Nothing tops a beautiful outfit like a perfect hat. Whether it’s a lacy headdress decorated with velvet and tulle from the mid-Victorian era or a wide-brimmed, "flower power" sun hat of chenille daisies from the 1960s, hats reflect and define the fashions of their day.

During the 1860s and ’70s, the popular drawn bonnets of the mid-19th century became oval, framing the face more naturally than the round ones that had preceded them. These spoon bonnets were decorated with ribbons, lace, and flowers made of organdy and silk. Straw skimmers, also known as rounds, were worn outdoors—the best of these had patterns of silk braids sewn onto their tops.

By the end of the century, hats were moving in two directions. Some were demure, almost too small for the heads they were perched on. Others had high-domed crowns and were piled high with loops of ribbon and drapes of rich velvet. Wide Gainsborough hats, sometimes called cartwheels, were the exception to this general rule. These showy chapeaux were decorated with so many feathers that laws had to be passed to prevent entire species of birds from going extinct.

As the 20th century dawned, the Gibson Girl dominated fashion. The hallmark of the look was an hourglass figure (achieved by painfully tight corsets) and a big hat up top. Gainsboroughs were still worn, thanks to their popularization in the 1907 musical "The Merry Widow." Smaller, but no less ornate, pompadour hats were a mirror of the popular hairstyle of the same name. By the end of the century’s first decade, Edwardian fashions were in full swing, resulting in black velvet hats trimmed with ostrich feathers and velvet-and-silk flowers.

In the years before and after World War I, gigantic garden hats were still in vogue, but other trends were having an impact. Hats resembling berets and turbans began to appear, as did Musketeer hats. Tricorne hats, motoring hats, and straw boaters all had good runs toward the end of the decade. And as a precursor of the decade to come, close-fitting cloche hats were introduced.

Women in the 1920s went crazy for hats. In addition to the ubiquitous cloche, some with wide swooping brims, some without, women wore sculptural hats resembling airplane wings or actual 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 sense of style...

During World War II, the fedora reigned, mostly due to Ingrid Bergman’s look in the 1942 film Casablanca. Crocheted snoods designed to keep hair from getting tangled in machine parts were a counterpoint to Rosie the Riveter’s famous red with white polka dot headscarf. After the war, berets of crushed velvet and printed barkcloth gained ground, as did bandeaux, which weren’t really hats but looked like them from the front when padded and worn like a tiara.

In the 1950s, hats almost resembled the costume jewelry of that period. The mushroom cloche and the melon hat were just two of the hats that took their shapes, and names, from food. Celebrities such as the Duchess of Windsor and Gloria Swanson wore casques, sailors, and large-brim hats interchangeably. Mamie Eisenhower wore an Air Wave hat to her husband’s first inauguration. Small but visually arresting cocktail hats were decorated with everything from dyed feathers to faceted beads, while bowlers, rollers, and Bretons were perfect for everyday wear.

Finally, in the 1960s, hats reflected the rising dominance of youth culture. The decade began with turban-like bubble toques made of feathers, prints, or mesh. Felt conehead caps and zippered Bobbie helmets exuded a Carnaby Street vibe, while fake fur was the fabric of choice for many pointed fedoras. Patent-leather jockey caps, from jet black to bright yellow, continued the Mod style, and even straw Gainsboroughs, which now seemed entirely in step with the trend toward natural looks, returned to the fashion stage for yet another bow.

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]

MyVintageVogue

MyVintageVogue

The history of 20th-century women’s fashion largely played out in the pages of magazines such as “Harper’s Ba… [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]

1960s Fashion and Textiles

1960s Fashion and Textiles

Put on your go-go boots and check out this wavy, groovy tribute to 1960s fashion and textiles, courtesy of the Vict… [read review or visit site]

Vintage Fashion Guild

Vintage Fashion Guild

The VFG is a non-profit international educational organization dedicated to the promotion and preservation of vinta… [read review or visit site]

Fashion-Era

Fashion-Era

Bursting at the seams with content, this site contains hundreds of pages of fashion and costume history, including … [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

