Hat styles in the first part of the 1940s were essentially a continuation of the forms that had been popular in the 1930s, especially small examples since materials for all types of clothing, including hats, were rationed. At times, hats took their inspiration from the war effort itself, seen most obviously in the trend toward berets for women.
Designers of berets were endlessly inventive, creating hats that sat on the head at a tilted angle, often with dramatic, platter-shaped crowns. Other designers used stiff black felt as a sculptural medium, impressing Art Deco patterns and designs into berets. After the war the beret persisted, but in the hands of designers like Hattie Carnegie, it lost its hard, militaristic edge, leaning instead to softer, more feminine materials such as black velvet accented with delicate beading.
Tilt or doll hats, as they were variously known, were also ’30s carryovers. Again, the small size of these hats allowed manufacturers to make as many hats as possible with their small rations of materials. But the hats often did not look very small, thanks to the ribbons, bows, flowers, and feathers that were piled on top of them, the veils that hung from their rims, and the jaunty military lines that mimicked army soldier caps.
Another type of small hat was the bumper, which was often woven of straw or formed from felt and frequently came with a veil. Turbans, which had been popular in the 1930s, remained a popular toque during the war years. Some were made of rich velvet and rose above the wearer’s head by as much as a foot. Other more humble creations were built out of cheap rayon and sold by Sears for all of 49 cents.
Snoods and bandanas were even less like hats. These bare-bones examples of headwear, designed principally to keep long hair from getting tangled in machinery, were popularized by various personifications of Rosie the Riveter. For example, the famous “We Can Do It!” war poster shows Rosie in a red with a white polka dot handkerchief wrapped around her head. When Ginger Rogers starred as Rosie in the 1942 film “Tender Comrade,” she wore a crocheted snood similar to ones produced by Lilly Daché.
Of course, women wore actual hats during the war years, too. The fedora was perhaps the most popular traditional hat, mostly due to Ingrid Bergman’s ensemble in the 1942 film “Casablanca.” Also in vogue were floppy felt hats wrapped in plaid ribbon and sporting a single, enormous turkey quill. Finally, in 1944, the head and Paris were both liberated as women wore wide-brimmed hats that were sometimes 18 inches across and made of cutwork felt or tightly woven straw.
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As the 1940s waned, the cloche seemed to evolve into the close hat, a head-hugging chapeau that usually went without a brim and was popularized in the following decade by Lucille Ball on the “I Love Lucy” show. Feathers in monotones of black or coordinating compositions of reds, oranges, or greens often crowned these understated beauties. For some women, though, even a close hat was too much toque for one’s head. For them, a bandeau of fake fur was enough.