The appearance of 1950s hats really took shape in 1947. That’s when Christian Dior launched his New Look, which included a line of bowed hats in textured straw. An aspect of the New Look dictated that the crowns of these hats should be extremely shallow, so variations on the cloche became known as mushrooms for their squat rather than bell-like profiles.
As the 1950s dawned, the cloche seemed to evolve into the close hat, a head-hugging chapeau that usually went without a brim and was popularized by Lucille Ball on the “I Love Lucy” show. Feathers in monotones of black or coordinating compositions of reds, oranges, or greens often covered these modestly scaled beauties.
At the other end of the spectrum were ’50s hats that almost resembled costume jewelry. Black velvet halo turbans were riddled with black sequins and topped by sprays of dyed feathers; glass cherries and grapes dangled from the rims of close straw hats.
Winged hats produced by Hattie Carnegie, Agnes of California, and many others used real feathers or felt to create a Mercury-messenger look. Fur hats in pillbox and mushroom cloche shapes used mottled chinchilla and bone-white rabbit to create a luxurious impression. And bejeweled cocktail hats dipped at asymmetrical angles, as if the weight of all that ice up top was causing the hat to list.
Celebrities such as the Duchess of Windsor and Gloria Swanson wore casques, sailors, and wide-brimmed hats interchangeably. In some circles, favorite wide-brimmed styles were the upturned portrait hats, some of which were almost two feet in length from brim to brim and featured black velvet inside and white felt on top. Meanwhile, Elsa Schiaparelli’s straw Panama boaters were covered with fabric flowers.
Horsehair was another favored material for hatters, as was taffeta, which was formed into flowers of all sorts, especially roses. Mamie Eisenhower wore an Air Wave hat to her husband’s first inauguration. And small, but functional bowlers, rollers, and Bretons were perfect for everyday wear.