OK, so we covered the origin of hats, now let’s take a specific look at… Big, round, wide brimmed hats along with hats with points & corners…
Big, round, wide brimmed hats…
In Europe, the Sombrero was probably the first well known sun hat. Originating from Spain in the 1400s, the Sombrero was/is a high-crowned, very broad-brimmed hat upturned at the edge. The word sombrero comes from the Spanish word ‘sombre’, meaning ‘shade’ – Makes sense. A Sombrero is very effective in providing shade for the head, neck and shoulders. Historically, Spanish Gentlemen often wore tan, white, or gray sombreros made from felt, while working class folks wore straw versions. Today, we know the Sombrero from American “cowboy” movies and Mexican Mariachi bands. We typically recognize their Spanish origins, however the concept for this broad-brimmed hat probably came from the Mongolian horsemen of the 1200s. Sombreros were also popular in the Philippines as well as with the South American Gaucho (cowboy) in the 1800s.
In Europe during the 1600s, the Cavalier hat was all the rage… This wide brimmed, round crowned felt hat, typically pinned / cocked up on one side and decorated with an ostrich plume was immortalized by the Three Musketeers of French renown. Interestingly, the name ‘Cavalier’ actually came from supporters of King Charles I, during the English Civil War. Around the same time, a similar but humbler version of this wide brim hat, was being made by the Quakers - The Capotain hat, with it’s taller flat crown and flat brim was worn by the Quakers in England and America.
The Americas saw yet another similar hat being worn in the mid 1800s during the US civil war - The Hardee hat had a smaller brim than the two aforementioned hats, however was pinned up on one side, like the Cavalier.
While European women had been wearing head coverings since the 5th century as a result of the Church’s insistence that their hair be covered, female hat styles really started to blossom in the mid 1700s with the Shepherdess or Bergère (in France) hat. Fashion style became more important than function and simple straw hats were replaced with more elaborate styles. The Shepherdess was a flat-brimmed straw hat with a shallow crown, that still provided sun protection, however sat delicately atop the head. This hat was typically adorned with ribbons and/or flowers. Part of the brim could be folded up or down.
Back to the Americas… There is of course, the iconic Cowboy hat of the American west. An American adaptation of the Sombrero, Cowboy hats with their wide brim and large crown came into their own in the mid 1800s. Civilians as well as officers of the US Civil war and the ensuing US Cavalry made the Cowboy hat the cultural icon of the American west by the late 1800s. By changing the size and shape/curve of the brim as well as the height/shape of the crown, there are many variations of the Cowboy hat. An interesting note - Perhaps the most famous cowboy hat of them all, the Stetson, was actually designed and made by a native of New Jersey.
Cowboy hats are still worn today in the American south-west, with flat brimmed / pointy crowned “campaign” versions also worn by a variety of institutes to this day. This includes the US National Park Rangers (and their symbolic Smokey the Bear), some US State Troopers, some US Military branches, as well as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (in dress uniform) and the New Zealand army.
Yet another similar wide brimmed hat is the Slouch hat, probably most commonly referred to as the Australian Bush hat due to it’s popularity in that country. The main characteristic of the Slouch hat is that one side of the brim is pinned up, while the other side “slouches”, either flat or droopy. This Cavalier offshoot, has been worn by the armies of Austria, Germany, India among others, in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Australia has kept this hat on the map as it is still worn today by both military personal as well as civilians.
It's easy to see the influence these big, round, wide brimmed hats have had on today’s large women’s sun hats, of which there are too many shapes and sizes to mention, as well as the wide brimmed unisex outdoor adventure hats frequently seen today.
Hats with points & corners…
1700s Europe saw the rise in popularity of the pointy, cornered hat. Military uniforms of the day began having more of an influence on the general public, first with the Tricorne (3 sides turned up & pinned), commonly known as a “cocked” hat and then later with the Bicorne (2 sides turned up & pinned).
Functionally, the Tricorne hat protected it’s wearer from both rain and sun quite well. There was a large variety of Tricorne sizes at the time, with the hats usually being made from animal fiber, beaver fur or wool felt and decorated with a collections of plumes (feathers). The Tricorne originated in Spain, when soldiers pinned the sides of their wide brimmed hats up so it didn’t interfere with their shouldered rifles. In France, King Louis XIV wore a highly stylized version of a Tricorne, driving their popularity to quickly spread throughout the civilian population of Europe. In America, five Presidents, from George Washington through to James Monroe, wore a Tricorne.
The Bicorne hat was made famous by Napoleon Bonaparte, who wore the hat side-to-side "athwart" style. British Navy officers wore their Bicornes with its ends pointing fore-and-aft which became the norm into the 1800s. Some military units, such as the Austrian army, continued to wear the tricorne through the early 1800s, while the Bicorne survived in European military dress uniforms until the early 1900s.
The next installment of this Hat History blog will cover smaller brimmed hats with a more practical and modern look and feel - Think Fedora and the like…