History is full of interesting people, events, and ideas, and part of what makes each time period so unique is its fashion. No matter where you are in the world, the sartorial choices weave themselves firmly into the culture of at any given time. Hats, in particular, are an interesting accessory that often carry more aesthetic value than practical usability, and the history of each is fascinating. What kinds of hats did people wear throughout history, and why?
From the ancient world to relatively recent times, there have been some pretty strange fashion trends when it comes to head gear but it might be time to bring back some of the truly unique sartorial offerings. Historic headpieces vary in size, practicality, and appeal, of course, but here are some of the best historical hats to have ever appeared atop historic heads. But what used to be modern tends to make a comeback at one point or another in the fashion world — some more gracefully than others. When it comes to historical head pieces, which hats should make a comeback?
Cloche hats became popular after World War One but were designed in 1908 in France by Caroline Reboux. The cloche, which means "bell" in French, was made out of felt and was often made after being fitted to a woman's head. Sometimes a cloche would be held on by a hatpin but often it was so tight that a fastener wasn't needed. That said, pins could still be used for ornamentation.
Cloches dipped down over the forehead to the eyebrows, even over the eyes, creating an elegant look that flew in the face of the elaborate, large hats that characterized earlier eras. The cloche fashion trend reached its height in the 1920s but they continued to be work well into the 1930s. The declined during the 1940s and 1950s but were trendy again during the 1960s.
There's a certain appeal to the cloche hat that remains - its sophistication, ability to avoid eye contact, excuse to not do one's hair - a comeback wouldn't be a bad thing.
A flat cap may evoke images of a young boy selling newspapers on the street corner in the 19th century or it may conjure up associations with golfers. Either way, the flat cap has been around for a while and has taken different forms as a result. The flat cap - a small round head piece with a short extension in the front - got its start in England as early as the 15th century. The flat cap was made of tweed or wool and, to promote the wool industry, English Parliament made a law that all boys and men, with the exception of nobles, above the age of six were required to wear them. The legislation was only in place until the late 16th century but by then, the flat cap had become part of working class garb.
Flat caps were worn by Englishmen and Irishmen en masse and, when they crossed over to the United States as immigrants, they took them along. In the United States, flat caps became known as "newsboy hats" or "cabbie hats" but weren't exclusively worn by lower class men. Once Hollywood included flat caps in movies like The Great Gatsby and Bonnie and Clyde, the hats went more mainstream. They've not completely disappeared and as recently as the 1990s became part of hip-hop fashion worldwide. The flat cap comes and goes but always manages to stay somewhat trendy.
Panama hats, made in South American countries like Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela, get their name because they were available in what would later be known as Panama during the 19th century. The hat itself is Ecuadoran, based on the jipijapa made in the town of the same name, and were worn prior to Spanish contact with the region in the 16th century.
Panama hats are made from straw woven together in a lightweight yet strong headpiece that were breathable yet deflected the sun. When noteworthy Americans like Teddy Roosevelt and Humphrey Bogart and Brits like King Edward VII wore Panama hats during the early 20th century, the hats became increasingly well-known and appealing. Photography and print media helped the trend along, offering images of fashionable males for all to see and want to be. They were worn by world travelers, elite athletes, and other high class men.
Panama hats aren't as popular as they once were but that doesn't mean they won't experience a resurgence. There are numerous cheaper imitation products on the market, but a real hat connoisseur knows that only a true Panama hat evokes prestige and importance.
The Stetson cowboy hat is, in its basic structure, a wide-brimmed, high-crowned hat made to resist sun, wind, and rain. The first Stetson was made by John B. Stetson, a hatter in New Jersey in the 1830s. Stetson was diagnosed with tuberculosis so he moved west for his health. As he ventured into the frontier, he fashioned his hat out of beaver pelt and found it to be multi-purpose. It held a pocket of cool air over the head, it could hold water for a man or his horse, and it could shade one's face from the elements. According to legend, his hat wasn't taken seriously at first but by the 1860s, his health had improved so he moved back east to start a small hat company. He founded the Stetson Hat Company in Philadelphia in 1865 and began selling his hats, promoting them as durable, protective, and life-long investments.
Stetons, also known as "ten-gallon hats," became the hat for cowboys, law men, cavalry troops, and showmen like William "Buffalo Bill" Cody in the Wild West. Through the end of the 19th century, different styles of the hat emerged - the Boss of the West (Steton's nickname, incidentally), the Columbia, and the Railroad were all variations of the original Stetson. By the 1950s, Stetson hats were more or less relegated to the west but they are also closely associated with masculinity and toughness.
They're still worn on rodeo circuits, by country musicians, and in movies and on television, but a widespread resurgence outside the southwest United States doesn't seem likely. That said, wearing one isn't a bad idea if you have a hot head or a thirsty horse.