Hats have always been the crowning item in a man’s wardrobe. Chiefs in primitive cultures wore elaborate headdresses to identify themselves as leaders of their clans. Jewel-encrusted crowns have been popular with monarchs for millennia. And hats were so familiar as symbols of status to the ancient Romans that newly freed slaves received special hats to make sure they could move about as free men.

In the Western world, felt, leather, fur, and straw have long been the most common materials used by hatters. In the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, lower-class men in many areas of Europe were forbidden from wearing furs or fine embroidery, and their headwear reflected these laws. Commoners’ hats of this time were often made of felt or skin and looked like caps. Courtiers’ hats, however, were wide, with feathers, embroidery, and jewels. These hats were less practical and more symbolic, with no well-defined brim to shade the eyes or ward off the elements.

It was in the mid-1500s that headwear began to get noticeably taller. Caps were still worn by the lower classes, but taller, brimmed hats, adorned with feathers and made of felt, beaver, or other soft skins, were popular with the wealthy from about 1550 onward. The 1600s saw wider brims in men’s hats, morphing into the Puritan-style wide brim we associate with the pilgrims and Plymouth. Men in France and Spain wore wide, upturned brims like those immortalized in The Three Musketeers.

Brims became narrower in the 1700s, notably in France. Tricorne hats, like those worn by soldiers in the Revolutionary army, were popular with the upper classes. The lower classes wore them as well, though in leather or felt, and without the plumes of the aristocracy. In the second half of the 18th century, the modern top hat began to emerge in England, where relatively narrow-brimmed hats with high, rounded tops became fashionable in the 1780s. The opposite was true for the European and American peasantry, who wore wide brims and low tops, spawning what would become the cowboy hat.

By about 1820, the top hat had virtually replaced the traditional tall English hat. The top hat was worn by all classes of men for all occasions. Variations ranged from simple cylinders to hats with curved sides and upturned brims.

Top hats in various styles would remain popular until 1849, when London hatter William Bowler changed the style drastically by designing a short, rounded hat meant to be worn to the races. In England, the hat was called a bowler, after its creator, but in the United States, the hat became known as a derby, for its association with the track. The bowler was common among all classes for most of the Victorian era, while the top hat was preferred by the upper classes and for formal occasions.

The lower classes of this period often wore caps that we think of as Irish-style or newsboy caps. These were made of felt or tweed wool, and were often made in plaid or herringbo...

In America, different stylistic innovations were afoot. By the second half of the 19th century, cowboy hats were a well-established style. One name in the hat business from that era that is still a powerhouse today is Stetson. Founder John Stetson is said to have got his start in the hat business when he made himself a wide-brimmed beaver-felt hat for a hunting trip. These hats were light and easy to make, requiring no tanning of the material.

Soon Stetson founded his company and popularized the style among cowboys, gentlemen, and even the U.S. military. He called his hat "Boss of the Plains," after his time hunting and working in the American West. The "Boss" was soon the standard for western wear, and Stetson was forever synonymous with the word "hat" in America.

With the rise of industrialization in Western Europe and America, men could afford to own more than one or two hats. Seasonal hats quickly became the rage. In the spring and autumn, men wore derbies or similar hats with a scrunched peak, often called a trilby. Top hats were worn in the winter, and a major innovation in summer wear came at about the turn of the century—straw hats.

The most popular straw hat was the Panama. Men valued them for their elegant style, lightweight construction, and cooling straw weave. A more American and European variation on the straw hat is the straw boater, a low, flat-topped hat with a wide brim and a colored band. At the turn of the 20th century, this was the hot summer look.

Fedoras appeared in the 1920s. This medium-wide brimmed hat with a pinched front became the standard headwear for men throughout the year, though the bowler was still preferred by some. Varying styles of the fedora and trilby continued to emerge. For example, the flat-topped pork pie hat became connected to jazz and blues culture. Then there was the homburg, which was almost the same thing aesthetically as a fedora, except its brim was stiff and fixed rather than bendable.

As the 20th century drew to a close, the brims of hats became smaller, and by the 1960s, hats were no longer a necessary part of everyday fashion at all. To the consternation of many, baseball caps and Irish-style caps replaced many types of more formal men’s hats. In recent years, though, the fedora, pork pie, and trilby have seen a resurgence of popularity among younger generation, for whom all things old are often the most hip.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Des Chapeaux

Des Chapeaux

A French tribute to women's hats and other headwear from the 1940s... primarily magazine images, with some commenta… [read review or visit site]

The Black Tie Guide

The Black Tie Guide

Peter Marshall became an authority on formalwear out of necessity — he needed a tux to wear on the maiden transat… [read review or visit site]

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

The Fashion Columbia Study Collection (FCSC) is the digital home of the Columbia College Chicago’s fashion archiv… [read review or visit site]

