OK, so we looked at big, round, wide brimmed hats and we’ve mentioned pointy/cornered hats… So, now let’s take a look at hats with a more modern, urban look and feel…
Small brimmed hats like the Panama Hat and the Fedora
A “Timeless Classic”, the Panama hat, also known as a toquilla straw hat, had its Ecuadorian origins in the mid 1600s. That is correct… The Panama hat is from Ecuador. The hat became synonymous with Panama, as that major trade centre is where the hats were typically shipped / sold from. Traditionally, these medium brimmed hats were made from weaved leaves of the Carludovica palmata plant, known locally as the toquilla or jipijapa palm (although the Carludovica is not a true palm tree). U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt increased the popularity of the Panama hat by commonly wearing one in the 1930s & 40s. The Panama hat is still worn today by men and women around the world. Similar to the Panama, Milan (MY-len, unlike the city in Italy) hats originated in Italy, although they are heavier and thicker than the lightweight original.
The Top hat became extremely popular among the general population of Europe in the late 1700s. Originating from the tall ‘sugar loaf’ hats of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance period, the high or Top hat took on a more rigid stove pipe shape and remained very popular until the late 1800s. Actually, the Top hat can still be seen today at some formal occasions and remains an iconic symbol of America’s Uncle Sam. Heck… in the 1980s and 90s, Slash, the lead guitarist of Guns and Roses wore a Top Hat, and stylized versions are quite popular now with the ‘Steam Punk’ sci-fi crowd.
In the mid 1800s, the Pork Pie hat became trendy in America. Likely based on similar styles worn in the middle ages, Pork Pie hats are a short round or triangular crowned, flat topped hat with a short turned up brim. This hat peaked in popularity in the 1930s/40s as it was an essential component to the Jazz/Blues man’s “zoot suit”? The name originates from working class folks, typically musicians, who would re-block old dress hats over pie trays. Today’s Pork Pie hats typically have a wider brim, although they are still associated with Jazz musician and their fans. More recently, Walter White wore a Pork Pie hat in the TV series, Breaking Bad.
In the late 1800s, the Bowler (or Derby in the USA) hat became very fashionable. The Bowler, with it’s rigid round crown and small brim was initially created in England in the mid 1800s to be used as a protective (horse) riding hat, although it later became better known as a symbol of the men who commonly wore it… A rough English crowd representing a more democratic future, contrasting the establishmentarian Top hat wearers of the day. Comedic wearers of the felt Bowler hat included Laurel & Hardy, as well as Charlie Chaplin. A variation of the Bowler is still worn today in South America, particularly by Peruvian and Bolivian women.
Another popular hat of the late 1880s and early 1900s was the Boater hat, which became a fixture not just on boats, but also at the tennis court, park and beach. The Boater was a stiff straw hat with a moderate sized flat topped crown and flat thin/stiff brim. The Boater was worn by both men and women as a casual summer hat to protect them from the sun.
Women’s hat styles started to change significantly in the mid/late 1800s as the Flowerpot hat started to gain favour over Bonnets. Flowerpots were tall hats, clearly influenced by men’s Top hats. There were countless variations of the Flowerpot, due to the size and curve of the brim, the height of crown, as well as the decorations used… These hats were meant to attract attention, and were more about fashion than they were about function.
The “king of the modern era hats”, the Fedora was introduced in the late 1800s and was extremely prominent until the mid 1900s. A low sitting, soft felt hat with a medium brim, the Fedora has a creased crown with large indents on the front. Interestingly, the Fedora was first worn in a French Play of the same name, by the lead female character. The Fedora is a true unisex hat, initially popular with woman in Europe, then America. The main difference between a Fedora and the Panama hat is the material used, with a Fedora being made from heavy cotton or felt, as opposed to weaved straw/leaves. A Fedora typically has a softer, shape-able brim as well. Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney and Frank Sinatra made the Fedora a popular everyday hat, and Harrison Ford revived the hat’s popularity in the Indiana Jones movies. The Fedora probably became best known as the hat of choice for Chicago gangsters in the 1930s. This resulted in an American trend called the Broadway suit, which was topped off with a felt Fedora.
A similar looking hat is the Trilby. The Trilby hat, or Brown Trilby, originated in Britain at the same time as the Fedora, however there are some subtle differences. The Trilby has a higher crown and smaller brim that a Fedora, and is usually worn high off the forehead, not pulled down low in the front like a Fedora. Manufacturers take many liberties with the Trilby, so they are commonly made with cheaper materials and are sold in a variety of shapes and sizes.
The early 1900s saw the emergence of yet another small brimmed headcover, the Homburg hat. This formal felt hat had a somewhat tall ‘gutter crown’, a single dent running down the center, and a stiff brim with a small curl. It differs from a Fedora, in that it has no indents at the front of the hat. Winston Churchill wore a Homburg, as did Al Pacino in the Godfather movies… This hat is still worn by some folks today.
We should also mention that there are many other small brimmed hats out there, most notably straw golf hats made famous by Sam Snead and Greg Norman, as well as outdoor adventure hats like the Tilley.
The fourth and final installment of this Hat History blog will cover peaked hats (hats with visors), which at the moment, are probably the most commonly hat worn in America and Europe.