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Hats: A History of Fashion in Headwear

Hats: A History of Fashion in Headwear

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Hats: A History of Fashion in Headwear

4/5 (5 ratings)
705 pages
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Nov 16, 2012


“One must always wear a hat when lunching with people whom one does not know well,” observed Coco Chanel, “because one appears to one's best advantage.” The couturier's regard for the power of hats to confer dignity and attractiveness upon the wearer stems from a long historical tradition. In addition to its practical uses — warding off the effects of harsh weather or an enemy’s assault, for example — a stylish hat has always made a statement of rank, elegance, or self-esteem.
This remarkable book presents an illustrated view of 2,000 years of head coverings. Over 800 drawings by the author — adapted from rare paintings, sculptures, and illustrations — accurately depict headgear in various aspects, including gender, class, and nationality. Crowns, wigs, tiaras, and helmets appear among the varied forms of headdresses, which include conical leather caps worn by the Danes in 70 B.C.; metal Viking helmets with horns; feathered Flemish berets (1410); petite straw hats, adorned with a rosette and ribbons (1870); handsome English top hats (1957); as well as ecclesiastical regalia, traditional and ethnic styles, and hats and head adornments from far beyond the European shores.
Organized chronologically by century, the fetching drawings appear alongside an interpretive text that documents the development of styles, their changes with the passage of time, and the influences that both created and altered them. Engaging and literate, this valuable reference for designers, art students, and costume historians will also captivate anyone who appreciates the age-old allure of a fine hat.
Nov 16, 2012

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Hats - Hilda Amphlett



The First Millenium A.D.

FOR SELF-EVIDENT REASONS we have little or no information on the head-coverings of cloth, leather or other perishable materials worn in Western Europe before the Romans recorded some details. Crowns and helmets, however, being usually of metal, have survived in many cases, so that information is more abundant in the case of royal and military headwear.

There is some evidence that the Phrygian cap (Fig. I) was introduced into Europe from the Middle East by the trading Phoenicians, who sailed along the Mediterranean coasts and the Atlantic shores as far as Cornwall, where they traded their famous cloths, dyed Tyrian purple, for tin and possibly other commodities such as oysters. The Neolithic, Bronze, and Iron-age peoples of Europe kept sheep and cattle and dressed and sewed leather. They also spun and wove wool and probably flax, so that it can be inferred that they made themselves protective caps and hoods and may have decorated them with beads or thongs.

Of the everyday head covering worn by Europeans before the Roman occupation and beyond the boundaries of the Empire, one fascinating example may be a clue to more widespread habits, at least in the northern parts of the Continent. At Tollund Bog near Viborg, Denmark, in 1944, the body of a man, thought by archeologists to have been a chieftain sacrificed for the sake of his people, was discovered in almost perfect condition, preserved by the bog-water for 2000 years. He was wearing a cap sewn from eight or nine pieces of leather with fur side inmost and conical rather than dome-shaped, crown with a band along the lower edge and a chin strap. (Fig. 2 ) . The head and shoulders of this man, who still wears his cap, can be seen in the National Museum at Copenhagen.

Pomponius Mela wrote that the natives of Britain dyed their bodies blue with woad, after they had been tattoed, as did the Scythians of the same period, and they probably tattooed their faces as well to make themselves look fiercer in battle. The term Picti applied by the Romans to this tattooing, eventually became the name for the peoples themselves.

Julius Caesar certainly found that the Iron Age Britons of Kent and Sussex had by 54 B.C. reached a considerable degree of civilisation, and he records that they had long flowing hair and shaved every part of the body except the head and upper lip. Razors had long been known and many examples are displayed in museums.

FiG. I Byzantine (South Italian) 6th cent. A.D.

FIG. 2 Danish (c. 70 B.C.)

Caesar’s description tallies with the appearance of a fine bust, now in Rome, reputed to be that of a British chieftain, Caractacus (Caradoc to his own people), who was taken to Italy to march in the Emperor’s Triumph. He is certainly of a Northern European type and has thick flowing hair, parted in the centre, with short waves like a fringe over his forehead, the rest falling to his shoulders. On his upper lip he has a handsome moustache.

Two main styles of veil were worn by Anglo-Saxon women. One had a hole made to fit the face, a fillet or crown holding the material in position on the head. The other was rectangular, draped over the head and down the back, and held in place with a band of metal.

The head-rail (known to the Saxons as the heafodhraegl) was made of linen or woollen fabric and was about two yards in length by one yard wide, and the method of donning this head covering was as follows: one end was passed from the left shoulder, over the crown of the head, down and under the chin from the right, then round the back to the left shoulder where the end was left hanging.

It was always coloured and often embroidered. English Work, a term for this embroidery, was designed in conventionalized patterns of spots and lines, and became famous, even on the continent. This head-rail was later, by the Normans, to be called the couvrechef, or coverchief, and continued to be worn well into the next century.

