Approx 3200 BC - One of the first pictorial depictions of a hat appears in a Thebes tomb painting which shows a man wearing a coolie-style straw hat.
70 BC - A young Danish chieftain falls into a bog, preserved in near perfect condition along with his pieced leather and fur cap. This is one of the earliest physical hats that has been found. 750-818 AD - According to legend, St. Clement discovered felt when, as a wandering monk, he filled his sandals with carded wool to protect his feet. The moisture and pressure from walking compressed the fibers into a crude yet comfortable felt. Hatters in Ireland and some other countries have celebrated him as the Patron Saint of Felt Hat Makers. 1529 AD - The word milliner, a maker of hats, was first recorded in 1529 when the term referred to the products for which Milan and the northern Italian regions were well known, i.e. ribbons, gloves and straws. The haberdashers who imported these highly popular straws were called 'Millaners' from which the word was eventually derived. 1797 AD - John Hetherington invents the Top Hat, forever changing the look of Gentlemen and finally giving magicians a hat large enough to pull a rabbit out of. 1865 AD - John B. Stetson begins selling his "Boss of the Plains" hat, the same style that he originally fashioned around a campfire while on a trip Out West. 1875 AD - The first annual Kentucky Derby marks the largest hat fashion events in America. January 15, 19?? - While the exact year is unknown, January 15 marks the unofficial National Hat Day. The origin of this “holiday” is unknown but the rumor is that it was merely started by hat enthusiasts for no other reason but to celebrate their favorite hats! April 30, 2011 - The Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton marks a new era of women's hats, bringing them back into the spotlight.
70 BC - A young Danish chieftain falls into a bog, preserved in near perfect condition along with his pieced leather and fur cap. This is one of the earliest physical hats that has been found.
750-818 AD - According to legend, St. Clement discovered felt when, as a wandering monk, he filled his sandals with carded wool to protect his feet. The moisture and pressure from walking compressed the fibers into a crude yet comfortable felt. Hatters in Ireland and some other countries have celebrated him as the Patron Saint of Felt Hat Makers.
1529 AD - The word milliner, a maker of hats, was first recorded in 1529 when the term referred to the products for which Milan and the northern Italian regions were well known, i.e. ribbons, gloves and straws. The haberdashers who imported these highly popular straws were called 'Millaners' from which the word was eventually derived.
1797 AD - John Hetherington invents the Top Hat, forever changing the look of Gentlemen and finally giving magicians a hat large enough to pull a rabbit out of.
1865 AD - John B. Stetson begins selling his "Boss of the Plains" hat, the same style that he originally fashioned around a campfire while on a trip Out West.
1875 AD - The first annual Kentucky Derby marks the largest hat fashion events in America.
January 15, 19?? - While the exact year is unknown, January 15 marks the unofficial National Hat Day. The origin of this “holiday” is unknown but the rumor is that it was merely started by hat enthusiasts for no other reason but to celebrate their favorite hats!
April 30, 2011 - The Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton marks a new era of women's hats, bringing them back into the spotlight.
A Longer History of Hats
While we have no exact date on the creation of the first hat, it is very likely it originated with other basic forms of clothing. As mankind sought protection from the elements, hats had practical uses and were also used purely for adornment. Hats have a long history as markers of status, occupation, and even political affiliation.
Given the significance bestowed on hats in eras past, it seems all the more remarkable that for the first time since the Roman Empire we find ourselves in an era where it is normal to see men and women without hats. Each hat has its its own unique history and its own significance in societies past and present.
Hats have continued to thrive through the ages, with their most prevalent time being between the 18th and early half of the 20th centuries. Up until the end of the 18th century, giant plumed hats like the tricorne and bicornes ruled the day. These ostentatious headpieces could be perched safely upon the powdered wigs that were in fashion and were favored by King Louis XIV and Napoleon.
The transition into modernity changed all this; revolution was in the air, and the top hat became a symbol of change. The top hat once was worn by men of all stations and class, signaling the transition from the showy aristocracy of plumed cocked hats to the urbane sophistication of modernity.
Hats continued to transition into a more modern status, one of the most famous styles being the fedora. It was an “every man’s” hat, a true icon that has survived almost a century and will surely survive well into the future.
