The etymology of the term milliner points to Italy. According to the authorative Berg Companion to Fashion (2010), milliner derives from the word ‘Millaner’ and referred to (male) merchants from Milan who travelled to Northern Europe with such fineries as silk, ribbons, lace, and ornaments. Serving both men and women, they also brought news of the latest styles and fashions.
The term dates from 1530 (a reference to millinery appears in Shakespeare’s Henry IV). Milliners also dealt in the straw hats from Florence. By 1713 the word was defined as a female who ‘makes and sells bonnets and other headgear for women’. During the first half of the eighteenth century professional milliners were women who had set up business in the more affluent parts of London. York-born Eleanor Mosley was registered in 1718 as an apprentice with the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers as milliners did not have a trade company of their own. From 1729 she ran a milliner’s shop from rented property in Lombard Street. Seven years later she opened her own property on nearby Gracechurch Street, City of London. The earliest surviving professional trade-cards date from the mid-eighteenth century.