The History of Vintage Hats

Posted on March 07 2022

The History of Vintage Hats
All you need to know about chapeau!

When asked what some of the strangest, and the most fun items we come across are for filling our shop, the answer is often one of our many hats. No other item of fashion seems to speak so loudly of the wearer's personality without them saying a word as a beautiful vintage beret or a fabulous vintage fascinator. Made from a wide range of materials, in incredibly diverse shapes and sizes, the world of vintage hats and millinery is a vast and exciting one filled with charm, sophistication and whimsy. Hats aren’t just for the Royals and the Races anymore.

Starting in the early 1900's, the wearing of a hat for ladies was more a requirement than a choice. To leave the house without a hat would be like leaving without your shoes on, it just wasn't done. Large hairstyles at the time and the fashion of perching your hat over your hair meant that hatpins were a necessity of the lady of the time. Not only would these long, straight pins be used to secure a boater or a wide brimmed sun hat to the head, but they were also seen used as items of self-defense. What really sets many of these hats apart are the decorations that began to come more and more into play at this time. Faux silk flowers in huge quantities, beading and wired bows, feathers, and even whole taxidermied birds were all the rage for accessorizing at the time. As you can imagine, the huge popularity and the necessity of these hats as part of an outfit for the time had a huge environmental impact, and until the 1918 Migratory Bird Act began protecting certain species, some types, like the Bird of Paradise, suffered extinction due to the drive of fashion.

With the passing of the Migratory Bird Act protecting many of our feathered friends, and the changing of the styles of the roaring 20's the cloche came into play in a big way. Fitting close to the head, and often embroidered, beaded, or otherwise adorned, the cloche was the perfect hat for showing off a pageboy haircut. The style of matching your hat, bag and shoes was becoming a new trend at this time, with department stores occasionally offering sets to purchase for day or nighttime accessorizing. Another style of the time, the soft skull cap, often fit like a headband, and continued in popularity throughout the 1930's. Skull caps were often a simpler daytime look, being easily pinned on the head, and generally adorned only around the sides of the cap. Fashion houses at this time often had their own milliners, working on matching sets for their extremely wealthy clientele.


War time in the 1940's brought on fabric rationing and a need to keep hair out of the way. The turban was a popular hat choice of the time, being able to be made from little fabric while still holding the hair out of the face and off of the back of the neck. Many styles of the time are unadorned, and heavily structured, or even masculine in design, as women entered the workforce to aid the war effort. Previously only for brides or those in mourning, veils and fascinators soared in popularity due to the small amounts of fabric needed to produce them. Worn backwards over the hair like a snood, or forwards over the face as a blusher, these pieces screamed "I can be well dressed and a Patriot!" by helping with the fabric ration.
The 1950's and 60's brought with them a resurgence of the love of extreme femininity. Flowers were back in a big way and the currently popular bucket hat made its appearance in the lampshade style hats of the time. The pillbox was a favorite among ladies of the time for its ease of styling and storage, and were often beaded or embroidered. Headbands were making a big appearance in the 1960's made from all manner of materials. Hats in these decades were still an everyday piece of apparel, but were starting to become less a necessity and more of a statement piece. While the houses of Haute Couture were still producing their own creations, hat making at home became popular at this time, with many DIY kits being sold and some even hosting house parties on the theme of crafting a certain type of hat.


Since the 1970's, the love of hats has waxed and waned among the general population, but that hasn't hurt the individual design aesthetics of these accessories at all. Styles keep getting weirder and more wonderful as time goes on, from the wonderfully quirky designs of stylists. Who could forget Bob Mackie and Cher's unforgettable 1986 Oscars headdress? In 1989 fashion icon Isabella Blow discovered Phillip Treacy, whose fabulous avante garde designs often spotted on British royalty, still command attention today.


While the wearing of hats has waned in popularity over time, the stylistic choices made by milliners has only increased in creativity. From pinned and piled on top to sleek and stylish, we think there is a hat for every occasion waiting out in the world for you. Keep checking back to our HATS section in our online shop for exciting new styles for you to try. We think just the right hat can make your outfit come out on top!
Ready to try on a vintage hat yourself? Shop our collection.

Recent Posts

Join Our Email List

get exclusive offers and discounts