A Brief History of Hats

Helena SheffieldWritten 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.

800 AD

St Clement and the graoully

St Clement, patron saint of hatmakers, accidentally invents felt, therefore truly treading the way for future milliners everywhere.

1571

Monmouth caps were popular during the time

Monmouth caps were popular during the time

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.”

Jennifer L. Carlson, A Short History of the Monmouth Cap

1597

The above law is revoked for being far too ridiculous.

17th Century

1822 Millinery shop, Paris

Millinery shop, Paris, 1822

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.

18th Century

Liberty Leading the People, by Eugène Delacroix

Liberty Leading the People, by Eugène Delacroix

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.

19th Century

19th century bonnets

Fashion plate from the October 1840 issue of Godey’s Lady’s Book

Women’s necks are considered too erogenous for display, so bonnets are fashioned with frills and ribbons at the back to cover them up.

1914–1918

Row of women walking through a field, 1910–1920

Row of women walking through a field, 1910–1920

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.

1920s

Actress Louise Brooks 1927

Actress Louise Brooks 1927

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.

1939–1945

The new-wed US-born dancer and singer Josephine Baker, nicknamed Black Venus, and her French husband Jo Bouillon

US-born dancer and singer, Josephine Baker, and her French husband, Jo Bouillon

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.

Late 1960S

Fashion in the 1960's

Fashion in the 1960s

Fashions begin leaning towards the daring young people and hats gradually fall from grace, marked as the sign of older, more conservative dressers.

2011

Combo picture shows guests wearing hats (From top L) Victoria Beckham, Princess Letizia, Charlene Wittstock, the fiancee of Prince Albert II of Monaco, Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, Anne, the Princess Royal, Queen Margrethe of Denmark, Queen Sofia of Spain, Carole Middleton, Kate's mother, Princess Beatrice, Princess Eugenie and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall arrive for the wedding ceremony of Prince William and Kate Middleton in London on April 29, 2011. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)

(From top L) Victoria Beckham, Princess Letizia, Charlene Wittstock, Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, Anne, the Princess Royal, Queen Margrethe of Denmark, Queen Sofia of Spain, Carole Middleton, Kate’s mother, Princess Beatrice, Princess Eugenie and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall

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

Investec Ladies Day

Vogue Williams, Ladies Day, Investec Derby Festival 2015

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

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.

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