History of Hats

by Salome Tsikarishvili

Hats. You know them. I know them. You don’t need an introduction to them. But when you think about it it's weird how there was a moment in history where we almost stopped wearing hats. Though that is an exaggeration there was a definite change in the 20th century where we just stopped wearing them as much as we did before. While we still wear them today, they are nowhere as relevant as they were back then.

In a way, a similar thing happened to many articles of clothing back in the twentieth century. The rate of development just got much quicker. If in the previous century nothing changed overall in the silhouette of the outfit when you compare the clothes worn in 1901 to those worn in 1999 there is a very visible change. The hats in their existence have gone through a great evolution and with this article, we offer you a small glance into it.

There aren’t many official records of hats before 3,000 BC but they were probably commonplace before that. People wore hats in the beginning for practical reasons, after all, to protect themselves against different climate conditions so it isn’t out of the question for them to have existed before that time without us having the archeological proof.

One of the earliest confirmed hats was worn by a bronze age man whom we since then have nicknamed Otzi. His body along with the hat was found preserved frozen in a mountain in the Alps.

To give you an idea of what his hat looked like, imagine a Russian fur hat without the flaps and you’ll get a general idea.

On the other hand, Egypt gives us the first pictorial depiction of a hat in a to,b found in Thebes. The man in question, or rather the picture in question showed a man wearing a conical straw hat, and this image was dated around 3200BC. Hats were already quite popular with ancient Egyptians. Many wore them to shield themselves from the sun.

On top of that many upper class, citizens shaved their heads so covering in some form of headdress helped them keep cool in the heat. Mesopotamians around the same time wore hats that were shaped like an inverted vase for a similar purpose.

Hats also served to indicate social status. For example, early taller or hats with greater height usually meant higher status. They started to hold symbolic meaning as well.

For example, in ancient Rome, the Phrygian cap was initially worn by freed slaves but later this hat changed its symbol when it became popular in America during the revolutionary war. People wore it as a symbol of the fight for liberty and the struggle that came with fighting against the monarchy.

Going back to ancient Rome women there wore veils, hoods, caps, and wimples and the style of these would distinguish amongst their standing.

In some countries, hats have found themselves integrated into the language as symbols or idioms. For example in Georgia hats were representative of honor, therefore going outside without it meant that you had lost it or that you had none. There was a saying that translates more or less into “I am a man and therefore I wear a hat”. It was a source of shame to go out without one.

Again in middle ages, hats started to become markers of social status and as a way to single out specific people groups. In 1215 because of a new law it became required that all Jews wear a specific hat and this of course singled them out as targets for anti-Semitism which was a view that unfortunately stayed popular in the centuries to come as well.

Hats for women became more intricate. They became more structured and elaborate. In the 19th century they primarily wore bonnets but as time went on they became bigger and bigger the scale in terms of decorations grew with the hat of course. You saw them being decorated with ribbons, flowers, feathers, and many other things.

At some point, the hats got too big. They required large pins to hold them in place as they were too heavy to stay on top of the head themselves. The fun fact here is that the pins were quite large and dangerous and women used them to protect themselves against assault from time to time. A hidden practical use for an invention built for impracticality. The hatpin peril terrorized men during that time.

In the 20s women started to cut their hair shorter so the style of hats also changed to resemble a helmet more so that it would hug the head more. Another interesting fact is that around this time Britain banned the use of some materials for hats as this chase for the most extravagant design was inching more and more into the slaughter of animals for their parts and that was unacceptable for obvious reasons.

In the 80s the big hats were back. The new hatmakers were ambitious and competitive and they were designing things that we can call wearable sculptures. But all in all the rage for hats was over.

Today hats are more of an accessory having lost the big social and symbolic value that they once had. Sure we wear them but no one cares much about who wears a beanie or a fedora though depending on the occasion the choice may be judged.


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