7 of the Most Popular Hats in History

Hats have formed an important part of human clothing since the dawn of history. Here are 7 of its most popular iterations.

Mar 18, 2024By Greg Beyer, BA History & Linguistics, Journalism Diploma
popular hats history

 

Since the very beginning of civilization, and probably even before, hats have formed an important function in human society. Designed not just for protective reasons but for aesthetics, hats became associated with popular fashion, becoming associated with groups of people and national identities, as well as the wearer’s standing in society.

 

They have been made from all sorts of materials, from leather and fur to cotton, felt, wool, and even plastic.

 

Like the cherry on top of a cake, hats became the finishing touch of outfits throughout the millennia. Different styles became predominant in different places and at different times.

 

Here are 7 of the most popular hats in history.

 

1. The Medieval Hood & its Evolution into the Chaperon

chaperon hood red
A woman wearing a chaperon as a hood. Source: Celtic Webmerchant

 

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Living a life out in the fields in Europe was a common practice amongst the vast majority of Europe’s population during the medieval era. Protective hoods were common, and the style at the time involved a hood with a small cape that was fastened in the front. The hood itself often had a tail called a liripipe and could be made from wool to provide warmth in the colder times of year or lighter materials that protected the wearer from the sun during the hot summer months.

 

Indoors, however, this hood was constrictive, especially when relaxing with one’s friends over a few mugs of ale. The popular fashion was to turn the hood inside out, roll it up, and wear it on the head, with the tail of the hood hanging down the side. Thus, wearing the hood as a hat was born, becoming the dominant fashion in many parts of medieval Europe. 

 

quentin massys the tax collectors
The Tax Collectors by Quentin Massys, ca. 1525 – 1550. Source: Wikimedia Commons

 

In the English language at the time, a distinction was made between the two styles, and the garment generally became known as a chaperon when it was worn as a hat. When worn as a hood, it was simply called a hood.

 

The styles became more ostentatious as the decades wore on, and more cloth was used, along with fancier designs to denote affluence. By the 1480s, however, the style was in decline, and although the chaperon continued to be worn, its heyday of being one of the most popular medieval hats was over.

 

2. The Bowler Hat

man bowler hat
A man wearing a bowler hat. Source: Wikimedia Commons

 

Today, the bowler hat is commonly associated with Englishmen in suits carrying an umbrella while walking to work. Before this stereotype, however, the bowler hat was commonplace on the heads of the British and American working classes.

 

The bowler hat entered English society in 1849 when hat-makers Thomas and William Bowler were contracted to provide hats for James Lock & Co. of St James’s. The company required hats for a gamekeeper who, on horseback, had difficulty with his top hat and low-hanging branches. A more close-cropped hat style was needed, and Thomas and William Bowler thus introduced English society to their new design.

 

The hat quickly became popular throughout various parts of English society. For the first few decades after their introduction, they were popular amongst the working classes, but by the end of the 19th century, they had become associated with people who worked in the financial district of London.

 

The hat, however, wasn’t confined to the British Isles. It found a place on the heads of Americans. Contrary to popular belief, “cowboy hats” weren’t the most popular and widespread in the American West. It was the bowler hat, which in America was called the “derby,” and it was especially popular among cowboys and railroad workers because it sat snugly on the head and didn’t blow off in windy conditions.

 

From South America to Norway to the Philippines, the bowler became part of society. In Britain, the hat’s popularity declined in the 1970s, but it is still part of the uniform for policewomen.

 

3. The Fedora

dead reckoning publicity shot
A publicity shot for Dead Reckoning (1947) starring Lizabeth Scott and Humphrey Bogart. Source: Wikimedia Commons

 

The fedora appeared in the late 19th century in the United States, and like the Stetson, it has come to be widely associated with American fashion and culture.

 

In 1882, playwright Victorien Sardou performed his play Fédora, named after the main character of the work, Princess Fédora Romazoff. Her outfit included a soft-brimmed hat with a center crease, and the play made it fashionable. The hat became popular among women’s rights movements.

 

Fedoras became popular in Britain as well as in America, and in the following decades, the style was also adopted into men’s fashion. After Prince Edward (later King Edward VIII) started wearing one, the hat’s popularity soared, and it competed with the bowler/derby for the most popular hat in both countries.

 

In the United States, however, the fedora became the staple of men’s fashion, replacing the derby. The hat also evolved wider brims than the British counterpart and was further popularized in cinema, where the country’s most famous celebrities were shown wearing their fedoras.

