History of Felt hats & Straw
hats - Felt dress hats
hatless man was an anomaly in the mid nineteenth century,
the dress hat was almost always in place, even when the coat and
necktie had been laid aside because of the heat. In the 1880s, the
bought a hat every year or two and, in the first decade of this century,
probably owned two hats.
From 1850-1900, the tall top hat continued to be
the popular dress hat for both formal day and evening wear; the opera
covered in corded silk, also remained popular for
visiting the theatre, as it could be folded flat and put under the
seat. A light grey top hat was worn in the late 1860s for coaching
or racing parties, and is still worn for Ascot Week in England.
The bowler or Derby named after its designer, the hatter William
Bowler; was a popular felt dress hat worn beginning about 1860. The
derby hat was a hard felt hat with a domed crown, and a
narrow brim rolled up at the sides, and varied in height over the
years. At first, when worn with the lounge jacket, it was black,
its popularity increased it was also made in brown or fawn felt,
and teamed with the Norfolk jacket. A similar felt hat with a hard
square crown was worn in the 1890s and much favored by Winston Churchill,
who continued to wear it into the 20th century.
In the U.S. as in France, there were both regional
and class differences in the types of hats men selected. In the middle
decades of the nineteenth
century, top hats were required in cities and were sometimes worn
by workers with their work clothes. During
this period, the "wide-awake", a black felt hat with a
broad stiff brim, was very popular in the western states. By the
1870s, top hats made of silk were worn in cities by prosperous businessmen
but were not worn in the countryside, where the
soft felt hat was popular with railroad workers and farmers. Bowlers
or derbies were worn by businessmen, particularly
when they visited the countryside, and by some workmen in the cities,
although caps were more typical of the laborer.
Beginning in the 1870s, an increasing number of
dress hats were considered suitable for informal wear. The Homburg,
by the Prince of Wales, was a stiff felt hat with a dent in the crown
running from back to front, and its brim bound with ribbon and curving
the sides. The trilby, worn in the 1890s, had a similar dent in the
crown but was softer with a wider, unbound brim. The wide-awake,
brimmed felt hat with a low crown, was a countryman's hat; but
there are photographs of Alfred Tennyson looking extremely impressive
in one in the 1850s. Caps of tweed or firmly woven wool with small
peaks and a
close fit were also worn; the deer-stalker had a peak fore and
aft, and ear-flaps worn tied together on the top of the crown.
The use of hats to blur class boundaries appears
to have occurred most frequently in England, and to a lesser extent
in the United
States, particularly outside the workplace, and least in France.
However, this type of use generally occurred during the early stages
in the history of a particular style of hat. Two photographs of workers
at work and leisure illustrate the use of the bowler to blur status
boundaries. One photograph of workers at leisure in 1890, shows most
of the workers wearing bowlers, but a photograph of workers in 1892
shows most of them wearing peaked caps or felt caps. Only two workers,
and the owner of the business, wore bowlers. A more common practice
in all three countries, was the use of a particular style of hat
to indicate social class status as well as affiliation with a specific
region, either city or countryside.
By the early 1900s, the middle class was wearing silk top hats in
the cities mainly for formal occasions, such as weddings and church
services. Broad brimmed felt hats
remained popular among ranchers and farmers. Bowlers
were being widely worn by both the middle and the working class,
although peaked caps were generally worn in the workplace by workers.
Following World War I, the top hat was reserved
only for very formal occasions, replaced by the bowler as daily power
dress. The trilby
or snap brim hat became the all purpose dress felt hat, cutting across
class strata in America and Europe. Narrowing the trilby's brim made
it a less formal hat than its nineteenth century predecessor.
Men's dress hats did not change much during the
World War II years. Snap brims remained in style. The biggest change
in men's hats was
in color. Gray, brown, and black felt hats were replaced with rainbow
hues, and somber black hat bands were replaced with bands of riotous
color and pattern.
Up to 1960, men wore dress hats as a matter of course.
Dress hat sales started to tank after John F. Kennedy appeared hatless
inauguration in 1961, and took further hits in the dress
down decades to follow. After bottoming out in the 1960s, felt hats
brims made a comeback in the early 1980s, when actor Harrison Ford,
playing Indiana Jones, wore one in "Raiders of the Lost
Ark"; and later, hats became popular with hip-hop artists.
There have always been a hard core of dress hat wearers, who never
went away. Certain well dressed and confident men have refused to
take off their lids.
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