American Hatpin Society

American Hatpin Society

Who knew there was so much to hatpin collecting? This site is all about great hatpin images - from recent hatpin co… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage 40s Borsalino Rockabilly Fedora Hat Size 7 1/4Vintage Champ Featherweight Felt 1950's Mens Hat Fedora 7 3/8 In Original Box !!Stetson Hat - Open Road Regular Oval - New!Vintage G.a Dunn & Co Black Fur Felt Trilby Large Hat - Uo P16Vintage 40s Borsalino Rockabilly Fedora Hat Size 7 1/4Vintage Hand Woven Genuine Panama Hat Ecuador 7 1/4Vintage Mens Dobbs Fifth Avenue New York Black Fur Fedora Hat W/box - Size 7 3/8Orig 1940s Custom Made Light Putty Color Fedora Style Mans Hat Authentic Stetson Snaffle Bit Men's Cowboy Hat Black Size 7 3/81940's Dobbs Fedora- "dobbs Fifteen"-green -size 7-1/4- Vg -fantasticBrown Resistol Cowboy Hat 4xxxx Beaver Self Conforming Oval Size 7 1/4 Orig BoxVintage Stetson 3x Beaver Quality Felt Fedora Hat - 7 1/4 Vintage Stetson "gus" 4-x Beaver Cowboy New Mexico Movie Sz 7 1/4+ SassVintage 1950's Royal Stetson Fedora Hat Modified Porkpie 7 1/8Vintage Mens Fedora Mallory Stetson Size 7 1/4 -7 3/8 Felt Beaver ? 7 1/8Orig 1940s Dobbs Rainbow Fedora Mans Hat Light Putty ColorVintage Mallory Fifth Avenue Brown Fedora - Schuster Bros. Size 7 1/8Rare Vintage 1930's Carlson Co. Felt Homburg Fedora Hat Size 7Levi's Orange Tab Denim Blue Jean Jerky Leather Patch HatVintage Meadowbrook Sz.7-1/4 Light Gray Fedora/hat70s Era Stetson 3x Beaver Open Road 7 3/8 Been Down The Old Open Road A BitMagnificent 1940's Or 50's Dobbs Fedora: 7 1/2Vintage 1930s Mexican Cowboy New Mexico Movie Hat Sz 7 1/8-7 1/4 SassRohe Project P2 Hat. Ralph Lauren Polo 92 93 Snow Beach Pwing StadiumRare Vtg Fur Felt Orvis Safari Hat 7 3/8 Aussie Outback Willis Geiger Look AlikeVintage Js Barnes & Co Chicago Black Men's Dress Silk Top Hat In Original Box NrVintage Stetson Straw Boater Gondolier Hat Size 6 7/8Vintage Rare Nintendo Snes Star Fox Promo Stained Adj. Hat Cap Vintage Stetson "gus" 7-x Beaver Cowboy New Mexico Movie Hat Sz 7 1/8 SassChamp De Luxe Deluxe Felt Hat Fedora Master Craftsmen 6 7/8 $7.50 Feel The FeltFedora,hat, Gray, Size 7 1/8, Cavanagh Vintage Royal Stetson Fedora Hat Size 7 ,fur? 1947-1964 (post Wwii-early 60s)?Vintage Stetson "gus" 7-x Beaver Cowboy New Mexico Movie Sz 7 1/4+ SassVintage Mens 1940s Dobbs Fedora Hat Hankachif Felt Leibowitz St Louis 7 1/4Vintage: Rare Beaver Felt Derby Hat. 7 3/8 Excellent Condition.Vintage Royal De Luxe Stetson Gun Club Mens Brown Fedora Hat 7 1/2Vintage Stetson Royal Deluxe Gray Felt Fedora Homburg? Nice ConditionVintage Stetson Gun Club Leather Hat Band Fedora Hat Grey/green Size 7 1/4Vtg Mink Brown Royal Stetson 7 5/8 Old Newspaper Reporter Look Or Indy Style GucLot Of 100 Vintage Hats Caps Snapback 1980's Mesh Trucker Brand New OldVtg 80s Grunge Real Sheepskin Shearling Fur Lined 90s Suede Hat Urban OutfittersVtg (early 60's) Dobbs Brown Fur (beaver) Felt Fedora Hat. Size 7 1/2Fabulous! Vintage Fedora Hat Lewis & Thos. Saltz Washington Dc GrayStetson Rancher Hat Mist Grey Worn Once Only Few Marks 5 X Beaver Size 6 & 7/8Vintage P. & C. Habig Wein Dat Brown Velour Fedora Hat W/box - 7 1/8Vintage Beaver Hats Fedora Western Hat 10x Quality 7 1/2 Coffee Brown Gr CondStetson Brand Western Hat Xxxxx Ranch Tan 7 3/8 MintVintage StetsonVintage Knox Felt Fedora Hat Size 7 Brown Yellow Feather In Dobbs 5th Avenue BoxVintage Brown "royalist" English Manner Fedora Wool Felt Hat - 1940's Size 7Vintage Royal Stetson "the Open Road" Fedora Hat & Box - Size 7 - Very Nice !Vintage John B. Stetson Vented Bowler Derby Hat Excellent Condition!Vintage Harris Tweed 100% Wool Fedora Hat Made For Quaker Marine Supply - 7 3/8Vintage Bowler Derby Chaplin Fedora Dobbs Black Felt Hat 7 1/8 W Orig Box BelRare Vintage Monterey Bay Aquarium Snap Back Corduroy Hat Cap 80's Blue Vintage Dynafelt Ranch Western Wear Cowboy Hat Brown Water Repellent Size 7 1/4Rare Antique Leather Hat Box Case For Top Hat Victorian Knox ExcellentKnox Black Wool Bowler Hat With Original Box Sz 7 1/8John B Stetson Company 3x Beaver 60swestern Dress Hat Size 7Mens Charcole Grey Fedora Hat By Dobbs Size 7