During the Roman occupation, the Celts of Gaul and Britain, at least south of Hadrian’s great wall, became romanized, adopting the toga and tunic, and the custom, in the case of men, of wearing little head-covering, apart from military helmets when these were required. A fillet or band for the brow was another Roman custom adopted to some extent by the peoples they conquered.

At Mayence a double monument was unearthed of a man and woman, both seated, and from this we get an excellent representation of Romano-Gaulish dress of the period between A.D. 20 and A.D. 80. The woman (Fig. 3) wears a turban-like head-dress of gathered cloth, possibly wound round a large quoit-shaped foundation. From it streams a veil of the same material. Her husband is bare-headed and the hood of his cloak is thrown back to lie round his shoulders.

The hooded cloak or bardocucullus, which covered the head and fell in folds to the feet, served for both young and old. A British example, of about A.D. 300, is seen in Fig. 4.

The Saxons, who had never been subjected to Roman rule, arrived in successive waves when the Legions withdrew in A.D. 450. They dispossessed or conquered a race more civilised than themselves, and for a century or more men on both sides were preoccupied with almost perpetual warfare. Their attire, therefore, became predominantly military in style and many helmets of the time have been unearthed by archeologists. We know, too, that conical caps of leather, wool fabric or felt, covered with metal bands, were sometimes worn, but men ordinarily went bareheaded. Hair remained long, loose and curled.

FIG. 3 Romano-Gaulish

FIG. 4 British Bardocucullus (c. 300 A.D.)

The Welsh bard, Aneurin, described the Teutonic tribes as wearing a profusion of hair, wreathing it with beads, and having many golden torques (bracelets) about their arms and necks.

In contemporary manuscripts the beards and long hair of the men are often coloured blue which may indicate that they were dyed with woad or other blue pigment.

Women, also wore their hair long, but braided and coiled at the nape of the neck. It is seldom seen in illuminated manuscripts as it is generally covered with the folds of the cloak as in Fig. 5. Compare this with the Roman palla the outer edge of which is frequently embroidered, or hidden by the veil or head-rail.

Christianity, filtering in from Celtic Ireland and Wales, and cemented by the arrival of St. Augustine, had its influence on the attire of the converted. The Church taught that to expose any part of the body, other than the hands, face and feet, was a sin, and prescribed more clothes and less adornment for the faithful, though not necessarily what they themselves followed. The Danes brought with them new fashions and particularly that of wearing their hair much longer. King Canute is described as wearing his hair in profusion over his shoulder, but unfortunately the only illumination we possess that is supposed to represent the Danish king shows him with short hair and curly beard and is undoubtedly the work of a Saxon chronicler who had never seen the king in person and painted the so-called likeness many years later than the incident it depicted—the Marriage of Canute and Aelgyfe. In The Death Song of Labroc (8th–9th centuries) the hero is referred to as ‘the lover of the lady, beautious in his locks’, and there is an anecdote of a young Danish warrior who had been taken prisoner and who begged his executioner not to allow his hair to be touched by a slave or defiled by his own blood, so much pride had he in his long tresses.

Saint Gregory Nazianzen said of his sister, in commendation, ‘She has no gold to adorn herself, no yellow hair tied in knots and arranged in curls, no transparent garments, brilliant stones or jewels.’ We cannot help feeling sorry for her, but her brother’s list of vanities is enlightening as showing what the gayer and less pious were wearing.


During their occupation of Western Europe the Romans encouraged or compelled men of the native races to serve in their armies, and they then wore the standard helmets of their conquerors (Fig. 6).

This was the helmet for captains or centurions; the gladitorial helmet is seen in Fig. 7.

Fig. 8 is taken from a silver piece found in Britain, and represents the head of the first Christian Emperor, Constantine, on whose helmet the Christo-gram—Chi-ro can be seen.

FIG. 5 Saxon

FIG. 6 Roman (96 A.D.)

FIG. 7 Roman (96 A.D.)

FIG. 8 Romano-British

FIG. 9 Celtic (800 A.D.)

FIG. 10 Sutton Hoo Helmet

FIG. 11 Viking

FIG. 12 English or Irish (9th cent.)

FIG. 13 Burgundian (9th cent.)

FIG. 14 Norman

Native Britains and the Celts, who resisted the Romans, also found it expedient to adopt a metal covering for the head as a protection during battle and Fig. 9 shows a Celtic helmet which seems to have some—though not much—affinity with the Roman.