The history of hats is a history of modernity, revolution, economic boom and bust and war and peace. Headwear both defines generations and defies easy categorization. A look at the types of hats people wore tells us a bit about the time they lived in and also about what we're saying to the world when we wear them.
FUR FELTS & BASIC HAT MAKING
Regardless of the modern and revolutionary symbolism placed on them, hats were and still are made from one of the oldest materials known to man, felt. Fur fibers, shorn from the dense undercoat of beavers or rabbits, was processed and formed into a giant cone of fur, painstakingly steamed and compressed into a rough hat shape, formed over a wooden hat block, sanded and finally trimmed with a silk ribbon or feathers. Hatters used to treat the raw fur with mercury nitrate, over time this causing them to develop characteristic tics and twitches and giving hatters a certain reputation for madness - hence the phrase Mad as a Hatter.
Hat-making is now a much safer profession, but little has changed in the basic techniques and materials used. You can still find skilled milliners (fine hat makers) practicing the craft, and haberdashers (that's us) who specialize in carrying and selling their wares.
THE TOP HAT
Peak Popularity: Late 1700's-1920's
There is a famous story that describes the first time a top hat was worn in London; its great height and shiny silk luster incited terror and panic in the streets and earned the owner a £500 fine. Despite this initial setback, the top hat would eventually become one of the most popular and recognized styles of hat in history.
The original top hat was made from lush beaver fur but over time transitioned to being made from silk plush. These silk toppers became extremely popular among the urban middle and upper classes during the mid 1800's. In current fashion, proper use of the top hat is reserved for white tie events like the opera or banquets, but very few hatters now produce the hats in their authentic materials, especially since there are no looms left in the world that can produce silk hatters plush.
The top hat has since evolved into different styles that included the compact Coachman top hat, the tall and straight Stovepipe hat, the spring-loaded, collapsible opera hat and the Mad Hatter.
Peak Popularity: Mid 1800's-1930's
The Bowler is one of the most recognizable styles of hat from history. During its heydey, the bowler was popularized by the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy.
This compact, bubble-shaped hat was created by hat-makers Thomas and William Bowler for William Coke, who requested a low crowned, hard shelled hat suitable for his game wardens to wear while on horseback. The hat was dubbed a "Coke" (pronounced "cook") or "BillyCock" after its owner, also a "Bowler" after its creators.
The bowler did grow to have a few more nicknames along the way. In Italy the hat was known as a Bombetta, or "little bomb". In Peru it is known widely as the “Bombin”. When the Earl of Derby wore a bowler on his visit to America, the style became known as the "Derby" on our side of the pond.
Having evolved from a working hat, the bowler came into popularity as an alternative for the elaborately tall and cumbersome top hat. While still representing respectability and properness, the bowler was a more modest hat than the top hat, and was worn by all classes of men. Prior to the invention of the fur felt western style hat, bowlers were worn by railroad workers in the American west who brought the hats with them from the East coast.
THE KENTUCKY DERBY EVENT HAT
Peak Popularity: late 1800s-present day
Since its beginning in 1875, the Kentucky Derby has been one of the main hat fashion events of the season. These are over-the-top sunhats that are designed to get you noticed. Most are adorned with flamboyant embellishments including ribbons, flowers and feathers. To find a lady without a hat on during the Kentucky Derby is almost considered a scandal, not just a mere fashion faux pas.
Peak Popularity: mid 1500’s-present day
Unlike most hats that are designed to completely cover the top of the head and offer protection from the elements, a fascinator is a hat that was purely used for decoration and tend to sit forward on the head and, if anything, barely cover the crown. They arguably take their inspiration from the ceremonial helmets and headgear of the Ancient Greeks and Romans.
The first fascinators can be traced back to European royalty with the first styles appearing in the Tudor era in England in the court of King Henry VIII in the middle of the 16th century. These original styles were more modest and contained simple feathers, beading and precious stones. Funnily enough these original styles were more commonly seen on men with the feathers becoming more plumed and flamboyant.
