You May Leave Your Hat On!
I have a secret obsession with HATS! Yes I have a small collection of antique hats, which I love! The first thing I do when I go to an antiquing is I try on any hat I see. Then I take a selfie or have whoever is unfortunate to be with me take pictures. This is my ritual.
The history of hats extends back millennia, with possible evidence of hats appearing as early as 30,000 years ago. Many head coverings throughout history and around the world carry religious or ceremonial significance. Hats can convey social status or military rank, much like Napoléon Bonaparte’s signature bicorn hat.
A hat is a head covering which is worn for various reasons, including protection against weather conditions, ceremonial reasons such as university graduation, religious reasons, safety, or as a fashion accessory. Hats which incorporate mechanical features, such as visors, spikes, flaps, braces or beer holders shade into the broader category of headgear.
In the past, hats were an indicator of social status. In the military, hats may denote nationality, branch of service, rank or regiment. Police typically wear distinctive hats such as peaked caps or brimmed hats, such as those worn by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Some hats have a protective function. As examples, the hard hat protects construction workers’ heads from injury by falling objects, a British police Custodian helmet protects the officer’s head, a sun hat shades the face and shoulders from the sun, a cowboy hat protects against sun and rain and an ushanka fur hat with fold-down earflaps keeps the head and ears warm. Some hats are worn for ceremonial purposes, such as the mortarboard, which is worn (or carried) during university graduation ceremonies. Some hats are worn by members of a certain profession, such as the Toque worn by chefs, or the mitre worn by Christian bishops. Adherents of certain religions regularly wear hats, such as the turban worn by Sikhs, or the church hat that is worn as a head covering by Christian women during prayer and worship.
It is unknown how far back in humanity’s history the first hat was created, but experts speculate it was developed alongside other articles of clothing used to protect one from the elements. Throughout history, hats have served functional purposes and fulfilled practical needs i.e. sun, wind, and rain protection. Of equal historical importance, however, is the use of hats as status symbols within the social rankings of societies. Hats were even used as a revolutionary device to diminish the class systems they helped build.
While there are not many official records of hats before 3,000 BC, they probably were commonplace before that. The 27,000-to-30,000-year-old Venus of Willendorf figurine may depict a woman wearing a woven hat. One of the earliest known confirmed hats was worn by a Bronze Age man (nicknamed Ötzi) whose body (including his hat) was found frozen in a mountain between Austria and Italy, where he had been since around 3250 BC. He was found wearing a bearskin cap with a chin strap, made of several hides stitched together, essentially resembling a Russian fur hat without the flaps.
One of the first pictorial depictions of a hat appears in a tomb painting from Thebes, Egypt, which shows a man wearing a conical straw hat, dated to around 3200 BC. Hats were commonly worn in ancient Egypt. Many upper-class Egyptians shaved their heads, then covered it in a headdress intended to help them keep cool. Ancient Mesopotamians often wore conical hats or ones shaped somewhat like an inverted vase.
Other early hats include the Pileus, a simple skull-like cap; the Phrygian cap, worn by freed slaves in Greece and Rome (which became iconic in America during the Revolutionary War and the French Revolution, as a symbol of the struggle for liberty against the Monarchy); and the Greek petasos, the first known hat with a brim. Women wore veils, kerchiefs, hoods, caps and wimples.
Like Ötzi, the Tollund Man was preserved to the present day with a hat on, probably having died around 400 BC in a Danish bog, which mummified him. He wore a pointed cap made of sheepskin and wool, fastened under the chin by a hide thong.
St. Clement, the patron saint of felt hatmakers, is said to have discovered felt when he filled his sandals with flax fibers to protect his feet, around 800 AD.
In the Middle Ages, hats were a marker of social status and used to single out certain groups. The 1215 Fourth Council of the Lateran required that all Jews identify themselves by wearing the Judenhat (“Jewish hat”), marking them as targets for anti-Semitism. The hats were usually yellow and were either pointed or square.
In the Middle Ages, hats for women ranged from simple scarves to elaborate hennin, and denoted social status. Structured hats for women similar to those of male courtiers began to be worn in the late 16th century. The term ‘milliner’ comes from the Italian city of Milan, where the best quality hats were made in the 18th century. Millinery was traditionally a woman’s occupation, with the milliner not only creating hats and bonnets but also choosing lace, trimmings and accessories to complete an outfit
In the first half of the 19th century, women wore bonnets that gradually became larger, decorated with ribbons, flowers, feathers, and gauze trims. By the end of the century, many other styles were introduced, among them hats with wide brims and flat crowns, the flower pot and the toque. By the middle of the 1920s, when women began to cut their hair short, they chose hats that hugged the head like a helmet.