Antique Orig 2 Boxes Full Of Victorian Hat Trim,makings,lace,feathers,velvet Lot1910 Grand Edwardian Blackbird In A Cherry Tree Wide Brim Hat,velvet,feathers Vintage Eeme Boutique Rare Ladies Hat Straw, Black $ White W/red Trim UnsualLot Of 5 Vintage Ladies Womens Antique Designer Hats*summer Weddings*floral CapsAntique 1860 Hat/bonnet Straw & Navy Blue Satin Vintage OriginalAntique Bernheimer Bros & Co. Ladies HatLot Vintage Millinery Flowers 15 Cream Linen Roses Vintage Floral Wallpaper Box1940s Vintage Saucer Hats -- Lot Of 3 -- All With Labels!Authentic Vintage 1930's Custom Made Women's Felt Hat With Miniature Hats AttachVintage Hats Lot, 20 Vintage Hats, Party Hats, Dress Up HatsWonderful 1920's Vintage "flapper" Hat Great ConditionVtg 60s Schiaparelli Paris Made In Italy Faux Leopard Fur Wide Brim HatLot Of (2) Vintage Fabric Velvet Trim W/flowers Headband Style HatsLot Of 6 Vintage 1940's - 1950's Straw & Fabric Hats Summer FlowersAntique 1929 Art Deco Silk Cloche Brim'd Hat W Gold Trims & Lining Excellent OssVintage Beaded Pillbox Hat Studio Styles By Warner Bros Design Staff HollywoodVintage 1920 Black Horsehair Straw Cloche Vintage HatsAntique 1860 Hat Taupe Silk Vintage OriginalVintage Ladies Women's Straw Beret With Flowers And Ribbon Embellishments 20pc Large Lot - Vintage Millinery Hat Trim Flower Floral Roses Berries ClustersVintage Pink Flower Fascinator Ladies Hat Gorgeous!!Vintage Ladies Pink Feather Hat - Macy's New York - Beautiful Condition2 Vintage Antique Metal Hat Wig Stand Store Display MillineryVintage Inspired 1920s 1930s Cossack Style Gold & Black Cloche Hat Cloverlane True Vintage Antique Womens Straw Boater Hat Vintage Schiaparelli Pillbox Hat Satin And FurVintage Adolfo Black White Straw Satin Flower Hat Beret With Original Box1940's Vintage Ivory Linen Clip Hat With Flowers & A Veil1930s Jean Patou Paris Velvet And Felt Hat With Swooping Feather PlumesVintage Antique Straw Pink Flower Hat12 Vintage Women's Hats, All Pictured.....Imsc Hat Ladies Adjustable Mid Century Vtg Straw Mfd Under Fair Labor Standards Rare Sali-wer Child's HatVintage Womens Hat Silk Leaves W/ Red Glass Berries Grn Velvet Ribbon Net Top1940's & 1950's Women's Hats - Lot Of 101960s Christian Dior Turban Style Ladies Hat With Original LabelLadies Vintage Christian Dior Colorful Beaded Summer Hat With BrimVintage Ladies Women's Red Felt Boater Hat Black Net And Flower EmbellishmentsVintage Ladies Women's Red Bow Capulet Hat CapVintage Red Straw Womens Hat Cloche Style Very Good ConditionVintage 1930s Very Unusual Cloche Style Straw Crocheted Womens Hat - RareVintage Ladies Wide Brim Yellow Straw Derby/beach Hat With Hat BoxVintage 5 Hat Lot Millinery Flower Velvet Bridal WeddingIncredible 1940's " Lacy Vintage Straw Brimmed Hat", Fabulous Flower, Ex. Cond..Handmade Silk Lame Rosebuds Tricotine Stems Metallic Lace Fragment1950s Schiaparelli Paris Felt And Angora Fur Hat With Ab Rhinestone Fly BroochVintage Womens 1950s Novelty Cocktail Hat Miss Sally Victor- Lemons One SizeVintage Hat Lot W/ Box .glovesVintage Pristine Cond John Jr Mid Century Ladies Floppy Fashion Dress Hat 009 Vintage Womens Black Felt Hat With Veil Union Made Miller & Rhoads Genuine Vintage Black Union Made Lady's Wool Hat W/ Bow Netting Women's Vintage Ja-lee Red Feather Beehive Hat W Red Velvet Bow & BimSuperb Vintage Hippie Festival Suede Newsboy Cap HatLadies Hat Lot Of 4 Awesome Hats! Very Clean HatsVtg 1950's Glamour Veil Hat Lot Of Six Nos~black White Blue Green~original BoxesVintage 1940's Deco Saks Fifth Avenue Red Velvet & Feather Hat W/netting`Vintage 1920's Turn Of The Century Silk & Crochet Lace Boudoir Cap Hat Lovely !Handmade Antique Silk Lame Leaves With Victorian French Silk Ombre RosesVintage Women's Ladies Pillbox Burnt Orange 100% Wool Hat Neumann EndlerVintage 1950s Red Cello Straw Shallow Crown Small Brim Untrimmed Hat