Men's and Women's Hats

Updated: April 18, 2024
The single most popular fashion accessory for men and women used to be the hat - practical or decorative!

Etiquette used to dictate that it would be "a disgrace to venture out of the house without a hat and gloves" and it was not unusual at the turn of the 20th century for both men and women to change their hats several times a day, dependent on what they were doing. Even up to the middle of the 1900's, a women would lift her spirits by buying a new hat - serving much the same function as a new pair of shoes today. After all, our dress - or suit - size would fluctuate but the size of our heads remained the same!

While the baseball hat is the most ubiquitous fashion today - although sun hats, due to the need for protection, are becoming more popular - hat fashion was wide and varied in the past. In the 1800's, straw hats - decorated with feathers and ribbons - were the most popular. While covering the face and giving sun protection, straw hats also provided the base for a veil and a bavolette - a ribbon at the back that protected the neck. A woman's neck was considered an erogenous zone! However, after parasols became popular in the mid 1800's hats became more decorative since they didn't need to provide sun protection. "Spoon bonnets" - named for their shallow shape - could be decorated with flowers and fanchons - small triangles of straw or silk - were fastened with wide ribbons under the chin. And as the century wore on, fanciful names and styles became popular - Glengarry highland caps, circular pork pie hats, "3-story" or ‘flowerpots" covering tall hair, "Boaters" and "Trilbys" copied from men's fashion . . . the styles were endless.

Beginning in the 20th century, when women's dressing was based on the "S" shape, hats were designed to complete the look. Toques and hats that cantilevered over the head helped with this. But as time wore on, hats became more decorative - leading to larger brims (such as cowboy hats) and hatpins. Besides, hatpins were a good defense for women of this period! Then came the cloche, fedoras - again, borrowing from men's styles - the "doll" hat, turbans, the resurgence of the halo hat, pancake or cartwheel hats, and the pill box hat - of Jackie Kennedy fame. Variously decorated with feathers and veils, all of these styles suited a variety of hairstyles and face shapes.

By the 1960's, a move to casual styles - as well as the Catholic Church no longer requiring the covering of the head in Mass - lead to the demise of hats as a fashion statement. But there are those men and women, even today, that enjoy a nice hat and understand that a hat can make an outfit. Enjoy these hats of the past - maybe you'll find inspiration for your own outfit!
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