Header 3D Map
Home Shopping London History Theatre Arts Reviews


A Skelding Summary

In the Ancient World hats were primarily designed to protect the face & head from adverse weather conditions.
Ancient Egyptians wore caps and kerchiefs folded down to the shoulders to protect the nape of the neck from the burning sun. They were also fond of wearing wigs at ceremonies, some 6000 years before Liz Taylor and Paul Daniels appreciated their merit. In Ancient Rome hats were commonly made from straw, and as with most items of clothing indicated the social status of their owner. Caps in Rome were usually worn by the workers (the Plebeians). Slaves who were granted their freedom would be presented with a cap to show they were now regarded
as Roman citizens.Meanwhile, the Emperor Augustus demonstrated his power and authority by electing not to wear any headgear whatsoever.

In the Middle Ages women and working men wore cowls and hoods called the chaperon. Monasteries and nunneries adopted this style to symbolise both poverty & decorum. For women, the chaperon, wimple and veil may have protected their faces & hair from dirt but more than that, men preferred their women covered for 'modesty', much as they do in the Arab world still, where women's hats extend over the face and down over their body.

From the 1300s to the 1600s beaver hats became all the rage in Britain. This was good news for milliners and trappers - and rather bad news for beavers.

Two famous hat styles emerged in the 17th and 18th centuries. One, a style worn especially by the aristocracy, was a low-crowned hat with a broad brim which was turned up on three sides and known as the tricorne. A variant of this (a hat with two sides of the brim cocked) was the bicorne. The other famous hat style was a stiff high crowned round hat first popularised by the Dutch.

Cloth caps in Britain and America, as in ancient Rome, were synonymous with the industrial working class or farm labourer. Now they emerge as a fashion accessory on occasion, the few now still being worn have assumed a classless air.

Felt hats such as trilbies and fedoras originate from the late 19th century, immortalised in ganster and cowboy films - though again tended to become a rarity after the 1960s.

Arguably, the most famous hat of all time (apologies Fred Astaire) is the bowler, named after the British hatter who designed it in 1850 and which has entered the popular consciousness through the films of Charlie Chaplin (1915 onwards) Laurel and Hardy in the 1930s. NOT wearing a bowler in the City of London in the forties would have been like not wearing a tie with a pinstripe.  Even the character of John Steed in The Avengers in the 1960s looked the part in his bowler.

The most useful hats ever worn were sported by the 1940s singer and actress Carmen Miranda and generally were made out of 'bowls of fruit'. This popularised the trend towards outrageous hats, again supposedly indicating status, adorned with feathers that only the courtiers could afford, hence the expression 'a feather in your cap'. Hats sported in the royal enclosures at Ascot (horse races) are still going down in histories.

Now they are, again emerging as fashion accessories, classless of course;-) and a huge amount of fun.
Love hats.


Back Arrow

This FAQ (frequently asked questions) is also a running Q&A (questions & Answers) so you can ask and we will answer or find out for you.

Index of things

Histories of Things
By Laurence Skelding

[Home]  [Directory]  [Shopping]  [Art & Photos]  [Reviews]  [Histories]  [Contact Us]  [Great Hotel Deals]