Tag Archives: hats

When Were Women’s Hats in Fashion?

I’ve been asked this question and let’s say women’s hats have been in fashion for centuries. If I limit this to Europe (because various regions developed headdresses as different times) then we can look at it a bit more specifically. Headdresses might be a better word than hat since what we see in modern terms as a hat is not the same as a head covering. This could cover everything from a kerchief to feather and bone to felt and straw.

If we look at earlier civilizations, head ornamentation covered metal crowns,  coronets and helmets for war. These can be seen in Egyptian, Babylonian, Sumerian etc. eras. Metal working was endurable and saved the head from a Bronze Age sword. But it wasn’t really used in making hats or head coverings so much as showing social class and standing.

The first hats were most likely squares of fabric, just as the first types of clothing (after fur and wool) were squares of woven fabric stitched together. As civilizations evolved into aggregate societies, becoming more sedentary and developing cultures, they also learned to weave, sew and shape cloth. The making of any fabric was time-consuming and no piece was wasted. People either made their own cloth or had to trade with merchants and then sew their own garments. Rectangular construction used every piece even if it was cut first into various rectangular, square or triangular shapes.

The same knowledge and skills for clothing would have been the basis for hats. It is known that Norse women wore rectangles of fabric upon their heads, sewn into a peak or rounded, essentially forming a cap. (many early medieval caps and coifs were worn by both sexes) The veil or fabric (from wool, linen or cotton depending on the area) rectangular headdress was common in European countries, protecting the head from sun, and in some areas as a form of tradition or religious custom. Styles may have been influenced back and forth between the religious customs and the nonreligious. In some cases married women were required to cover their heads and this seems to be more a Christian tradition than cultural.

Fabric became more elaborate and was used in turban like wraps and caps. It’s hard to peg the first true hat but the Phrygian cap (a soft red knitted hat, like the Smurfs wear) was being worn in Phrygia (of course) as well as Greece and Rome as early as the 4th century BCE. The Catholic mitre was being worn by about the 11th century, and was probably an adaptation of the Phrygian cap. But these are men’s hats.

hoodEarly outerwear involved rectangular mantles (the precursor to the cloak) and eventually hoods. These garments were worn by men and women alike. Women’s hats began as elaborately configured and starched veils or fabric. Some were pinnheaddressed into interesting shapes while others were stitched.  There would have been a utilitarian aspect, keeping the hair away from food and fires. As textile weaves became more intricate, so did the headdresses, involving wire, mesh, brocade, velvet, fur, linen, silk, wool, etc.

As the Catholic church’s influence grew, various laws came into effect. Some were sumptuary laws indicating that only a person of a certain station (or nobility) could wear certain colors, fabrics or styles. Others were edicts of the church, that women must cover their hair, or even their ears because Mary had conceived the word of God and the ear must be covered. This brought out more ingenious headdress, often flaunting the church doctrines. Veils so thin they were nearly nonexistent are indicated in some paints, and really don’t hide hair nor ears. Hats and headdress became greater symbols of status, social rank, wealth and fashion.

barbetteAround the 13th century the transition began from coif, cap and headdress to hat. The barbette or porkpie hat was a stiff band of several inches depth that went around the head with a piece of fabric wrapping  under the chin to hold it on. It was hollow on the crown but some began to be filled in with fabric.

The hennin is the big conehead style everyone imagines when thinking of
hat

A form of hennin.

fairytale princesses but had a relatively short life and also had many variations. These began in the 14th century and involved veils as well as hat forms mixed together. Jewels and pearls adorned headdresses by the 1400s and the Tudor headdresses took on a new form, which was not utilitarian at all. The Renaissance and Tudor eras of the 15th century really began the roller coaster of fashion in all senses. Clothing patterns became very elaborate as did hats and by the Baroque and Rococo eras hats and hairpieces were monumental in stature and elaborateness.The ornamentation of the Tudors was just the beginning of hats.

anne of cleves

The elaborate Tudor headdresses were just another step.

