A History of Hats

By Tim Lambert

Early Hats

People have worn hats since Ancient Times. They protected the head from the elements. But hats also sometimes showed a person’s wealth and status. In Ancient Greece people sometimes wore wide-brimmed hats to shade themselves from the Sun.

In Europe in the Middle Ages, men wore hoods or berets. In the early Middle Ages, women wore veils. In the late Middle Ages, women’s hats became very elaborate. Some wealthy women wore a tall, conical hat called a hennin. Other women wore hats with two ‘horns’.

In the 16th century, all people wore hats. In the early 16th century men wore caps but later in the century, they wore hats with high crowns. In the 17th century, men wore hats with broad rims. In the 18th century, they changed into triangular tricorn hats. The silk top hat was invented at the end of the 18th century.

In the early 16th century, women wore hats called gable hoods (because they looked like the gables on the end of roofs). However, Anne Boleyn introduced the curved French hood into England. Then, in the late 16th century caps became fashionable. Rich women wore ostrich feathers in their caps. Poor women often wore a linen cap called a coif.

In the 18th century, women still wore caps. Women sometimes wore a straw hat called a shepherdess hat to give their face shade. Fashionable women also wore hats with plumes.

Modern Hats

The Panama hat was a traditional headgear in Ecuador. It got its name in the 19th century because it was shipped from Panama to other places.

Sherlock Holmes was not described as wearing a deerstalker in the stories by Arthur Conan Doyle but he was shown in illustrations wearing one. Ever since the deerstalker has been associated with him.

In the 19th century, new types of hats were invented. The Industrial Revolution made the mass production of hats possible. The bowler hat was invented in 1849. A man named Edward Coke ordered a kind of protective hat for his gamekeepers to wear. (It would protect their heads from branches while they were riding horses. It was made by hatmakers Thomas and William Bowler, who gave it its name. (In the USA it’s called a Derby). The Stetson was invented in the 1860s by John B Stetson.

A trilby hat
A trilby

The Fedora was invented in 1883. It took its name from a play called Fedora by Victorien Sardou. In 1894 George Du Maurier wrote a novel called Trilby. It was adapted as a play and a character wore a hat which eventually became known as a trilby. A German hat, the Homburg was made popular when Prince Edward, the future Edward VII visited Germany and bought one. The baseball cap evolved in the late 19th century but they were not normally worn except at games till the 1970s.

In the 19th century, it was fashionable for women to wear bonnets. They were often decorated with ribbons. In the early 20th century wide, round hats decorated with flowers or feathers were fashionable. In the 1920s the cloche hat, a bell-shaped hat was popular. In the mid-20th century, a vast range of styles of hats for women was fashionable.

In the early 1960s, Jacqueline Kennedy made the pillbox hat popular. Meanwhile, during the 20th century, hard hats to protect workers’ heads were developed.

However, in the late 20th century wearing hats as part of everyday clothing became much less common.

Last revised 2024