High Fashion: Hats Through History

Head-wear has a highly interesting history...

By Google Arts & Culture

Black bowler hat (1910/1940)Harris Museum & Art Gallery

Hats have long been the at peak of fashion around the world. Caps, bowlers, pillbox hats, sombreros, helmets, and religious headwear are all examples of this ubiquitous accessory.

Bust of Queen Nefertiti (Amenophis IV. / Echnaton, New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, c. 1340 BCE) by ThutmosisNeues Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

The history of hats extends back millennia, with possible evidence of hats appearing as early as 30,000 years ago. Many head coverings throughout history and around the world carry religious or ceremonial significance.

Napoleon at the Great St. Bernard (1801) by Jaques-Louis DavidBelvedere

Hats can convey social status or military rank, much like Napoléon Bonaparte's signature bicorne hat.

Bicorne worn by Napoleon I. (1769–1821), with cockade (1813-1815) by Hatter PoupartGerman Historical Museum

This hat was one of many identical iterations made for the Emperor of the French. After losing the battle at Waterloo, Napoleon's spare hat was claimed by a Prussian major. This bicorne appears courtesy of the German Historical Museum.

Miao Girl in Festive Costume (head) by Austin KramerOriginal Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/

In southern China and Southeast Asia, the Miao are a diverse group of peoples with a rich tradition of arts. Many sub-groups have their own customary garments and headdresses. Silver jewelry and elaborate embroidery are hallmarks of some Miao.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel and the launching chains of the Great Eastern (1857 (made) - 1857) by Robert HowlettThe Victoria and Albert Museum

Top hats emerged in popularity just prior to the start of the 19th century. Often associated with formal attire, these tall hats can be made from silk, wool, or synthetic materials.

By Alfred EisenstaedtLIFE Photo Collection

Though the hat was traditionally worn by men, actress Marlene Dietrich made a top hat and tailcoat part of her regular cabaret wardrobe.

Shikano sugegasa (2017-11-19)Tottori Prefectural Government

Hats often serve a function in addition to their form. This conical straw hat is called many names throughout Asia, such as do'un in Cambodia or sugegasa in Japan, as pictured here. 

This type is made of a grasslike plant called sedge. When it's hot out, the hat provides shade and can be dipped in water to provide evaporative cooling. When it's raining, the wet sedge expands to form a watertight seal.

Baseball cap:New York Yankees baseball cap (2007) by New Era Cap Company, Inc.The Strong National Museum of Play

Hats like this baseball cap have a bill in the front to provide shade. They can also make a bold fashion statement or show one's support for a sports team. This NY Yankees cap is a popular example.

Mariachi con traje charro (2021) by Cultura JaliscoCultura Jalisco

The sombrero is a Mexican hat originally designed to provide shade. The evolution of the headpiece led to ornately embellished versions, like those commonly worn by mariachi musicians.

Pope John XXIII (1962-04-24) by KeystoneGetty Images

The ceremonial vestments, or religious clothing, worn by the Pope wouldn't be complete without the papal tiara, also known as triregnum . This photo of Pope John XXIII was taken in 1962.

Notting Hill Carnival Mas (2012/2012) by Oli ScarffNotting Hill Carnival

In contrast to some other hats, these Carnival headdresses won't protect you from the rain or keep the sun out of your eyes. Instead, they'll dazzle onlookers during this celebration of Brazilian culture.

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