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The History of Hats

The History of Hats

In this section we take a look at some of first hats ever worn, some of the changes in various materials used over the last few centuries and an in depth look at some of the classic hats still very much in production today.
In the beginning

Headwear has been in production for many centuries, one of the first items to be worn was the Pileus Cap this was worn during the early 16th century, along with the first brimmed hat called the pestasos. The 16th century also saw the emergence of fur felt, still widely used in production today along with beaver fur. The later was used in widely during the 18th century when the exceptionally popular tricorne hat shot to fame, at the peak of its popularity it was used in civilian dress as well as military and naval uniforms. In recent years the tricorne hat was made famous yet again by the Disney films, Pirates of the Caribbean, where the character jack sparrow wore the tricorne hat along with many other characters in the film.

Tricorne to Top Hats

As mentioned above the tricorne was the most popular hat worn during the 18th century, it also had some practically as the brim formed gutters allowing rain to run away from the face, this however did lead to the water being guided towards the shoulders. Tricorne hats ranged from very basic versions to the extravagant beaver fur hats with feathers, lace and gold trimmings.

During the late 1800's the tricorne's popularity began to decline and was rapidly replaced in civilian headwear by the Top Hat. Like its predecessor, the top hat was originally made from beaver fur but by the beginning of the 19th century top hats were being made from silk. The silk "hatters plush" was met with some resistance to begin with by those who much preferred the beaver fur material but its popularity grew and by the mid 19th century the top hat was at its peak with taller crowns and narrow brims being introduced. It became a fashion symbol which soon developed into a symbol of respectability, which was assured when Prince Albert began to wear the top hat.

Top hats today are predominately worn for formal occasions such as weddings and race meetings, particularly Royal Ascot where it is a requirement in the mens dress code for top hats to be worn and to be worn correctly. The silk top hat went out of production during the 1950's after the last looms were destroyed by the owner in Lyon after a violent breakup with his brother, now the hats are mostly made from wool felt or fur felt and often available in the high sheen finish called Melusine fur felt. Melusine is the closest replacement to the eye for the silk top hat, a high sheen finished is achieved by a longer fur, which is polished and repeatedly brushed until the desired standard is achieved by the manufacturer. Silk hats are very popular on the vintage market and if the condition is acceptable they can sell for very large sums of money, however the sizes tend to be small as in the past when these hats were made people's heads on average were smaller.

The Trilby, Fedora & Bowler

These three wonderful hats began to emerge during the mid part of the 1800's whilst the top hat was at the peak of its popularity. All three were made from wool or fur felt and traditionally worn in black or brown. The fedora was at its peak during the later part of the 1800's the style is still replicated and widely worn today. The fedora eclipsed the similar looking homburg, it's not as structured as the homburg, the crown is however also creased lengthways but it has a pinched front and a wider, downward sloping brim. Today it is still made from both wool and fur felt with a great range of colours being introduced but still black, brown, navy and grey are the most sought after colours, maybe more of a timeless classic but it also becoming increasingly popular in womens fashion.

Often confused with the fedora hat the trilby differs in shape quite considerably, the brim is narrow and features a downward sloping front with the back turned up. This great little hat was first seen in 1894, the stage adaptation of George Du Mauriers novel, Trilby. Its popularity continued and peaked during the 1960's, today its available in various brim widths, multiple materials from summer straw to leather and tweed.

The bowler hat does differ from both the trilby and fedora as it has a hard rounded crown and the brim is turned up all the way round the hat. This hat was first made in 1849 by Thomas and William Bowler, it was requested by the legendary hatter Locks of London for Edward Coke. He explained a hat was needed to replace the top hat for his game keepers as they were to tall but he still wanted to protection of a hard crown, so the bowler was designed. Its still worn for both formal events and in casual dress as a fashion item.

The History of Womens Hats

When hats were being worn by men is was already expected of women to have their heads covered by a veil or some sort of hood, it was not until the 17th century that womens hats become acceptable and no longer heavily influence by mens styles.

One of the most memorable and distinctive hats worn by women was the bonnet hat, often heavily decorated with ribbons and feathers. It was during the mid 17th and 18th centuries when they were worn by women and girls to keep the hair tidy, they covered the head and the forehead and were secured under the chin. They as with many hats over the centuries were very basic in the beginning but became much more elaborate through the decades and the bonnet was still at large in the 19th century. Many middle-class women by the 19th century had a bonnet for summer and winter. In the later part of the century other styles were beginning to emerge, wider brimmed hats with flat crowns trimmed with veil's, feathers and flowers.

Hats in the 1900's

In a topsy turvy century for headwear it all began with hats being worn by both sexes for everyday wear, such was the vast choice of style for women they now sought the advice of milliners. After WW2 we began to see a decline in hats and caps, everyday dress was much more casual which had inevitable consequences for the hat world.

Womens millinery has made a steady return since the 1980's, primarily for weddings and race meetings, wedding hats and fascinators in particular are often worn by the members of the Royal Family.