It was in France in the 17th century during the reign of Marie Antoinette that fascinators found their way to the tops of women’s heads. The Queen was known for wearing wigs that could be up to 2 feet high and would be adorned with feathers, flags, butterflies and even stuffed animals and miniature ships! During the reign of King George III in the late 1700s, the Duchess Georgiana Spencer of Devonshire, who was renowned for setting fashion trends, wore enormous Ostrich plumes in her hair and every society woman followed suit.
It was during the early 1800s when fascinators developed a more “practical” use as a matchmaker of sorts. Due to the strict courting etiquette of this period single ladies were not permitted to speak to eligible bachelors without a chaperone. It was through the clever use of gloves, fans and hair decorations that ladies were at liberty to ‘flirt’!
Peak Popularity: 1920s-early 1930s
The cloche was first invented by Caroline Reboux, a well known Parisian milliner, in 1908. Fittingly, cloche is the French word for “bell” and can simply be described as a fitted hat that covers a ladies head from just above the eyebrows to the back of the neck. This hat became so famous that one could have them embellished with beading and lace for cocktail parties, soirees and even bridal apparel.
It also became custom for women to relay messages to onlookers by adorning their cloche with ribbons. For example, a firm knot signified that a woman was married; a loose, delicate bow signified a woman was in a relationship and unavailable; and a large, flamboyant bow signified a woman was single and ready to mingle.
Peak Popularity: Late 1800's-1930's
The Boater is a treasured icon of times long past, and a token of Americana. It has a perfectly flat top and brim, and straight sides to the crown with no taper. Several layers of stiffly woven sennit straw give the boater a thick but relatively lightweight wafer-like body. It can also be called the Skimmer or Katies (or Cadies).
As the name suggests, the boater comes from the common usage by the gondoliers in the waterways of Venice translating appropriately today to sailing or collegiate rowing teams, the ribbon on the side to often bear school colors. The boater lends itself to wear during all summer activities, from picnics in the park to day at the races to old fashioned politicking.
Peak Popularity: Mid 1800's-1940's
The Porkpie is primarily recognized as the hat of many Jazz and Blues musicians in New Orleans. Its name has a very literal meaning: food sellers would take battered old dress hats, trim off the damaged outer brim and reblock the hats over pie trays.
The hat is not exclusively associated with musicians, however; vaudeville and silent film star Buster Keaton wore a variety of porkpie (he destroyed so many in the process of making his stunt filled films that he resorted to making his own).
Nowadays various versions of the porkpie are available, with very flat crowns, rounded telescope shaped crowns, diamond crowns, and brims ranging from very stingy to more formal widths. With all these changes to the original designs, the porkpie remains a favorite to many musicians and performers today.
THE OPEN CROWN (SOFT FELT)
Peak Popularity: 1800s-early 1900s
With dress hats of the 19th and early 20th century were typically made of a thick, stiffened felt, the materials matching the formality and style of the time. However, the sporting hats being worn were a different story. With wider brims and lower crowns, these hats were made of a soft, flexible felt that could be shaped to the wearer's taste.
These hats often were worn with the crown "open", left in a smooth dome straight off the hatter's block. However the crown was just as often shaped with a pinch towards the front or crease down the middle, sometimes with an indentation over the wearer's head. The soft brim could likewise be turned down in the front or all around to shield the eyes from the sun--or to hide from the sight of others.
Peak Popularity: 1900-1950's
While the Bowler served as a hat for the masses, the Homburg was a hat popularized by royalty and world leaders. Its size and shape somewhat resemble the softer, more casual styles like the fedora, but its stiffness, lack of a pinch, and hard curled edge make it much more formal, second only to the top hat.
The homburg was worn by the likes of Winston Churchill, Dwight Eisenhower, and King Edward VII, who introduced the style to England after a trip to Germany. The hat was later made famous in the film The Godfather, so much so that the homburg is often referred to as the “Godfather”.
Peak Popularity: 1920-1960's
Next to the top hat, the fedora is perhaps the most iconic style of hat. It's right there in our logo! This hat evolved out of the habit of shaping one's hat to their head with a pinch and crease down the middle, eventually becoming available as a pre-blocked shaped.
This particular style actually originated as a woman's hat, with the name Fedora coming from the title character of Victorien Sardou's 1882 play, Fédora, played by Sarah Bernhardt in a fedora on stage. By the 1920's it had been adopted as a men's hat, and now is often associated with prohibition gangster culture of the 20's and film noir of the 40's.