With the withdrawal of the Legions from the outlying regions of the Empire the way was left open for the raiding tribes of the Baltic and North Sea coastal areas to make incursions, and later to settle in the districts the Romans had vacated. The Angles, Jutes and Saxons, who colonized lowland England brought their own helmet styles with them. Among the treasures found at Sutton Hoo in the ship Cenotaph excavated in 1939 at Woodbridge, Suffolk, is the Anglo-Saxon moustachioed helmet of bronze, illustrated in Fig. 10 and dating from approximately the middle years of the seventh century. It has movable ear-flaps, repoussé-work eyebrows, and shaped nose-piece, with a raised ridge over the crown to deflect the enemy’s weapon.

Of a different style altogether, but doubtless at least as effective, was the true Viking-style helmet of Fig. 11, worn by raiders from the North in the eighth and ninth centuries. Historians have noted the resemblance of the prominent horns to the Sumerian and other Middle Eastern head-dresses of prehistoric times, but this similarity is probably purely coincidental, and their purpose in this case was not of religious significance but to turn aside the enemy’s spears or axes. They may also have been intended to inspire terror in their adversaries’ ranks.

Western European helmets in the ninth century began to acquire the square shape illustrated in Fig. 12 as worn by an English or Irish warrior. The protective ridge runs from front to back over the domed crown but the lower edge has now been forged into four points. Beneath the outward sweep of the metal cap the warrior can be seen to have short hair. Moustache and beard are carefully tended and the latter is bi-forked. In the illumination from which the sketch was made the helmet appears to be green, but this may have been artistic licence to add gaiety to the picture—that of several knights riding on horseback with spears in their hands, their leader carrying a pennant with a green fish device.

Another version of the square-brimmed helmet, this time with a feather attached, is shown in FIG. 13 by a Burgundian soldier of the same period. Thus the original helmet of the Roman Legionaries had by this time been modified by widening the brim to a basic square shape. By the eleventh century it had taken a curved form and had acquired a nazal or metal piece projecting downwards to protect the nose, as in FIG. 14


Eleventh Century


THE MOST ILLUMINATING record of contemporary Saxon and Norman costume is the Bayeux Tapestry, which covers the period from Harold’s visit to Normandy until William’s arrival in England and Harold’s death at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The two national styles are always differentiated, and the contrast is seen most clearly in the hair-dressing. The Saxons by that time wore their hair cut short, and had long moustaches but no beards, whilst the Normans not only shaved their faces but also shaved the back of their heads from the nape to the crown, and that which, on a first glance, looks like faulty drawing is indeed a definite hair-style. In some of the scenes William’s advisers are seen with the hirsute part of the head covered with a coif which passes from ear to ear and ties under the chin, but leaves the back of the head exposed the better to display this curious fashion. The front hair was combed forward and cut straight over the brows to form a fringe. This strange form of hair-dressing was brought over to England and persisted until about logo by which time the Normans had adopted the English style of letting their hair grow. The fashion of shaving the back of the head is thought to have originated in Aquitaine and spread to Paris after the marriage of Constance, Princess of Poitiau, where the behaviour of the men was described by a contemporary writer as ‘conceited’ and their dress as ‘fantastic’. Certainly the Norman style of hair-dressing led to an error of judgment on the part of Harold’s spies, who reported to the king that William had ‘more priests than soldiers.’FIG. 15

As the popularity of long flowing locks spread beards and moustaches became general, especially among older men and by 1160 we read ‘They shave their foreheads and have long curls at the back of their heads, a style adopted by Robert Courte-Heuse, Duke of Normandy.’

Field workers and artisans in this early period are known to have worn the so-called Phrygian cap of FIG. 16 and FIG. 17 It was a soft stocking cap with turned-back edge round the face, and had a peak or bulge at the top, jutting towards the front. Its origin is obscure but it is known to have been worn by the Phoenicians who traded along the Mediterranean coasts and the Atlantic shores at least as far as Cornwall. The God Mithras, particularly venerated by the Roman Army, is always represented in such a cap, and it may be from representations of this God brought to England by the Romans that the style became popular.

FIG. 15 Norman hair-style (1066) From the Bayeux Tapestry.

FIG. 16 English or French Phrygian cap (10–11th cent.)

FIG. 17 Another style of Phrygian cap

FIG. 18 Saxon (Early English)

FIG. 19 Saxon Helmet

A Saxon shepherd, however, might have a simple domed hat of wool or felt with an upturned brim, such as is shown in FIG. 18


A Saxon helmet such as would have been worn by King Harold’s soldiers at the Battle of Hastings appears in FIG. 19 It is conical in shape and reinforced round the lower rim with a studded band of a different metal, while a separate narrow band secures the side seams. This warrior has shortish hair, beard and whiskers and his neck is bare. Later a fringe of leather was added to protect the neck.

Among the Normans of the eleventh century and later a skull-cap shape of Roman derivation came into use again and this was finally ousted by the tubular form.

