As long as the sun has shone on our faces and the rain has fallen in our eyes, we have been putting things on our heads and calling them hats.
We can’t possibly remember every single hat in human history, but looking back at some of the most popular men’s hats throughout history will give us a better appreciation of the hat.
A Quick Roundup of Pre-Victorian Headwear
History is long, the world is wide, and we don’t have the time or resources to report on every hat ever worn. However, we just have to acknowledge a few of the popular men’s hats worn throughout history before the 1800s.
Officially, the term “ancient” refers to any time before 425 BCE. That covers a lot of ground: the Mayans, Babylonians, Egyptians, and Romans, to name just a few civilizations. But here are a few hats that stand out, either because they stood the test of time or because they’ve influenced modern men’s headwear:
Turbans: No one knows the exact origin of the turban, but there’s evidence of it as early as 2350 BCE. Turbans were worn in India, Mesopotamia, Africa, East Asia, and even Europe to designate things such as class or religion.
Conical hats: These cone-shaped hats, made of bamboo and palm leaves, are common sights throughout Asia, though they likely originated in Vietnam around 1000 BCE to shade people from the elements.
Petasos: This hat, popular among the common men of Ancient Greece and Rome, is a wide-brimmed hat with a conical cone made of felt, straw, or leather.
Phrygian caps: The ancient Greeks and Romans, particularly those who weren’t enslaved, donned these conical wool cap hats. Because of that, they eventually became associated with freedom movements from France to Mexico.
The Middle Ages began in 426 BCE and stretched through the 13th century CE. Women’s hats were a little more fanciful than men’s hats during this period, so there aren’t many popular men’s styles worth writing home about. But we can’t help but mention the bycoket, also known as “the Robin Hood hat.” In the Middle Ages, only the nobility wore this peaked, feather-adorned hat. But during the Renaissance, fashionable members of the merchant class wore it, too.
Renaissance and Enlightenment Era Hats
The Renaissance picked up where the Middle Ages left off and went into the 17th century, while the Enlightenment stretched to the first few years of the 1800s. A lot happened in the world of headwear during those 500-odd years. Here are a few highlights:
Beret: Some variations of the beret go back to ancient times. But the traditional, disk-shaped cap became a popular choice among the poor classes of Europe during the 14th and 15th centuries.
Cavalier: This wide-brimmed, feathered cap is what people typically visualize when they think of the Renaissance. Many people think of it as “the Three Musketeers hat.”
Tricorne: This 18th-century hat is recognizable by the triangular shape of the brim. You might have found this hat on everyone from soldiers to presidents to kings to pirates.
Hats of the Victorian Era
The years between 1838 and 1901 were a time of innovation for the world, and that included the world of fashion. In fact, the Victorians gave us some of history’s most iconic men’s hats.
Technically, we could consider flat caps Renaissance-era hats, given the fact that they rose to prominence because English Parliament passed a law requiring men to own them in the 16th century. However, their popularity really hit its stride during the Victorian era, when upper-class people began making them from nicer fabrics, making them more “fashionable” choices. As large amounts of Irish immigrants began immigrating to the US, the flat cap became even more popular across the pond.
The top hat first hit the scene in the late 1700s. The story goes that when its inventor, a milliner named John Hetherington, first wore it in public, he caused public panic. In fact, he was brought to court with the charge of wearing “a tall structure having a shining luster calculated to frighten timid people.”
Despite its rocky start, the top hat became the hallmark of high society throughout the 19th century. In those days, the most popular material for them was beaver skin imported from North America. However, silk eventually became the material of choice.
Even though top hats were popular, they weren’t always practical. They frequently fell off the heads of horse riders. Because of that, Edward Coke commissioned a lower-domed alternative to be worn by his brothers’ gamekeepers, the Earl of Leicester. Thus, the bowler hat was born.
Bowlers soon became some of the more popular hat choices for both laborers and middle-class city-dwellers in England. As with all Victorian hats, they eventually made their way to the US, where they became equally as popular. In fact, some people called the bowler “the hat that won the West” because it was so popular in the American West—even more so than the Stetson.
Hats of the 20th Century
The world looked a lot different from 1900 to 1999, and the same is true of men’s headwear.
This is another hat whose history spans more than one era. Boaters have been part of men’s fashion since the late 1800s, but their popularity skyrocketed as we hit the turn of the century, becoming parts of the uniforms for prestigious schools across the world.
Straw boaters were the hats of choice for the warmer months, especially through the 1920s. In fact, many cities in the US celebrated a specified date in the spring referred to as “Straw Hat Day,” when men would switch from their winter hats to hats made of straw. And the most popular straw hat for the occasion was the boater.
The fedora lived many lives throughout the late 19th century and the 20th century. Originally, the hat was designed for women, but it became popular with men after Prince Edward VIII sported it in the 1920s. From there, the fedora became the hat of choice for the American gangster and the hard-boiled noir detectives on the silver screen.
But you didn’t have to live a daring life to sport it. Fedoras were the standard hats of choice for all men until the ’50s and ’60s, when we moved away from wearing hats all the time as a culture. In recent years, though, fedoras have become popular once again. Check out our collection of men’s Dobbs hats for proof.
If baseball is America’s pastime, then the baseball cap is America’s hat. The hat was invented around the 1890s, about 15 years or so after the advent of baseball itself. Originally, it wasn’t as structured, and it had a much shorter bill. But after some tinkering, the baseball cap found its final shape in the 1950s. Since then, it has traveled far from the field, becoming popular among everyone from farmers to hip-hop artists.
History has worn a lot of hats. Let Fashionable Hats help you find the perfect one for your head today.