The fedora has appeared in modern pop culture including Indiana Jones, where Harrison Ford wears a large brimmed fedora, and Michael Jackson used a black fedora as a signature accessory in the 1990s.
Because of the fedora's wide popularity, it is a very versatile hat with a variety of styles and options for wear. A more modern take is the “Trilby” - while they are nearly identical to the fedora, they have a shorter. “stingy” brim that is sharply rolled in the back. They also tend to be found in a variety of materials including straw and tweed.
THE FLAT CAP
Peak Popularity: 1400s-present in Europe; 1800's-mid 1900's in North America
The flat cap is very much a hat of many names - it is also known as a driver, a cabby, a golf cap, an ivy cap and a paddy cap in Ireland. The flat cap can be traced as far back as the 14th century in Northern England, and became a firmly entrenched part of the English psyche by 1600 (due in large part to a law of the time which required wool caps for non-noble males on Sundays and holidays).
Flat caps were a common sight in the 19th century on the heads of working class men throughout Britain and Ireland, finer versions were often a part of upper-class casual country wear. When Irish and English immigrants came to the United States, they brought the flat cap with them through Ellis Island, taxi cab drivers installed two snaps under the bill to keep their work tickets tucked under their hat.
Peak Popularity: late 1800s-early 1900s
Like the flat cap, the newsboy is also a hat of many names - it can be called a baker boy, a big apple, an eight panel, a Gatsby and a Lundberg Stetson. It has the same overall shape and stiff peak in front as a flat cap, but the body of the cap is rounder, fuller, and paneled with a button on top, and often with a button attaching the front to the brim (as the flat cap sometimes has).
As the name suggests many newsboys in the early 20th century did wear this hat, giving it a reputation of a “working class” style. However this is a misunderstanding - the newsboy was commonly worn by teenagers and young men of all social classes. It also became very popular with well-to-do country sportsman and was seen on the heads of many golfers.
THE GREEK FISHERMAN
Peak Popularity: late 1800s-1970s
The first Greek fisherman hat was made in 1886 in Athens, Greece. It is often associated with seamanship and marine situations and has become a part of the uniforms of many sea captains and seamen. It is much more of a cap as it has only a visor instead of an encircling brim and tends to have a loosely peaked crown. The more traditional fisherman’s will have a braid between visor and the crown.
The fisherman has become popular amongst the public in general, rather than staying isolated as an occupational hat. John Lennon made the fisherman an extremely popular hat in the 1960s - so much so that it became known as the “John Lennon hat”.
THE STRAW HAT
Like suits, there are few hats that truly suitable for year-round wear. At the height of hat culture, there were a numbers of rules and customs regarding the wearing of summer hats; Americans observed Straw Hat Day near the middle of May every year, upon which it became sartorially acceptable to be seen wearing your straw hat, but not a day before.
Straw hats have traditionally been seen as less formal than felt hats, but the comfort and protection they offer from the sun makes them appealing year-round in the warmer parts of the country, and these days no one will threaten you for wearing one before May 15th.
Peak Popularity: 1800's-1960's
Panama’s are handwoven hats made from the fibers of the toquila palm in Ecuador. Following the establishment of trade routes out of the Isthmus of Panama to North America, Europe and Asia, these hats became known primarily from their point of export, rather than manufacture, and the name has persisted ever since. In Ecuador they are called sombreros de paja toquilla, or “hats of toquilla straw”.
The hat bodies are meticulously hand-woven, refined, edged, smoothed and bleached by Ecuadorian artisans in situ; the hats then travel to hatters all over the world who block and trim the hats into familiar styles. Fedoras with wide brims are among the most popular these days, but they were commonly worn in the Optimo style, a simple smooth dome with a ridge running from front to back, a nod to the habit of folding the hats in half to roll them up for transport. A modified version of the Optimo with a curled up brim and telescope crown is called a Plantation hat, and is very popular on the golf course.
Panama hats were favored around the globe, from Roosevelt to Truman to Napoleon, and were seen in countless classic Hollywood films. The Panama hat suggests exotic locales and the unquestionable style of a well traveled gentleman.
