When you think of the 1920s and the flapper era, one hat comes to mind—the cloche. French for bell, the cloche is often credited to French designer Caroline Reboux, but some say the cloche was a Coco Chanel brainchild. Regardless, the hat was extremely stylish, featuring a deep crown that allowed it to be worn very low, almost to the eyebrows.
Cloche hats ranged from beaver felt dyed in a range of colors to straw. At first, the brims of cloche hats were essentially extensions of the crown, dropping straight down on all sides with no rim, let alone brim. By the end of the 1920s, though, it was common for the cloche to be worn with the brim turned up, especially in the front. This extended the depth of the hat in the back, adding intrigue and complication to the basic bell shape.
Many cloche hats were worn unadorned, but lots of styles demanded ribbons. Interestingly, the style of ribbon could tell a prospective suitor something about the young lady underneath the hat. For example, a ribbon that resembled an arrow signaled that the woman was already in a relationship, a knot naturally meant the wearer was married, but a big bow was an eye-catching sign of availability.
French fashion houses from Lanvin to Patou to Chéruit, to name but a few, designed clothes to go with cloche hats. Some hairstyles also suited the hat better than others. For example, Josephine Baker’s short cut was perfect for the short hat, and advertisers promoted the cloche as a bobbed hat for women with bobbed hair. Even more famously, Marlene Dietrich was a loyal Reboux cloche customer. But by the middle of the 1930s, in the depths of the Great Depression, the cloche had all but disappeared, a painful reminder, perhaps, of better days.
Of course, the cloche was not the only 1920s hat that women of the flapper era went crazy for. In addition to the ubiquitous cloche, women wore sculptural hats resembling airplane wings or crowns. Felt hats were embroidered with Art Deco flowers, and kits were sold for just $.89 so that women could make their own “crushers,” as they were called. Actress Louise Brooks made it acceptable to wear pokes and helmet hats, and so-called Speakeasy hats were studded with sequins and costume jewels.
Things sobered up a bit in the 1930s, but only a bit. Black, Sou’wester hats made of braided hemp continued the helmet look. In fact, straw hats went from garden to dressy, as straw cloches were woven with ecru to resemble smart tweeds. Knit turbans took off thanks to Greta Garbo, the pillbox was introduced, and women even took to wearing sequined or rhinestone-accented calot caps, which resembled large yarmulkes and were first worn by the ancient Greeks. Colorful berets and pirate caps, as well as felt or stitched geometric Dutch Boys, added to the decade’s eclectic sense of style.