat makers, the ‘Catherinettes’ were poor old ladies of twenty-five years old who had not managed to hook themselves a husband by the 25th November, Feast of Saint Catherine, patron saint of young unmarried women.
In 19th century France, many single young ladies worked as hat makers. Their friends would make hats for them using the traditional colours of yellow for faith and green for wisdom. These hats would be as outrageous as possible and were to be worn all day, for all to see and wish them a speedy end to their single lives! Before reaching 25, a girl would pray for a ‘mari de bon lieu!” (a well-situated husband) After 25, she would pray for a husband who was ‘supportable, ou qui, parmi le monde, au moins puisse passer!’ (bearable, or who can at least pass as bearable) and approaching 30 would pray for ‘Un tel qu’il te plaira Seigneur, je m’en contente!” (Send anyone Lord; I’ll take it!).
‘Capping Saint Catherine’ (coiffer Sainte Catherine) became synonymous with still being still single after 25. As women’s status changed in society, so the tradition more or less died out, but parades of ladies wearing striking and outlandish hats can still be seen on 25th November.
Saint Catherine herself was a young, noble and well-educated girl who lived in Alexandria at the beginning of the IV Century. According to legend, she visited the Emperor and attempted to convince him of the error of his ways in persecuting Christians. When he realised that she was successfully converting his followers, including his own wife, she was imprisoned and later condemned to death.