A hat is more than just a piece of clothing - it’s the perfect fashion accessory for defining an individual’s personality, lifestyle, and even social etiquette. Wearing hats has always been about head protection, style, status, and vanity. While hat-wearing in the 20th century can’t be compared to the popular hat trends of the early and mid 19th century when donning a hat had more meaning than just offering head protection, many popular hat styles are still worn today.
If you’ve ever wondered about the origins or purpose of your favorite hat, then you’re in the right place. In this article, you’re going to learn the origins of the most popular hat styles today.
The newsboy cap is a variation of a flat cap or ivy cap. Unlike flat caps that are flat, the newsboy has a rounder body. Flat caps can be traced back to 1571 in Britain when parliament ordered all boys and non-noblemen over age six and above to cover their heads with wool caps on holidays and Sundays, failure to which one would be fined three farthings (almost a penny.)
The hat’s meaning was to boost England’s domestic wool sales, which was the biggest economic activity then. It wasn’t until the 1900s that the now-iconic newsboy cap started gaining popularity as more working-class Europeans and Americans wore the popular style. It was extensively worn by newspaper sellers, too. Today, it’s one of the popular hats made even more famous by the “Peaky Blinders” British crime drama television series.
The fedora hat first appeared in 1882, as a female hat, from the production of a play entitled “Fedora” by French dramatist Victorien Sardou, played by famous actress Sarah Bernhardt. She wore a soft-brimmed hat with a center-crease in the play. The fedora later became a popular fashion headpiece for women, especially among advocates for women’s rights.
Prince Edward of Britain eventually started wearing the style - giving the hat more meaning for men. This marked the beginning of an iconic men’s hat style. The fedora was stylish and perfect for head protection. It remained a key part of formal wear from the mid-20s, mid-40s, and even the 50s, and late 80s, when informal wear began. Today, it’s one of the most elegant, yet classic, must-have hats.
While it was worn as military headgear in ancient Greece, the beret’s actual origin can be traced to the Basques. These were great sailors and fishermen who lived on the French and Spanish sides of the Pyrenees Mountains - this also explains why a similar hat appeared in Scotland. The original beret was either navy blue or red, but today it’s available in many colors.
Different types of groups have widely worn it during different periods of history, including the military in WWI and WWII, sportsmen and women, and even revolutionaries like Che Guevara, meaning it was one of the most widely worn hats throughout headwear history.
In 1797, the Lord mayor arrested an English haberdasher named John Hetherington for disturbing the peace and starting a riot because of his headwear. Women apparently fainted, kids shouted, and dogs barked when he took to the streets in the “top hat.”
While the hat caused a huge stir, it didn’t gain popularity until the mid-19th century, when it became the standard formal wear among the upper class. Eventually, the hat’s original purpose fell out of favor with elites, but it’s now part of pop culture and still donned by the royal family.
While wide-brimmed hats were worn as far back as the 13th century by Mongolian horsemen, one man, John B. Stetson, invented the modern-day American cowboy hat. It was named the “Boss of the Plains” and first manufactured in 1865. It was lightweight, adjustable, and waterproof with rounded corners, a straight-sided crown, and a flat brim.
He was likely inspired by the wide-brimmed outdoors hats worn by working cowboys of Northern Mexico. Legend has it that Stetson’s invention started as a joke with fellow hunters. And the rest is history. Cowboy hats are a staple for ranchers, cowboys, and outdoor workers living in hot areas. It’s also a fashionable headpiece for the bold personality.
The bowler hat was first designed and commissioned by Edward Coke and produced by pioneering London hatmakers Thomas and William Bowlers for Locks & Co of St James, a royal hatmaker in London at the time. Coke was a British soldier, a politician, and the 2nd Earl of Leicester’s younger brother. It was originally designed to protect Coke’s gamekeepers’ heads from being hit by low-hanging tree branches.
The bowler hat was widely popular during Victorian times among the middle and upper class in the UK. In the United States of America, it became more popular than the cowboy hat, meaning that cowboys, railroad workers, lawmen, and criminals alike loved it due to its close-fitting and firm fit even in strong winds.
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