So when were women’s hats in fashion? You could say from about 1300 till about 1960. Hats are still worn but not as often. The full evolution would take a lot longer to research and write. As well, narrowing hats by country or era can give more focus. This is a very surface brush with hats and I have not consulted one of my 40+ books on clothing/costume history at home.

But hats have often been worn for fashion and fun, to flaunt status and sometimes for piety. They will always be worn as protection from the elements, whether sun, rain, cold or wind. They reflect the flavors of an era as well as what fabric or trim was newly discovered or cherished. They also indicate the growing sophistication of the human hand and the creative mind. Hats will never quite die out for all of these reasons.

If you would like to more know about a specific era, country or style, then let me know and I’ll see what I can dredge up.

http://m-silkwork.blogspot.com/2008/11/womens-caps.html

http://www.vintagefashionguild.org/content/view/604/75/

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Fashion: A Bygone Era of Hats

I like hats. Hats are fun. The mad hatter loved his hat but then he was quite mad, from felting those hats. Mad as a hatter was once a popular saying. Though there is dispute as to whether it actually came from hat making, once hatters used mercury to felt the hats and that drove them quite mad as it was absorbed into their skin.

In a later era, World War II, my mother worked for a hatter in Calgary. Because so many men were on the front lines, women’s emancipation happened. Women had to work the jobs that were once held almost exclusively by men, which had left nursing, secretarial and teaching as traditional women’s jobs. My mother worked one of the machines that made or felted the hats. At one point an inspector came in and noticed she was not being paid adequately. Women were to be paid a man’s wage if they were doing a man’s job, not less because they were women. So my mother was paid more and the world changed, with women never going back  completely to the way it had been before the war.

And hats changed too. In the earlier decades of the 20th century hats were a required form of dress. This style had come up through the ages, where hats were used before central heating to keep the person warm. Headwear had, at points, indicated the marital status of a woman, with unmarried women sometimes allowed to go hatless or with hair down. And sometimes hats indicated a religious status or belief (this is still the case today).

But any well-dressed man or woman in the 40s and 50s always wore a hat. A woman’s was not as necessary but a man was rarely seen without one. And men doffed their hats to the ladies and were required to remove them when inside, or for ceremonies, to show respect. Ladies hats became small fripperies worn in various ways, as adornment to their hair. They had veils, feathers and odd decorations of flowers and birds (sometimes stuffed). In fact not much had changed in the decorations of hats since the 17th century when women went so far as to wear galleons in their hair. (The Baroque and Rococo periods saw some amazingly ornate hats of towering proportions, not to mention the hair.)

Men’s hats settled into the fedora as the most popular form in North America. A man would probably only have one hat most of his life, unless he was well-to-do. But that hat would fit well. Hats were made in sizes going up in increments so one could find a hat for any head. Women’s were too, unless they were the ornaments that sat atop the head where size mattered little.

However as time progressed through the 60s and 70s, hats were worn less and less. They were also now being made of materialsother  than straw and felt. The process of felting with mercury, for felt hats, actually involved the use of animal furs (beaver, rabbit) that were felted and blocked to make hats. They’re more durable and softer than wool. And they were expensive. I actually have one vintage pillbox hat that says it’s made of velour which is in fact felted fur, the softest type.

So hats are now mostly novelty items, at least those super duper, fancy cocktail hats that few of us wear. But people still wear them; models and stars who show up for elaborate or public functions. Royalty still wear hats. Others also wear hats but the headwear has changed in style and size. Women’s hats rarely come in sizes anymore, which is hugely annoying. I have a large head, or a small man’s size. But women, hatmakers now believe, have one size of head. I can’t buy many hats unless I go for the custom hats and although I have a couple (a tricorn and a high pillbox), they are very expensive.

The most banal or common hat in this era is the baseball cap, synonymous with every guy in jeans and T-shirt or track pants. Of course, not every guy wears these caps, which I classify as the MacDonald’s of hats. They are rarely classy (though there are designer ones) and often denote the good ole party boy from the hicks. Still there was most likely the equivalent in all eras. And hats are often functional items to keep the weather at bay, whether sun, snow or rain.

