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"throwing their caps (bonnets) over the mills"

Posted by Jeff on October 05, 2006

I'm putting this query to the readership a second time hoping for other suggestions.

I have seen two Oscar Wilde references to women "throwing their caps (bonnets) over the mills":

1) From The Picture of Dorian Gray.. "Dorian was one of her especial favourites,and she always told him that she was extremely glad she had not met him in early life. 'I know, my dear, I should have fallen madly in love with you', she used to say, 'and thrown my bonnet right over the mills for your sake. It is most fortunate that you were not thought of at the time. As it was, our bonnets were so unbecoming, and the mills were so occupied in trying to raise the wind, that I never had even a flirtation with anybody.'

2) From Lady Windemere's Fan: DUMBY:Awfully commercial, women nowadays. Our grandmothers threw their caps over the mills, of course,but, by Jove,their granddaughters only throw their caps over mills that can raise the wind for them.
What is the origin and meaning of the expression?