The tradition of wearing hats to horse racing events began at the Royal Ascot in Britain, which maintains a strict dress code. All guests in the Royal Enclosure must wear hats. This tradition was adopted at other horse racing events, such as the Kentucky Derby in the United States.
Extravagant hats were popular in the 1980s, and in the early 21st century, flamboyant hats made a comeback, with a new wave of competitive young milliners designing creations that include turban caps, trompe-l’œil-effect felt hats and tall headpieces made of human hair. Some new hat collections have been described as “wearable sculpture”. Many pop stars, among them Lady Gaga, have commissioned hats as publicity stunts.
One of the most famous London hatters is James Lock & Co. of St James’s Street. The shop claims to be the oldest operating hat shop in the world. Another was Sharp & Davis of 6 Fish Street Hill. In the late 20th century, museums credited London-based David Shilling with reinventing hats worldwide. Notable Belgian hat designers are Elvis Pompilio and Fabienne Delvigne (Royal warrant of appointment holder), whose hats are worn by European royals. Philip Treacy OBE is an Irish milliner whose hats have been commissioned by top designers and worn at royal weddings. In North America, the well-known cowboy-hat manufacturer Stetson made the headgear for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Texas Rangers. John Cavanagh was one of the notable American hatters. Italian hat maker Borsalino has covered the heads of Hollywood stars and the world’s rich and famous.
Fashion and Function Throughout History
Women’s Hat History
Especially when worn by women, hats were used to imply wealth. At times, fashionable hats were so large they stretched beyond the shoulders. In such cases, it was not uncommon for a woman to lose her balance because of the size of her hat. Alternatively, the bonnet was loved for its function in the 19th century and used by women of all classes. Bonnets shaded and framed a woman’s face while keeping her profile protected from unwanted male attention.
Beginning in 1875, the Kentucky Derby has become the largest event for hat fashion in America. It is still considered a social faux pas if a woman is without a hat at the race.
Men’s Hat History
For men, the top hat has long been regarded as a status symbol. Many people are immediately reminded of the sixteenth president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, as he was commonly photographed wearing one. Lincoln was, in fact, wearing a top hat on the night of his assassination. The height of the top hat evolved over time. It was shortened to appear more conservative until eventually becoming what is known as the bowler or derby. This served as a more functional choice for gentlemen in the working class.
Timeline of the American Ball Cap
Before the development of the baseball cap, there was no headwear uniformity within the sport. Players often wore straw hats or even nothing at all. In 1858, the Brooklyn Excelsiors became the first team to wear a version of the baseball cap we know and love. Though, this early version more closely resembled that of a jockey.
Baseball Hat History
The traditional ball cap design was no accident. The dome shape was adopted so the hat would stay in place through various activities, and the front visor was developed to keep sun and sweat off the player’s face.
Today, most Major League Baseball (MLB) hats are made of a polyester moisture wicking fabric to keep the player’s head dry, a black sweatband to hide stains, and a black under visor to reduce sun glare.
The dress code for spectators changed in the early 1900s. Previously, fans were expected to wear a shirt and tie, and yes, a hat. Although, not a ball cap, men were expected to adorn more formal headwear such as a derby, boater or porkpie. A gentleman of this era wouldn’t be in public with a bare head. When the dress code changed, spectators could wear their team’s ball cap to the game. In 1954, New Era released the 59Fifty cap style that is still worn today. Baseball caps were still not considered an acceptable accessory to be worn outside of the field until the late 1970s.
In the early 1990s, hat aficionados began slicing out the buckram so the crown would lie naturally relaxed against the head. Cap manufacturers took notice, and within a few years, the unstructured cap was released.
The 1996 World Series opened the door for headwear licensing used to make a statement or style choice. One can now purchase MLB licensed hats in all colors and styles.
In more recent years, the Hip Hop and Rap communities have developed their own style of hat wearing. The idea is to keep the hat as fresh, clean, and new looking as possible. This includes keeping the manufacturer and retailer stickers or tags on the hat and keeping the visor flat.
Other groups such as fishermen and fraternities have deeply embedded rituals to breaking in a cap. These can include anything from sandpaper to mud to dishwashers.
Hats have played a tremendous role in the history of not only the U.S. but also the world. The New York Times Magazine stated the following:
“To wear a New York Yankees cap in the United States is to show support for the team, maybe, or to invest in the hegemony of an imperial city. To wear one abroad — the Yankees model is by far the best-selling Major League Baseball cap in Europe and Asia — is to invest in an idealized America, a phenomenon not unlike pulling on contraband blue jeans in the old Soviet Union.”