THE MILAN STRAW
Peak Popularity: 1800s-1960s
The "sewn-braid" method of hat construction has been applied to many different styles of hat, perhaps most notably the Milan Straw. Milan (pronounced MY-len, not like the city in Italy) originated in Italy but now is produced from a village in China.
It's a type of wheat straw which is braided into long flat braids which are sewn together in a spiral from the top of the hat to the brim. These braids often are made with gaps in them to produce a lightweight, ventilated hat body. Milan straws are now made from blends of different types of fiber to produce varying patterns, colors, and textures. They tend to be heavier than Panama hats, but are thicker and sturdier by comparison, also offering more option in terms of colors and styles.
THE WESTERN HAT
Peak Popularity: 1865-Present Day
While they are associated with Texas, the original Cowboy hats belong to the American West.
The treks West presented unique challenges to the frontiersmen and women moving in from the east coast. These settlers brought their old hats with them--bowlers, top hats, homburgs--and struggled to adapt to the harshness of the frontier. For the shop owner or businessman these hats worked fine, but for the cowboy or worker they proved insufficient protection from the elements out on the open range.
Stetson and the Boss of the Plains
As the son of an established hatter in New Jersey, John B. Stetson was well suited to meet this demand head on. He traveled throughout the West in his youth, to aid his ailing health, and saw firsthand where traditional hat styles failed.
He set up shop in Philadelphia producing the hat he called the Boss of Plains; wide brimmed, lightweight, and made from natural colored high-quality beaver fur, the hat quickly lived up to its name. Despite its high price, it became an indispensable item for those living on the frontier. The plain, open crown of the Boss eventually developed into a myriad variations and styles, from the Carlsbad crease to the Montana Peak to the Cattleman style we most commonly associate with the Cowboy hat of today. The wide brims also became curled and rolled up on the sides, another stylistic choice that also made the hat less likely to get blown off the head by winds.
Stetson began manufacturing hats with these popular alterations already set in, and, much later, became a leading manufacturer of men's dress hats as well as westerns, but the word "Stetson" remains nearly synonymous with cowboy hat to this day.
The Gambler conveys the notion of the Wild West while retaining an air of formality and dress. The crown of a Gambler resembles a pork pie crown, but the brim is wider than most dress hats but smaller than most cowboy hats and the edge is curled up in a tight “pencil” curl.
Felt Gamblers are typically made of a thick, stiff felt to maintain the brim shape and curl. Straw Gamblers can come in traditional Western Shantung or light straws like sisal and Panama straw, but these bleed over into the similar style known as a Plantation or Golf hat.
The Gambler may be most widely recognized as the hat worn by Rhett Butler from Gone With the Wind, but looks great one anyone looking for an alternative style of Western hat. It’s smaller brim and lower crown make it ideal for those who look out of place in wide brimmed Cowboy hats and is one of the western styles that looks great on women.
The traditional Gaucho hats is a felt hat with a wide flat brim, a shallow flat-topped crown and, on most, a wind tie. This hat was the main article of clothing used by Gauchos in the early 19th century to work on the South American ranges. The nomadic cowhands of the Argentinean grasslands were in need of a hat that would protect them from the harsh winds when out on the prairie herding cattle. The gaucho sombrero is usually black and is sometimes worn with the brim turned up against the windy conditions to ward off the chill.
Today’s Western Hats
Cowboy hats are now made by numerous companies, in countless styles and materials. While the original Boss of the Plains was made from rugged and durable fur felt, cowboys nearer to the border preferred a lighter weight straw variety, resulting in the traditional braided Palm Leaf hats of Mexico being fashioned in a style resembling a Stetson. Companies like Resistol and Stetson itself make cowboy hats from Toyo straw and Shantung straw from Shantung, China. These lightweight hats that one commonly sees worn throughout Texas year-round are sturdy and comfortable.
Western hats are made in everything from Panama straw to Raffia to tough canvas and even leather. Their styles encompass all from the traditional Stetson to more Mexican sombrero styles to the Safari and Australian styles popular elsewhere on the globe. It's impossible to say which style is more authentic, since these hats are defined by their usefulness. The big size and wide brim of the cowboy hat evoke the idea of wide open spaces, and big personalities.