Caps & Coif
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About Hats
The distinction between one form of head-covering and another is not always clearly definable (see also Bonnet, Cap, Head-dress, Hood). In fashion in general the adoption of a hat denoted the importance of the wearer. Thus, in primitive societies, head- coverings were usually close-fitting caps or kerchiefs tied round the head. In Europe hats were worn by men from classical times onwards but were rare for women until the end of the sixteenth century. of similar connotation was the custom for men to wear their hats indoors and in church until after 1660; a custom only abandoned because it was both superfluous and inconvenient to wear a hat at all over a full-bottomed periwig, the hat then being carried under the arm. As distinct from other forms of headgear, a hat had a crown, often quite tall, usually a brim and was made of a firm or heavy material; only in limited cases was it tied on to the head by strings, ribbons or a scarf. Apart from fashionable purposes, hats have been worn for protection from sun and rain, by travellers and by agricultural workers in all ages and in all parts of the world.

It is surprising how many permutations have been achieved in the design of hats through the centuries, based upon shape, colour, material, ornamentationandmethod of wearing. The designs discussed in this article are those worn in Europe and the West from the fifth century BC to the present day. For hats worn by specific civilizations and in different countries see also individual entries, for example, Alpine dress, Chinese dress, Hungarian dress etc.

In classical Europe hats were worn chiefly as protection from sun and rain. In ancient Greece there was a wide-brim- med type, the petasos, which was often slung round the neck by a cord and hung down the back until needed, a truncated cone design of Egyptian origin and a brimless one, the pilos. These hats were made of wool, felt or fur; also, for summer wear, of straw, like the Boeotlan petasos designs shown in the Tanagra statuettes. Etruscan hats were similar; they also wore an Oriental style, the tutulus, which was conical or steeple-shaped. The Romans ware the petasos, also the galerius or pileus, based on the Greek pilos. This last-named style continued in use, with variations, during the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages as, for example, the pileus quadratus which became a professional headeovering (see Academical dress).

Hats were only worn during the early Middle Ages by men of rank and importance in the community; the most usual head-covering was the hood (see Hood) andlor a cap or coif (see Cap, Coif). It was in the fifteenth century, and especially the second half, that the fashionable man began to favour a hat instead of a hood. There were several styles; most popular were the tall sugar loaf shape, the hunting design with a turned-up brim and a long point in front, the round or flower-pot type pleated into a band or padded roll and, at the end of the century, the immense circular beaver hat with upturned brim, tied on with a silk scarf over a skull cap, and decorated with long, multi-coloured plumes. Apart from feathers of varied types, hats were orna- mented withjewelled brooches and, as with a hood, the liripipe could be attached at the back (see Liripipe). They were made from felt, velvet or fur.

The typical early sixteenth century hat was of black or dark velvet with upturned brim, which was ornarnented by a jewelled brooch and, sometimes, plumes. The turned-up edges were usually slashed then held together by decorative cords or ribbons. The hat could be worn straight or on one side. This style had originated in the late fifteenth century. By about 1530 it was still of velvet but had a small stiff brim, no longer upturned, and a soft crown gathered into a decorative band of cord or jewels. The hat was decorated by one or more ostrich plumes and was worn at an angle. Spanish fashions dominated the second half of the century, so hats were generally black, of felt or velvet, still ornaniented by a plunic and jewelled band. Tall crowns were fashionable, either stiff or of soft velvet gathered into the band above the narrow brim. The hat was worn at a rakish angle. Late in the century women, who up to now had covered their heads with veils, scarves and hoods (see Hood), took to wearing similar tall hats for riding and travelling.

Spanish styles continued in fashion until the pattern for costume began to be set by the Dutch, about 1620-5. With the new modes came the swashbuckling Cavalier hat which, like the Spanish sombrero, had a wide, curling brim and long, sweeping ostrich plumes. In the 1630s these hats became very large and looked most roman- tic worn in conjunction with the long, curling hair. In the second half of the century, as the wig slowly took over from natural hair styles, the hat became less swashbuckling. It was still usually of black felt but, after 1670, the decoration was more often in the form of a jewelled band and bunches of ribbons rather than long ostrich plumes. As the full-bottomed wig grew larger, the hat was more often carried than worn.

