Stitched up Samantha asked – How do you wear a hat without looking and feeling silly? It’s an interesting question! At one time everyone in the UK wore a hat, at least when they were out. Why has the hat fallen out of use? Today I am going to have a quick look at the history of the hat as it was actually worn in Great Britain (rather than by fashion models and film stars). Most of these photographs were taken close to where I live now and I recognise some of the settings.
Modern history of the hat
1900-1914 The Art Nouveau S-shaped fashion required a large hat to top off the look. These images were taken in London in 1905-06. These wonderful hats got larger and larger until, in 1911 they came out as far as the shoulder. The cyclist is having a little trouble with her hat – hat pins from this period are often very beautiful as well as functional in keeping the hat attached to the up-dos of the day. I love these evocative photographs and practical but elegant outfits.
First world war
The war altered fashion in the sense that it changed the political and economic role of women. Hairstyles became simpler as did the hats. Too much ostentation was frowned upon. Practical outfits became more fashionable. The skirts were much shorter, showing the ankle and some leg, and women even wore trousers for work. Many outfits were just men’s wear with a slight twist – the police officers wear ties and jackets, but with skirts instead of trousers. The hats are similar to men’s. The picture of men queueing to join the forces shows how at this time all men wore hats – the different styles denoting different class backgrounds. As you can see, the relatively well to do women going to see a film at the end of the war are all wearing hats. The older lady is wearing a very dated outfit, whereas the younger women all wear large brimmed everyday hats. One younger woman is experimenting with a short brimmed hat that is about to become fashionable.
In the 1920s the youthful look became fashionable. The smaller cloche (bell shaped) hat now had its day, as the crown grew to cap the head entirely. For the first time women began to dress in more “masculine” shapes, wearing their hair short and choosing hats with very small brims. I really love these 1920s cloche hats and would happily wear one today. The rule in the 1920s was never to leave the house without the head covered, and these low fitting hats required the wearer to look out from under the brim, appearing rather haughty and independent.
In 1936 people did their Christmas shopping in hats. All the ladies and children are wearing hats. Brims are back to reveal longer, curly hair, and to create a slightly masculine look of a fedora, with a tailored suit or coat.
While I love all historic hat styles I am particularly taken with the 1940s, when hats were still de rigeur but there was lots of experimentation and fun. There was less conformity in terms of style and people were happy to experiment. Due to the restrictions of wartime hats were a vital method of introducing individuality and style. Not everyone was a dressmaker but most could change the trimming on a hat. And those that could sew were able to make hats from the offcuts and non-rationed materials. In fact hat materials were not rationed. Now people would use feathers, veils and bows to create an individual look.
Here are some images from 1950s Oxford street. At first I thought they were the same group of three with their similar permed hair styles, their shawl collars and handbags. But all we are seeing is a fashion or a uniform way of dressing to shop in cold, damp London. While we often believe that hats were still being worn after the Second World War they were not, in general. Designers worked with milliners to create a look, and the envelop art often suggests a hat, now women were free to please themselves and they did not generally bother with a hat. More women were working and they perhaps had less time to work on their “look”, although a higher disposable income meant they could buy more clothes. During the 1960s the hair became much more a focus of attention with backcombed beehive shapes, and elaborate fuller hair dos, sometimes supported by hairpieces and wigs.
Since then hats are no longer a necessary item for men and women. Now they are either practical or a luxury. Sam’s concern about looking “faintly ridiculous” arises from the fact that hats are not the norm any more, haven’t been for a generation or more. But the opportunity to wear something beautiful near your face, that complements and brings your outfit together, should be seized. For drama and glamour I don’t think there is anything to beat a hat. Here are a few images from the V&A which often has fabulous exhibitions of vintage hats. Which is your favourite, and would you ever wear one?