Evolution of Hats in America

Kyle Rairdon
Entertainment Editor

Ever since that fateful day Yankee Doodle stuck a feather in his hat and called it macaroni, hats were a crucial and often overlooked cultural aspect of American life. The popular triangular, black hat atop the white and pompous wigs of the British, like many other things, was brought to America and subsequently worn by our founding fathers in the 16th century, and often with a gold lining along the top. Men’s hats wasn’t the only extremely impressionable headgear brought from England. Women’s hats were often extravagantly floppy and heavy with floral pieces. Although these hot headpieces seemed perfect as far as fashion is concerned, times change, and as time changes, culture changes, and as culture changes so do hats.

In the 17th century, America experienced its industrial revolution. Wealthy plantation owners and factory owners alike sought out a regal and elegant new style of head wear. This desperate hunger for upscale hats was fed by swanky silk lining towering top hats. As wealth grew, so did the brimmed, cylindrical topper, and this high up headgear is now popularly associated with sixteenth president Abraham Lincoln. Along with freeing the slaves, Lincoln also freed the common American man from the binds of insufficient dome pieces, bringing attention to the silk top hat. English influence could be seen again in the 18th century American women donning small frilly bonnetts all across the expanding US frontier. Covered wagons and covered heads headed westward in the mid-1800s and with a change of scenery, a change of hats was inevitable.

Tall top hats soon were becoming too cumbersome for the on-the-go American in the 1900s, and the creation of an adapted, shrunk, rounded top hat – the bowler hat – was created in England by British soldier Edward Coke. Being a known politician, his style quickly popularized and the early 18th century marked a huge increase in American men equipped with bowler hats, yet bowling did not become any more popular. The style would be the basis for other flat and stylish hats in the future, a sort of a guideline for fashionable head toppers going forward. Women adapted the smaller and more compact bonnett and turned it into wide brimmed and feathery hats for the wealthy, taking away the floral and adding fauna, with fur and other skinned animals popularized by these hats.

The mid-20th century marked the origination of the fedora and trilby, a wider brimmed hat that was flatter and very well received. Trilbies and fedoras can still be seen on the heads of modern day lawyers, business men and women, or common Americans who enjoy the black coat, fedora combination. Floppy, flat, and protective from the sun, sun hats became popular for not only gardeners but many women of the hippy movement in the later 1900s. The hat can still be seen worn by men or women in sunny climates or simply for gardening.

The evolution of hats brings us now to the 21st century, wear an array of hats, like beanies, snapbacks, flat billed caps, worn backwards, sideways, or at any angle imaginable. Our culture can be viewed through many historical events and current conditions, and a good way to find the evolution of the American people is not to look back but to look forward and up, and to see what rests on the top of our heads.



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