Hats have three main functions: They protect us from the wind, and cold, and against blows – think helmets. Secondly, some hats have a symbolic or emblematic meaning – think crowns and chef’s toques. Hats are also part of fashion and have an aesthetic meaning and function.
After World War II the popularity of hats steadily declined when the fashion became more informal. Nowadays people wear more beanies and baseball caps than hats. The history of hats is enthralling, especially because we don’t wear them as much anymore. We hope this post will inspire you to wear more hats and explore new types of headwear!
Pillbox hats are small and round and usually have straight edges and a flat crown.
The first designer to experiment with pillbox hats was Elsa Schiaparelli but it was not until the 60s that the hat became truly popular.
The most famous pillbox hats of all time are probably the ones Jacqueline Kennedy wore at President Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961 and on a November day in 1963 in Texas when President Kennedy was assassinated.
Even before Jackie Kennedy made the pillbox hats famous, French couture houses like Dior and Givenchy featured them in their collections.
It has been said that Jackie Kennedy did not like to wear hats at all, but protocol demanded her to wear one. She was also expected to wear one designed by an American designer, not by a French one. She asked the up-and-coming designer Roy Halston Frowick (later known as Halston) for help for the inauguration. At the time, Halston was the head milliner of the New York department store Bergdorf Goodman. His simple and minimalistic hat perfectly matched Jackie Kennedy’s youthful and geometric haircut.
The pillbox hat would remain Kennedy’s signature accessory through her husband’s presidency. Thanks to her, Halston’s fame soon skyrocketed too.
In the 70s, the popularity of the pillbox hat declined as the fashion became more casual and eclectic.
As the name implies, the cocktail hats were meant to be worn in the evenings and during the night, while sipping cocktails. Cocktail hats are typically elaborate, small in size, decorated with ribbons and feathers, and often veiled. Women often wore them tilted to create a sophisticated and stylish look.
The cocktail hats were most popular in the 50s although they emerged already in the 30s when Elsa Schiaparelli designed smaller hats to be worn with cocktail gowns. Hollywood stars popularized the fashion, and all the fashionable ladies worldwide quickly followed suit.
John Batterson Stetson (1830-1906) came up with the prototype of stetson when he was hunting in Colorado in the 1860s. Stetson was originally from Philadelphia but headed West after being diagnosed with tuberculosis, looking for a warmer climate – and maybe some adventure, too.
In Colorado, Stetson noticed the shortcomings of Westerners' coonskin caps. They were prone to fleas, didn’t provide much shade from the sun, and didn’t hold up in the rain. They must have been a bit hot during the summer, too!
Stetson came up with a hat that was perfect for the gold diggers and American West: it was lightweight, cool, and watertight. A bonus: the hat was made of local material, beaver felt. Stetson returned to Philly, and named his hat innovation “Boss of The Plains”, and started to produce them in numbers. The original stetson was rather simple with a low crown and flat brim, but cowboys who took a liking to the hat started to customize them, remolding them and making the crease high at the back and low at the front. Over time Stetson company adopted some of these changes to the original design.
Cloche hat was integral to the 20s flapper look alongside bob haircuts and short hemlines. The fitted, bell-shaped hat was initially invented in 1908 by French milliner Caroline Reboux (1837-1927) at the end of her long career. The peak cloche period lasted for about a decade, from the early 20s to the early 30s. Towards the end of the 20s, it was fashionable to turn the brim of the cloche upwards. The cloche hats were meant to be worn low across the eyes, emphasizing the mystery of the liberated 20s woman.
The winter cloche hats were often made of felt, and summer versions out of straw or other lighter materials. Evening and bridal cloche hats were often decorated with Art Deco-style embellishments.
According to the book Hats and Hair Fashion by Pauline Thomas, different styles of ribbons affixed to the cloche hats indicated different messages about the wearer: An arrow-like ribbon meant a girl was single but had already given her heart to someone, a firm knot signaled marriage and a flamboyant bow told the wearer was single and interested in mingling.
This traditional headpiece became a fashion symbol in late 18th century Britain, probably because of increased cotton trade with India and growing interest in Ottoman Empire and Turkey. Since then, turban has stayed in fashion and seems to have a new revival every decade.
In the 1910s, French couturier Paul Poiret popularized the turban as a part of his Orientalist and exotic fashion. Turban was an ideal hat for car rides – a tightly fitting turban gave more protection from the wind than other types of hats.
Turban stayed popular through the war years and beyond. Turbans were easy to make out of affordable materials and fitted the thrifty times that emphasized DIY culture and a make-do-and-mend attitude.
When French milliner Madame Paulette designed glamorous turbans for Hollywood stars like Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich, the hat became more chic than ever. In the 50s, the turban gained popularity again, thanks to Dior, and in the 70s, Biba and Halston, among others, designed their own versions of the turban.
Bowler / Derby
The bowler hat, also known as derby in the US, is a hard felt hat with a rounded crown. It was designed by the London hat-makers Thomas and William Bowler in 1849 when a company called James Lock & Co. of St James’s asked them to make a protective hat for professional hunters. They had previously worn top hats but they were easily knocked off by branches and broken.
From these very specific origins, the humble bowler hat soon became a popular hat worn first by working-class men and later also by middle and upper class men in all of the English speaking Western world. In the US, also the outlaws preferred to wear the bowler hat. Interestingly, in the 1920s the bowler hat was adopted by the peasant women of Peru and Bolivia where the hat is now a staple part of their traditional dress.
Bonnets are headgear tied under the chin with a ribbon or string. Usually, a bonnet is worn at the back of the head, and the forehead is exposed.
The bonnet was women’s standard headpiece during the 19th century. Originally bonnet was worn only at home, mostly by female servants and workers, to keep hair tidy and protected while doing everyday chores. Women were supposed to wear some head covering whenever in public – covering your head was a sign of modesty and humility. Some versions of the bonnet literally prevented women from looking left or right without first turning their heads. Bonnets offered privacy, but they were also part of the changing fashions.
Gradually bonnets also became part of high fashion, and their structures became more complicated. Bonnets became smaller when parasols became popular in the 1850-70s and hats were fashionable again. Since then, the bonnets have been associated with modesty and are worn mainly by religious groups like the Amish and Quakers.
Recently bonnets have become a micro trend thanks to the prairie dress craze and lolita fashion.
· Thomas, Pauline (2004). Hats and Hair Fashion.
· Fifty Hats That Changed The World. Design Museum (2011).