During the seventeenth century, a parallel mode of hat evolved, similar in style but stripped of its decoration and panache. Hair and hats were two of the parts of costume fashion where the differences between the Puritan's mode of dress and that of the modish aristocracy were most apparent. In northern Europe, the Puritan cut his hair short and wore it straight and his hat was high-crowned, of black hard felt and trimmed only by a ribbon and buckle. The design was also known as a Geneva, after the Swiss Puritans, while in Cromwellian England, as elsewhere in Europe, such hats were worn by both sexes, the lady's version usually over a white cap which covered her hair. in America they were referred to as Pilgrim's hats, as they were normal wear for the Pilgrim Fathers who sailed in the May- flower. In the second half of the century the crown became lower and the brim wider and turned up at the sides. This was termed in America the Quaker or Penn- sylvania hat, after William Penn, the English Quaker who founded Pennsylvania. It was also referred to as a Holland hat from its popularity with Dutch Quakers. By the 1680s this hat was made of grey or brown beaver or felt and was sometimes termed a 'wide-awake' hat. The style was revived a century later when it was adopted in France at the time of the Revolution. Ladies did not often wear hats during the seventeenth century, generally preferring hoods and veils to protect their hair out- of-doors.

Towards the end of the seventeenth century the vast periwigs which were fashionable made it impracticable for men to wear hats on top of them unless bad weather made this absolutely necessary. Custom, however, dictated that a hat must accompany the costume so, since the article had to be carried under the arm, the design gradually changed. The round crown be- came low and the wide brim was turned back. This evolved into the tricorne or three-cornered hat which became the chief design of the eighteenth century. In English, the turned-up brim was called a cock so these tricornes were called cocked hats. There were many variations on the theme during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and each was given a name, for example, the Monmouth Cock of the 1670s and 1680s named after the Duke of Monmouth, the Denmark Cock of the later eighteenth century where the back cock was lower than the front ones and the Dettingen Cock worn for most of the eighteenth century where all three cocks were of equal size. The tricorne was usually made of black felt and was trimmed with gold braid andlor white ostrich tips. In general it was a large hat in the earlier eighteenth century but as the size of wigs declined so did that of the hat. Because of the custom of powdering the wig, hats were still carried until the later eighteenth century. A particularly small version of the tricorne was affected by the English Macaronis.

From the 1760s a flat tricorne - the chapeau bras - was made to be carried under the arm so that the wig was not disturbed by wearing a hat. After 1800 it was crescent-shaped and could be worn, the points aligned fore and aft. An un- usually high cocked hat with a spout- like crease in the centre front was the Kevenhuller, named after the Austrian gen- eral Andreas von Khevenhiiller, and worn chiefly around the middle years of the eighteenth century.

In the 1780s, with the return to natural hair or small wigs, men wore hats more often, though they never returned to the universal wearing of hats on all occasions as before. Certainly never again did they keep their heads covered indoors in the presence of ladies. The late-century hats (apart from the bicorne) were generally round, tall-crowned styles whichoriginated in England. They were made of felt, beaver or fur and had ribbon and buckle or cord trimming.

Women did not wear hats in the eighteenth century until the 1770s; before this they wore dainty caps indoors with hoods on top out-of-doors. With the immense wigs of the 1770s, hats were small and flat, perched at an angle on the wig and worn over a cap. As the wigs subsided, very large picture hats were introduced from England in the 1780s; these had a wealth of ribbon, plume, lace and flower trimming. These styles were followed by elegant taller hats, echoing those of the men, but decorated more profusely with plumes and ribbons.

The bicorne hat was still to be seen early in the nineteenth century but its use was confined more and more to the military. The most usual hat until 1815 was the English round hat with the tall crown and small rolled brim. From 1820 the top hat (topper) became fashionable and this was to the nineteenth century what the tricorne had been to the eighteenth. The shape evolved during the century from the curved-sided version in the early years to the tall, straight-sided 'stovepipe'or'chim- neypot' design of the mid-century and to a lower crown in the later decades. At first it was made from beaver in grey, fawn or white. By the 1840s it was a black silk or polished beaver hat with a narrower brim. A collapsible opera hat of black silk was introduced which could be flattened by an internal spring so that it could be carried under the arm. This was the gibus, named after its inventor, the Parisian hatter, first made in 1823 and patented in 1837. It replaced an earlier, but less successful collapsible 'elastic' hat.

The top hat continued to be the formal fashionable wear until well after 1900 but, in the last 40 years of the century, alter- native styles appeared for casual, summer and sporting wear. The bowler hat was the most fashionable of these. At first only adopted for casual wear, it soon became established for everyday use. Also known as a billycock, this round hard felt hat with rolling brim, in black, brown or grey, had been worn since the 1850s. In England it was named after its original hatter, William Bowler, but in America it was a derby and in France a melon. In the 1880s soft felt hats were introduced and, for summer, straw boaters. Tweed and wool soft hats were popular for holidays and travelling. The aristocrat of the felt hats was the Homburg, so-called after its town of manu- facture in Germany. The crown was dented longitudinally from front to back and the brim, which curved up at the sides, was braided with ribbon to match the band. The hat was popularized by the Prince of Wales.

