I like hats. I have been told that I look good in hats, but I’m not entirely sure that is true. Sadly, wearing hats in today’s world is just not the “thing”. Sure, some women can get away with wearing baseball hats occasionally. And, if you go to the Kentucky Derby, it is expected. I personally, have never been to the Kentucky Derby. Winter knit hats can be acceptable, but here in Florida, unless it’s really cold, it seems a little silly. I always get funny looks when I wear hats out in public. Of course, that might be because I’m a 47-year-old woman with pink hair, but I doubt it. Hats just aren’t very fashionable at this point in time. However, Auntie Tina is going to tell you how that hasn’t always been the truth! Let’s look at hat history.
The Beginning of Hat History
Hats have a very long history. It most likely didn’t take our ancestors much to figure out putting something over your head had a lot of advantages. They could keep the sun off your face and if it was cold, hats could keep your head warm. In fact, the earliest images of people wearing hats go back to about 3200 BCE. While wearing head coverings probably evolved out of practical need, like protection from the elements, it didn’t take long for it to become a socially expected norm. This is purely my personal speculation, but I believe covering one’s head was so common, religious leaders felt they needed to make it a law because those few people, especially women, that didn’t cover their heads were too disturbing.
Regardless of the actual reasons, head covering did become a rule for the religiously devout during the Middle Ages. And, well, that was pretty much everyone, unless you wanted to be accused of being a witch. Women were required to cover their heads with veils or scarves. However, by the end of the Middle Ages, hats began to have structure to them and tended to be functional. For example, sailors and men in the military wore tricorns, which were 3 sided hats with wide turned up brims. They were good at keeping the sun off, but were even better in the rain because the sides acted like channels to guide water away from the face. Hats such as the flat cap were worn by non-nobles because the law said they had to wear wool hats on Sunday.
Early Hat History
In the 16th century women’s hats began to take on a more structured form, but they were still modeled after the hats worn by men. It wasn’t until the 17th century that women began to wear hats that had their own feminine style. Hats were being created by newly established milliners who brought styles from Milan, Italy.
The 18th century brought many changes to hat styles. The “shepherdess”, with a very wide brim, gained favor with many women as it could be decorated with flowers, ribbons, and feathers. And where did women find these fantastic embellishments? Plumassiers, established alongside milliners, would arrange colored feathers into elaborate adornments for fashion and home decorating.
Like so many other things (have you read my rhinestone post?) hats became another way of showing social status. However, towards the end of the 1700’s society was again in a state of change. As revolution became more likely, hats were additional way of separating classes of people. Democracy was gaining favor and with that, people didn’t want to stand out as elitist. Simple cotton house bonnets became acceptable in all segments of society.
A funny historical side note: In 1797 John Hetherington stepped out in one of the first top hats. The tall, flat topped, shiny hat startled so many people it actually caused a riot! Poor John ended up paying a fine for the commotion it caused. I wonder how long it was before the next brave soul ventured out in a top hat?
19th Century Hats Notes
The bonnet was one of the most popular hats for women in the 1800’s. This style of hat evolved from the shepherdess hats of the previous century. Bonnets framed a woman’s face, but still protected her profile from view. After all, who would want someone staring at the side of your face? That’s just weird. Anyway, bonnets were huge, both in size and in popularity.
Unfortunately for many ladies, getting the materials to make the traditional bonnets was very hard since Napoleon had conquered most of Europe, including Italy who had supplied most of the fibers used for bonnet making. The ingenious British developed “bonnet board”, a type of cardboard that was pressed in a roller machine to make the brim of bonnets. It was then covered with fabric and the hats were decorated with all sorts of lovely embellishments. As the century went along, the brims grew smaller, but still mostly covered a lady’s hair. And in case there was any stray locks peeking out the back, bonnets often had a bavolette, or fluff of ribbon at the back of the neck.
By the end of the 19th century hats and bonnets were fashion equals. Bonnets tended to be considered more modest than hats and were eventually relegated to the frumpy crowd. Women’s hat were however beginning to experiment with different styles, like the ‘flower pot’ style that was very tall and elaborate. Other styles mimicked men’s style hats like bowlers, boaters and trilbys (look for examples of these in the included pictures and links). Men had almost as many choices of hat styles as women did. In addition to the above styles of hats, there was also the pork pie, the tyrolean and various versions of the top hat.
Early 20th Century Haberdashery Habits
In the 1900’s, everyone wore hats. It was absolutely unacceptable to leave home without one on your head. In an odd twist of fate, men had more etiquette rules for the wearing of hats than women did! If a man was outside, hats were on, unless they were greeting someone higher up the social latter than they were. Inside generally meant that hats were removed, unless it was a public place like a bank or hotel. But then, public places like restaurants, church or the theater required that a hat be taken off. It was all very confusing, at least to me!
Women on the other hand did not take their hats off in public, period. The hats and hairstyles for women of the early 20th century were simply too elaborate to keep taking a hat off and putting it back on in public. And besides that, no one wanted to see a lady fussing with her hair in public! Added to the inappropriateness of public haircare, women also frequently wore pompadour frames. These were structures hidden by their hair, or matching other hair, that helped to hold up the large hats they were wearing. The large hats were meant to balance the S shaped silhouette created by corsets and bustles popular in the early part of the century.
And we move on…
As I mentioned in this post on makeup and this one on earrings, the 20th century was a period of rapid change in society and in fashion. As World War I began, hats were becoming smaller and plainer. Not only were women showing their sympathy towards the war efforts, they were also entering the work force and needed simpler more modest hats. Toque and turban styles that didn’t have wide brims became more popular.
The 1920’s brought the cloche that was so popular with the flappers and their short hair. The cloche covered a woman’s head like a helmet, from just above the eyebrows to the back of the neck. Women also would use the ribbons they added to cloche hats to indicate their relationship status. A firm tight knot indicated a woman was married (I wonder if this is where “tie the knot” comes from?). A single simple bow would mean a woman was in a relationship while a big flamboyant bow would indicate a woman wouldn’t mind being asked out.
The fedora, originally a woman’s style hat, was modified for men’s styles in the 1920s as well. The fedora was a hat for every man, but because of the movies and media, it was associated with gangsters. I actually remember my grandfather always wearing a fedora and looking so handsome. My other grandfather wore a Stetson, which was a type of cowboy hat popular from this time period as well. He was pretty good-looking as well! (Note dear husband, these were formal styles of hats, not baseball hats!)
A Hat Hiatus?
The 1940’s saw a brief resurgence of elaborate hats because just about the only thing not rationed for the war was feathers and lace! The 1950’s were back to smaller, turban style hats. The teased bouffant hairstyles of the 1960’s led to the development of the small pillbox style of hat. And by the 1970’s, when I came along, hats were just something you wore when it was really cold outside. Have I mentioned that I have always lived on the Gulf Coast? It never gets that cold here! In 1983, even the Catholic church officially said women didn’t have to wear hats to mass any more. I don’t think that means we don’t want to, though. I still like hats. Maybe I will start a trend. I mean, the hole in the ozone layer is getting pretty bad! We need hats to protect us, big elaborate ones!
If you are looking to buy some hats, look at this store on eBay:
(Quick FYI: I am looking at becoming an eBay affiliate. This link is to a store on eBay. It is not my store, just one I like!)