The Glorious Age of the Hat

At the turn of the century, hats were quite the fashion statement.

Al Capone, with fedora
Al Capone, with fedora

Men often wore fedoras, which could be year-round attire. These hats, which came into fashion in the late 19th century and never went back out of style, have been a favorite of gangsters, Orthodox Jews, and Prince Edward.  In later years, women wore fedoras too – quite possibly this trend began with Ingrid Bergman’s glamorous appearance in Casablanca.

Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart
Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart

In 1900, it was not unusual to see top hats, particularly amidst the more well-to-do. These days, top hats are mostly associated with Abraham Lincoln and Uncle Sam, but they were frequently worn as formal wear well into the 20th century.  Top hats were also known as stovepipe hats.

Top hat and bow tie, rescued from the Titanic wreckage Photo from telegraph.co.uk
Top hat and bow tie, rescued from the Titanic wreckage
Photo from telegraph.co.uk

Bowler hats were introduced in England in the middle of the 19th century, and slowly made their way across the Atlantic Ocean. By the 1880s, they were common in the United States – though they were called Derby hats in America. They were sensible alternatives to the top hat which tended to be blown off by the wind when men rode on horseback. British sailors introduced the Bowler in Bolivia, and they remain a staple of Bolivian women’s wear today.

SI Neg. 2002-23708. Date: na...Full length view of the Wright brothers standing in a field; Wilbur is at left, Orville at right, wearing overcoat. Both are wearing derby type hats. Photo taken either January or April 1909 in either Rome, Italy, or Pau, France, during their European tour...Credit: Unknown. (Smithsonian Institution)
Wilbur (L) and Orville Wright wearing bowler hats in early 1909 [courtesy Smithsonian]
In the summertime, men wore straw boater hats. Today, if you see a boater hat, you are probably also seeing a barbershop quartet. But at the turn of the century, they were popular with ordinary men as well as famous ones — even John Jacob Astor had a boater hat. Women wore straw hats too, but after the 1890’s, the boater style was typically considered to be a man’s hat.

Top hats and straw boaters were often accompanied by bow-ties – the best accessory a a man can own.

Maurice. Cat. Boater Hats.
Maurice Chevalier. Cat. Boater Hats.

Women really got the better end of the deal as far as elaborate hats went.

When Victorian women went out for the evening, they wore beaded or flowered headdresses. Unlike most trends, this one has not yet resurfaced. It would take a confident woman to appear wearing one of these.

Victorian headdresses were often unique creations.
Victorian headdresses were often unique creations
Evelyn Nesbit in a Victorian headdress
Evelyn Nesbit in a Victorian headdress

The Gainsborough hat, worn by everyone from the Gibson Girls to Alice Lee Roosevelt to the Gaiety Girls of London, was immensely popular.  These hats were large, with curved brims, and featured plumes, fur, fruit, flowers, beads, and ribbons.

The Gaity Girls, of London, in 1896
The Gaiety Girls, of London, in 1896
Gibson girl in a Gainsborough hat
Gibson girl in a Gainsborough hat

The Edwardian styles were elaborate. Lavish is an understatement.

Edwardian hats were elaborate
Feathered Edwardian hat

It would be interesting to know what look these women were attempting to create.

"I'd like something that looks alarming."
“I’d like something that looks alarming.”

Not everyone loved big hats.

D.W. Griffith, the famous director, released a film in 1909 called Those Awful Hats. Griffith’s particular angst probably stemmed from complaints of movie-goers who were unfortunately seated behind someone wearing a large hat.

It's possible the problem was overstated.
It’s possible the problem was overstated.
madam your hat
Ignore them: they’re probably just jealous of your fantastic hat

Big hats finally went out in a big way. The huge Edwardian hats gave way to the Roaring 1920s and the cloche hat.

Actress Louise Brooks wearing a cloche hat
Louise Brooks wearing a cloche hat
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