Hats Off, And On

History of Hats

Knowing my adoration for the hat in all its forms, awhile back Linda Ligon gave me a splendid issue of Ciba Review from 1940. Ciba was a Swiss textile dye company dating from the mid-1800s. It published its Review from 1937 to 1975 and covered a fabulous range of textile-related topics. My 1940 issue is simply called “The Hat.”


The fine folks at Ciba present several articles about the venerable hat, including “The Head-gear of Primitive Peoples” and “The Making of a Hat.” My favorite article is the equally nebulous, “The History of the Hat” (in 10 pages) that begins with 1000 B.C.E. Peru and ends with the 19th century. Under the guidance of the hat-wise A.G. Pettipierre, we learn how evolving styles of headgear have always been clear indicators of the shifting political, social, and economic events of the centuries. And we are treated to delicious tidbits of hat history.

For example, we learn that the highly decorated ducal hat of Charles the Bold of Burgundy was part of the booty the Swiss hauled off in the 1476 battle of Grandson. And in 17th century Mexico, detailed regulations governed different types of headdress. Apparently, the Carbonari, the secret Italian society, wore a particular kind of broad-brimmed hat because it was well suited to hide their faces during their meetings in the forest huts of charcoal burners. Every culture, every time has had its headgear, and as Pettipierre points out mid-way through, “The ways of fashion are strange.”

Hats Off

Hat Trick

I’ve loved hats my whole life. Perhaps it began when my small self fell in love with Edward Lear’s poem “The Quangle Wangle’s Hat.”
Perhaps it’s because I’m often cold and desire something wooly or silky (and attractive!) to warm me through. Likely, it’s the noncommittal nature of the hat that I’m committed to. It’s a temporary embellishment. Unlike a tattoo, or a haircut, or a piercing, a hat makes a dramatic statement that  lasts only as long as you’d like it to. Who knows? I do know that lots of folks are melancholy for the days (centuries) when everyone wore a hat. Or they may grumble that a baseball cap does not constitute a “real” hat. I bet Pettipierre would disagree.

But the hat is alive and well. I was reminded of this as I wandered around the International Folk Art Market a couple of weeks ago, observing head coverings galore, glorious statements of culture and identity from around the world.  Hats off to them all! Enjoy a bit of what I found.


Hats Off


Hats Off
South Africa

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2 thoughts on “Hats Off, And On

  1. Deborah Chandler says:

    Love it! Thanks!
    Now can you give us a book full of illustrations for The Quangle Wangle’s Hat? I’m not sure that even my vast imagination is up to that opportunity!

    • Karen Brock says:

      Thanks, Deborah!
      Helen Oxenbury illustrated the Quange Wangle’s Hat decades ago, and I’m sure there have been others since. But I like best just to imagine him up in his tree with that giant beaver hat, all those ribbons, all those friends!

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