Monday, December 30, 2013

Hats Off: The Menfolk Edition

by Rachel Dworkin, Archivist

While today a man in a hat is a rare thing, there was once a time when no respectable person would venture out of doors without one.  A man’s hat said a lot about him.  Different styles were worn by different classes of people.  Some styles were worn only for certain occasions or seasons.  Here is a handy-dandy visual guide based on our photograph collection.

Bower or Derby Hat

Man with bowler hat, ca. 1880s
The bowler hat, also known as a derby, is a hard felt-covered hat with a rounded crown.  It was originally designed by the London haberdashers Thomas and William Bowler for Lord Edward Coke in 1849.  He wanted a durable work hat for his gamekeepers which could stay on through rough riding and not lose it shape in the face of tree branches.

The hat quickly became the preferred hat of the working class on both sides of the Atlantic.  In America, it was worn by rural and urban laborers alike, everyone from cowboys to cops.  By the late-1800s, it had also become an informal hat worn by middle class types as well.


Man with homburg, 1880s
The homburg is a formal felt hat characterized by a single dent running down the center of the crown and a stiff brim with curled up edges.  During the 1800s it was worn by middle and upper class professional types for everyday wear and by working-class men on formal occasions. It has since fallen out of style.


Man with fedora, ca. 1930s
The fedora began as the women’s equivalent of the homburg.  In fact, it closely resembles the homburg but is pinched on either side of the center dent.  During the 1890s and early-1900s, it was, along with the shirtwaist, part of the uniform of the new professional woman.  In the 1910s and ‘20s, men began to wear them too and, by the 1940s, the fedora had replaced the homburg as the preferred hat for professional men. 

Top Hat

Knights of Columbus in top hats, ca. 1920s
The top hat is a tall, flat-crowned hat with broad brim.  It first appeared in the 1790s among the gentlemen and dandies of Europe but, within 20 years, became popular with all classes of men.  The top hat peaked in popularity in the 1850s.  By the late-1800s it had, once again, become a style associated with wealthy urban elites and formal occasions. 

Pork Pie Hat

Like the fedora, the pork pie hat was originally worn by women.  The pork pie hat is a small, round hat with a narrow brim and a low crown with a crease running around the inside top edge.  Apparently it resembles a pork pie (hence the name), but not one that I’ve ever seen.  It first appeared on the scene in the 1830s and was a popular ladies’ hat on both sides of the Atlantic through the 1860s. 

Around 1900, it came back in England as a men’s hat, but didn’t catch on in the United States until the 1920s when actor Buster Keaton made it the hat for the cool young man-about-town.  The style had its heyday in the 1930s and 40s, especially among artists, jazz musicians and the urban youth.  Even today it remains popular among African-Americans, jazz aficionados and hipsters.       

Newsboy Cap

American LaFrance workers
and their hats, ca. 1920s
Despite the name, the newsboy cap was popular with males of all ages.  The cap has a full, rounded body and a stiff brim in front.  The style was made famous by the newsboys of New York City during the late-1800s, but it was actually worn by laborers of all ages.  By the 1920s, it had supplanted the bowler as the hat for the working class man.  It was also popular among wealthier types for outdoor sporting activities like hunting, driving or golf.    


Man with boater, ca. 1890s
The boater hat was a formal summer hat worn by both men and women which came into use in the late-1800s.  It is a stiff straw hat with a flat crown and brim usually decorated with a ribbon around the crown.  The boater was originally associated with outdoor summer activities like boating or sailing, hence the name.  These days it is also associated with barber shop quartets and fancy prep school uniforms.  

Now for the test.  Can you name all the hats in this picture?

Men in hats, ca. 1900s

1 comment:

  1. Most informative! I'd had no idea how much women's hat styles and men's influenced each other so much. Thanks for the education. (And the great photos, too)