The Saxon chronicler describes William of Normandy when he became king of England, as wearing his helmet thrice every year. At Easter he wore it at Winchester, for Pentecost at Westminster, and in mid-winter at Gloucester. With it a tippet encircled his neck.


Twelfth Century


BY THE BEGINNING of the twelfth century the head-rail worn by women in Saxon times had changed. It was now relegated to the back of the head and kept there with a bandeau or, if the wearer’s social status warranted it, with a coronet. Between 1090 and 1130 the head-rail was so long that it had to be tied in knots at the back to raise it from the ground.

From about 1130 until roughly 1154 noblewomen adopted a new fashion; they divested the hair of all its voluminous draperies and grew it to its maximum length. Parted in the middle, it was allowed to fall forward over the shoulders in two plaits or coils (Fig. 21) which often reached to the wearer’s knees. Matilda, in her effigy in Rochester Cathedral, has plaits which terminate in curls.

Each coil or braid was bound elaborately with ribbon bands or encased in silk—a useful device to disguise the fact that false hair or even tow was frequently added to increase the apparent length. Ultimately the plaits were encased in sheaths of silk, gold or silver, called furians, which were not unlike a modern umbrella case. If such a sheath was worn then all the hair was enclosed in it and it hung down the back (FIG. 20). Otherwise the custom of plaiting the hair in two braids was varied and four might be worn, two hanging over the shoulders in front and two at the back. A coffin, discovered in Romsey Abbey in 1836, contained the body of a woman who had been buried during the reign of King Stephen (1135–1154). Everything had disintegrated except the hair which was intact, in plaits eighteen inches long. For a time these were preserved in a glass case in the Abbey.

With these plaits or coils women wore a loose veil draped over the head and a garland (or fillet) set on (FIG. 21) which often reached to the wearer’s knees.

The weaving of cotton was established in France under Louis VII but linen was usually mixed with it. There were also available silks and siglatons and satin samite, but these came from the East. Sendals and taffetas came from Asia Minor. Silks went out of use temporarily about 1180 owing to the cessation of trade with the Moslems during the Crusades. Cloth then came into its own for most purposes.

FIG. 20 Early English

FIG. 21 French (1100–1200)


FIG. 22 shows a metal casque with link or plaques sewn to leather forming the gorget, which completely covers the mouth.

By 1146 French knights were wearing a Phrygian-style cap made of metal as seen in Fig. 23 which is from the incised and enamelled tomb of Geoffrey Plantaganet, Earl of Maine and Anjou. The pointed metal cap or helmet is ornamented with golden leopards on a blue ground. The hair is shoulder length and conventionally represented in three waves or loops, whilst the beard and moustache are neatly clipped. As a funerary slab it is unique.

FIG. 22 Norman

FIG. 23 French (1146)


Thirteenth Century


SOME TWELFTH CENTURY styles persisted well into the thirteenth. A typical example of barbette, fillet and coverchief of the early years of this period may be seen in Freiburg cathedral (Fig. 24). The hood and gorget, as worn by men in the previous century, was adopted by women of all ranks in this. It formed a protective covering for travelling and outdoor wear and was sometimes accompanied by a wide-collared cape, as in FIG. 25, which shows the German Queen Uta. Her cape holds the gorget snugly to her chin, while, probably to show her royal rank, her crown rests conventionally on the hood. The statue is so lovable and lifelike that ‘one might speak to her and stand in hope of an answer’.

Climate, as always, had a marked effect on design and fashion and it soon became evident that on the whole Germany favoured the heavier and more cumbersome styles, with less hair visible, while Italy’s styles were freer and gayer. England followed modified French versions.

Several innovations marked the early years of the thirteenth century. The barbette or chin strap (from the word meaning a little beard, and sometimes referred to as the tresson or dorelet) was introduced by Queen Eleanor de Guienne, queen to Henry II, and an example is shown in FIG. 26, taken from her effigy. All her hair is hidden under the coverchief on which is set her crown. The barbe, a development of the barbette, was adopted during the later years of the century and continued well into the second half of the sixteenth. It consisted of a piece of pleated fabric suspended just under the mouth and covering the lower part of the chin. An example is seen in Fig. 27.

FIG. 24 German

FIG. 25 German

The wimple, from a word meaning ‘to flow in wavelets’, came into fashion in the thirties. It consisted of a length of silk, linen or other soft cloth wrapped round the throat and passing under the chin from one side of the head to the other, and was pinned to the hair under the coverchief. FIG. 28 shows a noble lady wearing both wimple and coverchief. Her coronet appears to secure the latter. When the wimple was worn without the coverchief it is possible to see exactly how it was fixed to the hair, which, like the chin itself, was completely concealed as in FIG. 29 The wimple has survived among religious orders down to the present day. Nowadays we regard it as unflattering to the wearer and probably it was always restricting and uncomfortable, but it must originally have helped to keep

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