Wide-brimmed hats can be made from felt or straw, can be stiff or floppy, and can range in style from casual to formal. One of the earliest types of wide-brimmed hat was the sombrero, which was brought to Mexico by the Spanish. Originally designed for horsemen, they evolved from flat-topped hats with wide brims to the round-crowned, brightly colored show pieces we think of today. A relative of the Mexican sombrero is a version made in Columbia called the vueltiao, which is woven of caña flecha (a type of palm) leaves.

In the United States, cowboy hats are a good example of wide-brimmed hats. In 1866, Stetson introduced its Boss of the Plains. With its wide, flat brim and straight-sided, round crown, the hat was an instant success with anyone working outdoors, especially in the West, where the cowboy era was in full swing.

The hats attracted fans for reasons that went way beyond mere functionality. By the 1900s, Stetson hats were fashion statements, worn by everyone from Buffalo Bill Cody to Will Rogers. For Hollywood, Stetsons were irresistible props. Silent-film star Tom Mix was famous for his big, white 10 Gallon Stetsons, whose enormous crowns suited the cameras, as well as Texas ranchers, who liked their imposing look.

Straw sun hats also usually sport wide rims. In some cultures (Victorian England, for example), these hats suggest idle summer days when a cool covering to protect the head against the heat of the sun was a requirement of civilized society. In other parts of the world, straw hats are necessities—workers in Asian rice paddies would not be able to get through their long days without them.

By the 1870s, simple straw boaters with flat tops and brims came into vogue for both men and women. The origins of the design are difficult to pin down, but the hats were also popular with Venetian gondoliers, who tied brightly colored ribbons around the crowns of their hats. In the United States, boaters were soon associated with Vaudevillians, yachtsmen, and horseracing enthusiasts.

Around the same time, on the other side of the planet in Australia, a company called Akubra began making rabbit-felt hats for farmers, cattlemen, and others doing battle with the country’s scorching heat. Akubra hats have since been worn and popularized by Aussies as different as golfer Greg Norman and actor Paul Hogan, who gained fame in the “Crocodile Dundee” movies.

During the Edwardian period and into the 1920s, straw hats for women were worn for playing tennis, while umbrella-brimmed sun hats in bonnet and skimmer styles were the summertime rage. By 1939, many of these hats would be known as “Gone with the Wind” hats, named after the wide hats worn by that film’s heroine, Scarlet O’Hara...

Two other collectible types of wide-brimmed sun hats are schoolgirl boaters, whose crowns are tied with wide black ribbons, and Queen Anne style hats, which featured a wide brim in the front that tapered to a narrow width in the back.

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]

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 Mens Fedora 1940s Hat , Size 7 1/4" Wide Brim.Patricia Underwood Brown Suede Wide Brim Dress Hat Size One SizeEric Javits Brown White Woven Straw Wide Brim Sun Hat Size One SizeSharp Stetson Hat 5x Wide Brim 7-1/41930s Big Brim Beach Hat California Playdeck Bullocks Wilshire Black Braid WideVintage Flo-raye Pink Flowers Wide Brim Ladies Platter HatMerrimac Grey Fur Felt Feather Hat Wide BrimMovie Star 1930s Merrimac Ritz Wide Brimmed Cartwheel Hat W/net Ostrich FeatherVintage Retro Women Fedora Trilby Faux Wool Cap Ribbon Wide Brim Felt Hat BlackWomen's David M Vintage Red With Black Feathered Wide Brim Church HatVtg Whittall & Javits Wide Brim Hat Fedora Style Euc!!1pc Coffee Vintage Men Hat Wide Brim Fedora Trilby Panama Gangster Hard Felt Vintage Retro Women Ribbon Wide Brim Faux Wool Felt Hat Floppy Bowler Fedora CapAuthentic Unif Concho Hat Wide Brim Black Native American Style Buckles NastygalVintage Womens Wide Brim Straw Hat With Veil Black Wide Brim Men Hard Felt Hat Panama Hat Gangster Cap Fedora Trilby Women1930s Merrimac Navy Blue Wide Brimmed Cartwheel Hat With Net And Felt LeavesKates Canada Wide Brim Hat Brown Wool W/ Cut Out FlowerBlack Vintage Women Men Wool Felt Ribbon Wide Brim Fedora Trilby Hat Floppy CapSafari Cotton Checkered Wide Brim Western Cowboy Bucket Hat Sun Visor /sfch_gColumbia Omni-shade Woman's Coral Wide Brim Outdoors/sun Hat Walking HikingVintage Wide Brimmed Floppy Straw Hat With Band Of Spring Flowers And LeavesNice White Straw Hat By Jordache Wide BrimVintage Wheat & Navy Wide Brim Low Profile Straw Hat Face VeilBlue Wide Brim Kentucky Derby Sun Hat Wedding Tea Party Church Bohemia CapTurquoise Polka Dot Wide Brim Organza Derby Hat With Jewel Accents One SizeBlack Fashion Women Ribbon Wide Brim Woolen Felt Hat Floppy Bowler Fedora CapPink Huge Women Kentucky Derby Wedding Ascot Church Wide Brim Dress Sun Hat A371Nwt Jack & Lucy Black Bicoastal Wide Brim Adjustable Hat PopsugarScala Sun Safe Wide Brim Upf Framer Hat Coral NwtHot Pink Women Wide Brim Floral Feather Kentucky Derby Church Dress Sun Hat A340Nine West 100% Wool Fedora Wide Brim Style Hat Red $48 NwtSomething Special Womens Wide Brim Floppy Fedora Hat Soft Wool BeigeVintage Valerie Modes Brown Wide Brim Low Profile Straw Hat AdjustableSkin Pink Wide Brim Kentucky Derby Sun Hat Wedding Tea Party Church Bohemia CapGrey Wide Brim Kentucky Derby Sun Hat Wedding Tea Party Church Bohemia CapBronze Wide Brim Kentucky Derby Sun Hat Wedding Tea Party Church Bohemia CapChampagne Wide Brim Kentucky Derby Sun Hat Wedding Tea Party Church Bohemia CapUnisex Women Men's Black Fashion Wool Felt Wide Brim Fedora Pork Pie Hat Caps PoWhittall & Shon Vtg Black White Houndstooth Gray Wool Wide Brim Derby Hat BowBetmar Red Hat Wide Brim Acrylic/polypropylene Taiwan #39360Womens Black Wool Wide Brim Hat Fashion Uk Style Spring Summer Accessories