The History of Hats

Some form of hats has been around about as long as people have been around. Primitive man may have stretched an animal skin over his head to protect himself from the elements. The first known representation of a person in ancient times wearing a hat is in a tomb painting in Thebes. The painting depicts a man in a simple straw hat.


While the first types of hats were developed for protection from inclement weather, shade from the sun and a shield against falling rocks or weapons, hats gradually came to represent status, wealth and authority. Ancient cultures, such as the Egyptians, Romans and Greeks, wore hats as an indicator of rank. Eventually, hats were also used to make a fashion statement.


Although fashion trends come and go, some type of hat is usually in style. The basic defining characteristic of men's hats is whether it has a brim. Hats also come in two forms, the cap and the hat. From these basics, however, milliners can add many features and details, such as insignias, embroidered adornments, decorated straps, trim and even signature tags. Hats may also vary in size, including the width of the brim and the height of the hat.


Millinery as a profession dates to 18th-century Britain. Traveling haberdashers went door-to-door, offering all manner of fabrics, trims and notions. In France, the term chapelier was used in the past, while the modern term is modiste. Some cultures mark the difference between those who create hats for men, calling them simply hat makers, and those who create hats for women, called milliners.


Over the eras, various men's hat styles have come into fashion. In the early 1600s, it was the Capotain, a Spanish-born style that was tall, made of felt and typically black. A few decades later, the Sugar Loaf, popular amongst the Puritans, came into being, sporting a stiff brim and a high crown. Two major styles of the 1700s were the Tricorne, or three-cornered hat, and the Bicorne, a fashion worn by the bohemian set. The next century brought Abraham Lincoln's top hat and the Coke Hat, also known as the bowler. Some decades later brought Panama hats, pork pies and some variations of the top hat and the bowler.


Women have often been expected to cover their hair with veils, scarves and kerchiefs, but hats were not officially created for women until the end of the 1500s. By the end of the 1600s, designers began creating styles with women in mind, rather than basing women's hats from popular styles for men. The middle of the 19th century saw milliners creating Swiss and Italian straw hats, as well as imitation straw hats fashioned from paper, grass, cardboard or horsehair. Designers also began embellishing their creations with velvet and tulle.