 

This trend was especially prevalent in film noir, and as a result, the fedora is often associated with gumshoe detectives as well as gangsters and Tommy guns. The fedora finally went out of fashion at the end of the 1960s but made a comeback in the 2000s as part of hipster culture.

 

4. The Ushanka

shapka ushanka 1988
A Soviet era ushanka. Source: Wikimedia Commons

 

Although fur hats of similar designs have been used by many cultures in the colder climes of the Northern Hemisphere, one hat of this type became famous above all others – the Russian ushanka.

 

However, the popularization of this hat is a fairly modern phenomenon and started during Soviet times. From the October Revolution to the Winter War against Finland, the standard issue hat to the Russian army was the pointed felt hat called a budenovka. While this hat proved inadequate for the harsh winters on the Finnish border, the Finns were wearing hats similar to the ushanka called turkislakki, which proved to be much warmer.

 

Ushankas were adopted by the Soviet military, as well as in the Warsaw Pact countries after the war. The popularity of the hat even spread to Western countries and is used to various degrees by military and police personnel in Canada and in some American states.

 

5. The Beret

british soldier beret
A British soldier and Belgian soldiers in the background all wearing berets. Source: pxhere.com

 

Although used the world over, especially in the military, the beret is undeniably symbolic of French culture and a fashion statement that has found a home on the heads of soldiers everywhere.

 

Historically, the beret has its origins in ancient times in South and Southwestern Europe. It was worn in Crete by the Minoans and in Italy by the Etruscans and the Romans.

 

In the modern era, the beret achieved particular popularity in France and Spain, where it was associated with the working classes. After the 1920s, it was adopted by a broader spectrum of society and became particularly popular among the nobility as well as artists. It also became extremely popular in militaries worldwide and has even become a standard issue in countries with no cultural connection with the beret.

 

Further popularized by the iconic imagery of Che Guevara, the beret is also worn as a fashion statement relating to rebellion, which is ironic given its prevalence in sectors of authority.

 

6. The Turban

man in turban
A man wearing a traditional turban. Source: pexels.com

 

Turbans are headwear based on the idea of winding cloth around the head. Various styles of turbans are worn by various cultures from North Africa to the Balkans, the Middle East, and Southern Asia.

 

The earliest evidence of a turban comes from a Mesopotamian sculpture dated to 2350 BCE, and it is highly likely that turbans were worn long before this date.

 

Although worn by many cultures, certain styles of turbans have come to be widely representative of religious identity. The most notable of these are Islam and Sikhism, while the Coptic Orthodox Christians of East Africa are also noted for wearing turbans. In Hinduism, certain cultures in India relate the turban to religious identity.

 

In Afghanistan, the turban is part of the national dress, and many styles are worn throughout the country.

 

In Crete, an item of clothing called a sariki is commonly worn as part of the national dress. It is a knitted scarf with a mesh design with fringes that look like tears. It can be worn around the neck and shoulders as a scarf or on the head as a turban.

 

The list of specific turbans is extremely long and includes the gaung baung worn in Myanmar, the pagri in Bangladesh, the khăn vấn or khăn đóng worn by the ethnic Vietnamese, the ghutrah worn in the Arabian Peninsula, and many, many others.

 

7. The Baseball Cap

woman wearing baseball cap
A woman wearing a baseball cap. Source: pxhere.com

 

Undeniably, the most popular hat in the world today, the baseball cap, is, as its name suggests, a product of American baseball.

 

In 1860, the forerunner to the baseball cap was born and was worn by the Brooklyn Excelsiors baseball team. Through the decades, the design would evolve into the modern six-paneled round cap worn today throughout virtually the entire world.

 

Originally sporting baseball team logos, baseball caps may display company names, artistic designs, messages, and a host of other embroidered ideas on the front.

 

Despite their reputation as casual wear, baseball caps are also used by military and police forces around the world.

 

hats header image
Hats. Source: pxhere.com

 

With so many different types of hats for different environments and so many cultures with different cultural preferences, hundreds of hats can be considered popular worldwide. And as fashion is an ever-changing environment, there will surely be new hat designs that will rise in popularity.

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By Greg BeyerBA History & Linguistics, Journalism DiplomaGreg specializes in African History. He holds a BA in History & Linguistics and a Journalism Diploma from the University of Cape Town. A former English teacher, he now excels in academic writing and pursues his passion for art through drawing and painting in his free time.