Written by Helena Sheffield, author of The Art of Wearing Hats
I know what you’re thinking: all this talk about hats is perfectly interesting, but what you really want to read is a concise history of this fabulous garment. I don’t blame you. Did you know that the earliest headpiece ever discovered comes from around 3,300 BC? Clearly the people of the Bronze Age knew how to dress. Or just keep their heads warm.
The history of hats is fascinating, turbulent and little-known. Here are some key developments in hattire through the ages.
St Clement, patron saint of hatmakers, accidentally invents felt, therefore truly treading the way for future milliners everywhere.
An Act of Parliament is passed dictating that ‘Commoners’ over the age of six must wear on Sundays and public holidays…
“a cap of wool, thicked and dressed in England, made within this realm, and only dressed and finished by some of the trade of cappers, upon pain to forfeit for every day of not wearing 3s. 4d.”
The above law is revoked for being far too ridiculous.
The term ‘milliner’ is first used to describe hatmakers. Milan is already considered a centre of fashion, so the term refers to the idea of ‘Milan-ers’ making hats.
The French Revolution makes hats unpopular in France (perhaps for the first, last and only time), as they’re seen to indicate social status. It is deemed fashionable (and safer) to appear democratic, so hats drop out of use.
Women’s necks are considered too erogenous for display, so bonnets are fashioned with frills and ribbons at the back to cover them up.
During WWI fabric is scarce, so plumes of feathers and overly-adorned hats are frowned upon for being unpatriotic. Hats become much smaller and simpler.
Women’s necks are apparently still considered erogenous, as they are all being shown off by shocking new hairstyles and hats that accentuate their length.
The absolute opposite of WWI, hats are one of the only items of wardrobes not affected by severe rationing. In France they become known as a resistance against Nazi Occupation, and explosions of feathers and flowers are admired rather than shunned.
Fashions begin leaning towards the daring young people and hats gradually fall from grace, marked as the sign of older, more conservative dressers.
The wedding of the century takes place between Prince William and Kate Middleton, bringing the hat back with resounding success. Royalty and guests wear hats with panache, style and unfailing confidence, finally bringing them back into the public eye.
2015 was the year for flamboyance at the races. Hats were not just hats, they were giant flowers, canvases of artwork (literally), globes, hillocks and horses’ heads. 2016 is not looking quite so dramatic, with a trend towards more subtle designs forming.
Have you begun your quest to find your racing hat? Will you be taken with a turban, or do you prefer a pill box? If you begin to panic that you’ll never find it, just remember the thousands of years of hat-wearers before you: you’re sure to find your hatspiration in them.
And if you’re still panicking, check out our hat guide here.
The Art of Wearing Hats
Hat connoisseur, Helena Sheffield, boasts a collection of somewhere over 40 hats!
Complete with tips on where to buy them, how to wear them, who wears them best, and the tricks of the trade, The Art of Wearing Hats is the ultimate pocket guide for hat novices and afficionados alike.
Buy it here.