Hats do evolve and the wearing of them waxes and wanes with styles and fashion. They are fun to wear for more than just a costume. They can be functional and fancy all at once. Dressing up with a hat can make you feel like a star. I actually haven’t worn most of my hats for a while. Perhaps I’ll start again.

And for people wanting to look at hats and different styles, some reminiscent of earlier eras, here are a few sites:

http://www.berkeleyhat.com/index.html

http://ediehats.com/store-theatre

http://www.ilovehats.ca/home.html

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Hair-Raising History

Once we were much hairier. Well, our evolutionary ancestors were anyway. And depending on what ethnic stew you come from you may find yourself of a hairier variety. But hairstyles have been coming and going for thousands of years. I’m sure Grog the caveman (he’s popular, this Grog) and Progla the cavewoman didn’t much care what their hair did and they hadn’t invented scissors yet. The best they could do was chip a piece of stone and saw away at the rat’s nest.

Hairstyles progressed in different ways in various geographies. The Egyptians were big on shaving their heads in the heat and making elaborate wigs, for the nobles at least. Hieroglyphics show that they’d put a cone of perfumed fat on their noggins and let it slowly melt over their bodies. I can only think that that would have made me itchy in the heat.

Babylonian men were curling and coiling their naturally wavy locks and beards into elaborate patterns, as were other cultures. Along the way, some places developed moral codes that affected how people could wear their hair. Men were to have beards but not before marriage, heads were to be covered or not. Unmarried women could wear their hair loose (and were usually young girls) but once married they were braided or coiffed and often under veils and headdresses. Turbans, veils, hats, caps and other headwear were used to hide hair. Many of these moral codes had to do with the religious bodies of the day and perceived wantonness/evil/bucking authority depending on the flavor.

Within those countries there was often an accepted style to hair that you could be sure the upper classes wore. We have fewer images less of the poor and lower classes but they would, by fact of having less money, have worn their hair plainer but affecting the stylish modes as much as they could. There weren’t as many varieties of hairstyles and new ones would have come from neighboring countries. Egyptian slaves had shaved heads and no wigs. During the baroque and rococo periods women’s hair attained new heights with hats and shapes, such as a full galleon cresting the waves of curled and pinned tresses. The merchant and working classes would have had simpler styles, less lofty and easier for a person to arrange on themselves, rather than needing a team of hairdressers.

When I was researching medieval and renaissance Sottish and Irish dress I came across a style worn by young warriors. The head shaved close over the back and sides but hair left long to hang forward only over the brow. While this may have been partly expedient for wearing under fighting helms and coifs and part vanity, it also shows the punk hairstyles of the 80s were not so new.

Variations on the theme continue with some new twists being added. The punk movement brought along a literal rainbow of colors. I wouldn’t doubt if some dyes had been tried in centuries past, maybe something mixed with mud and applied. Not everything is recorded. We cut our hair short, we leave it long, we perm it into curls, we madly straighten it, we shave our heads, a few of us still do comb-overs (Donald Trump…ick). We make it uneven, we cut patterns into it, we braid, twist and otherwise add adornments like scarves, hats, pins, clips, etc. Some people have had implants put under their skin so that the skull takes on a bumpy pattern or to snap prosthetic hair pieces or horns even, onto their heads.

I’ve worn my hair short and mostly long, straight and curly and turquoise, blue, purple, magenta and red, in streaks, mind you, plus the regular blondes and brunettes. When doing shows, hairdressers treat hair as a medium on which to create their transitory art. Humanity tends to treat the body, from hair to nails, as a canvas. We play with it, we decorate it, sometimes we permanently change it. Hair is a renewable medium, for most of us. It allows us to experiment and try something new and either cut it off or grow it out if it doesn’t work. There have even been a few memorable movies/plays about it: Shampoo, Hairspray and give me down to there, Hair.

What will be the next follicle fad? What will be repeated? Who knows but I’m waiting for the day that they can actually create true metallic colors: copper, silver, gold, gunmetal. Maybe by the time I’m gray I’ll be able to go for robot silver instead.

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