For much of the nineteenth century, at least until 1880, the bonnet was the prin- cipal headcovering for ladies (see Bonnet). in the early years turbans were also worn (see Turban) as well as small hats. Among these was the straw gypsy hat, a flat crown held on by a scarf tied round it and under the chin. There was also the conversation hat where one side of the brim was turned back and the other pulled forward. Large- brimmed hats were fashionable (like the large bonnets) from about 1820-35. These, made from straw or silk, were lavishly decorated by ribbon bows, flowers and plumes. In the mid-century the berg@re or shepherdess hat, which had been worn during the eighteenth century, returned to fashion. This was a straw hat with a flat crown and a wide soft brim. Another con- temporary fashion was for a pill-box hat copied from Garibaidi's own braided version.

Although small fussy bonnets were seen into the 1890s, ladies chiefly wore hats in the last 20 years of the nineteenth century. Shapes were extremely varied but, in general, hats of the 1880s were fairly small and tall in toque and flower pot shapes, while large hats were predominant in the nineties. Trimming was profuse all the time; it included ribbons, bows, plumes, birds' wings, fur, velvet, flowers and face veil. In the 1890s very large hats, often referred to as picture, Gainsborough or Mariborough apropos of the styles of the 1770s and 1780s depicted by the painter and worn by the Duchess of Mariborough, were very fashionable. These were laden with ornamentation and both the hat and the face were enveloped in a lace or spotted net veil.

During the twentieth century there has been a gradual decline in the wearing of hats. Before the First World War there was no indication of this; men continued to wear the top hat for formal occasions and a bowler, boater or felt hat, according to season, for everyday purposes. The Hom- burg was still seen but a plainer version without ribbon edging was more usual: in America this was called a fedora, in England, a trilby. (Both names derived from drama- tic productions.) Ladies' hats were vast creations surmounting the pompadour coiffure and, in turn, themselves crowned by a quantity of decorative trimming in the form of plumes, flowers and ribbons. Legharn hats were fashionable, named after the Italian straw from which they were made which was imported from Leghorn (Livorno). Long hatpins were necessary to hold such hats in place. They were also useful as defensive weapons against what is now termed 'mugging'. With the coming of war, hats became more practical and were generally small and neat.

From 1920 onwards men wore the top hat only for rare formal occasions and, after 1939, the bowler was not often seen. The trilby hat became smaller with a nar- rower brim and ribbon band, then turned into the pork pie, with the centre, longitudinal fold in the crown becoming a circular one. Since 1945 there has been a steady decline in the wearing of hats by men.

Women's hats in the 1920s were all headhugging, pulled down low on the forehead as far as the eyebrows. The cloche hat was typical. As its name suggests it was a close- fitting helmet or bell-shaped covering, though for summer wear, large picture hats were still fashionable, also pulled down to eyebrow-level. The 1930s brought tremen- dous variety to hat styles. Most popular were the halo, the Tyrolean, the pill-box and the sailor. Many hats, in contrast to the previousdecade, wereperchedprecariously on the head, like flat dinner plates. They were pulled down low over one eye and held in place by a strap or cap at the back; short face veils were popular. Since the Second World War there has also been a decline in the wearing of hats by women, particularly by the young. It is no longer obligatory to wear a hat in order to be well dressed. A variety of styles have been available, many of them informal. For winter wear fur hats are always popular, whether synthetic or genuine.


The elaborate and varied head-dresses of the fifteenth century cannot be classified as hats, bonnets, caps, turbans or hoods; they are in a category of their own. The reticulated head-dresses of the early fif- teenth century, made up of metal, jewelled cauls and covered by white veils hung over wire frames are discussed under Cauls. The typical form of the mid-century, worn from about 1430-60, was the heart-shaped head-dress, made from a padded roll covered in velvet or silk and decorated with pearls and jewels which was shaped to dip at the centre front and back but rise at the sides. A jewelled brooch usually ornamented the centre front of the roll. Under this was worn a jewelled caul and over it, often, a veil. In the years 1460-85 the steeple head-dress was most fashion- able. Shaped like a dunce's cap, it was made of brocade velvet, gold or silver cloth, stiffened into shape and attached to a black velvet frontlet just visible as a loop on the forehead. The cap was worn at an angle of about 40' from the vertical. Towards 1470 a wide black band of double material was draped over the top of the head-dress and two lappets hung down on the shoulders on either side. A transparent veil accompanied this head-dress; sometimes it was double and was generally wired to achieve a picturesque silhouette. A truncated form of this steeple shape was more fashionable late in the century. In the second half of the fifteenth century it was customary for all hair to be concealed by the head-dress. To this end the hair which grew on the temples and at the nape was plucked out.

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2006 March 28