The history of hats - In 4 bites...

Sun Protection and The Hat

The history of hats : The Panama Hat - Urban Canairie
Hats have been around for a very long time, and for good reason. The sun can and will burn your head, face, ears and even your eyes if you don’t provide them with the cool relief of shade.  There are non-functional reasons to wear headgear as well.  You can wear a hat to make a fashion statement, or in an attempt to “fit in” to some social norm.  Of course, you can also be mandated to wear something on your head because some religious or cultural custom dictates you do so.  Finally, you can wear a hat as part of a military, police or other uniform. 

Originally worn by field workers for the functional purpose of blocking the sun, the hat evolved to an everyday article of clothing, like a shirt or dress, worn by men and women of all classes of society.  In the early 1900s, a hat was customary to be worn whenever outdoors or in a public place, with the exception of upscale dining establishments and private clubs.  This all changed in the early 1960s, when hats fell out of style.  While bare heads are not uncommon today, the hat is making a comeback of sorts.

From Egyptian drawings, we know that headwear has been around since at least 3200 BC.  Many upper-class ancient Egyptians shaved their head, then covered it, sometimes with a conical hat to protect them from the sun and to keep them cool.  Mesopotamians (today’s Middle East) also wore conical hats, while ancient Greeks wore a Petasos, a sun hat with a broad, floppy brim.  Head coverings were originally made from plant leaves, straw, bamboo or leather, then from wool ‘felt’, fur or silk with stiffening strips made of wood or whalebone.

The history of hats : Various military hats - Urban CanairieFrom a military perspective, headgear has changed dramatically over the years.  For thousands of years, before the use of gunpowder, soldiers wore helmets for protection.  However, when musket balls rendered steel helmets useless in the 1600s, cumbersome helmets were replaced with hats.  This trend lasted for a couple hundred years, until the advent of improved metal helmets in the early 1900s.  Over the last few hundred years, military uniforms have had a significant influence on hat styles in general.

The search for cool sun protection for your head has been going on for quite a while, we thought we would take a look at the history of the sun hat.  As there are doubtless hundreds of hat styles through-out the ages, we will focus our review on hats of Europe and the Americas – On hats that serve the fundamental purpose of providing sun protection.  OK, let’s dive in…

In the beginning…

It would make sense that the first sun hats came from countries around the world situated near the equator, where the sun is the hottest, and the need for sun protection is the highest…

The history of hats / Conical hat - Urban CanairieAs previously mentioned, the simple Conical hat, typically made from bamboo or palm tree leaves have been worn by both men and women in northeast Africa, the Middle East as well as southeast Asia for thousands of years.  This unisex headwear can still be seen today in a number of Asian countries, especially in rural areas.

The history of hats : The Fulani - Urban Canairie

In the early 1600s, the nomadic Wodaabe and other Fula people of West Africa wore a conical shaped Fulani hat made from plant fibers and leather.  This hat is much larger than the Asian conical hat as it is often worn over a turban.  These nomads were believed to have Muslim roots from peoples of the middle east and north Africa.

Headwear made specifically for women began in earnest during the Middle Ages (5th – 15th century) when the church decreed that their hair must be covered.  Not surprisingly, there was a period of time when women's hats became less about function, and more about style.  As hairstyles became larger and larger, hats became a smaller and smaller accessory until they were discarded altogether for a while. Then extremely large over-sized hats were introduced.  As large coiffures and wigs became less fashionable, woman’s hats returned to normal size.

The next installment of this Hat History blog will cover big, round, wide brimmed hats - There sure have been a lot of them…

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