Men were particularly extravagant in medieval Europe
Show me your hat and I'll tell you who you are
In Europe, headgear was worn in the early Middle Ages, which indicated belonging to a certain social class. In the 11th and 12th centuries, the common man wore a so-called coiffe, a tight-fitting hood made of linen or leather. It was also part of the clothing of the genteel classes. However, it was worn here under other headgear such as hats or caps.
In medieval Europe women had to cover their hair as soon as they were married. The typical female headgear at that time were bonnets and headscarves, which differed significantly from one layer to the other and were part of a dress code that was still adhered to in rural areas centuries later.
For a long time, headgear was given an important social symbolism. Painters used this property - especially in the Middle Ages - to mark certain social groups with hats in their works of art. For example, princes and cardinals were often painted with typical headgear that was rarely actually worn.
The turban as a model
The late Middle Ages brought an abundance of different headgear, often with influences from the turban, which was brought to Europe by the Crusaders. In France and Italy women were now more revealing with their hair and in the 14th century wore a kind of flat turban with a beaded edge and lavish ornamentation. At the end of the century, it developed into the horn cap, which spread across large parts of Europe.
In addition, a cone-shaped headgear with a veil hanging from the tip became fashionable for women: the hennin. This was worn in almost all of Europe for around 100 years.
The man adorned himself with various turban-like headgear in the 14th century. The beret, a hemispherical cap that looked different depending on the region and the state, was particularly widespread. At the end of the 15th century, the beret was worn as a flat, plate-like headgear made of velvet, silk or cloth by men and women of the upper class.
The lower classes were banned from wearing berets several times in Germany. The stiff beret was also used as a liturgical head covering. In the individual European countries, different, constantly changing forms of the beret emerged, including the beret. At the end of the 16th century the beret went out of fashion.
Straw hats - longing for country life
The 17th century was the time of the large, wide-brimmed men's hats, which were often made from beaver felt. First the slouch hat was fashionable in some European countries, then from France and Holland a larger and stiffer hat shape with a falling ostrich feather spread.
Overall, men's hats were relatively heavily decorated at that time, for example with feathers or decorative braids. In the 17th century, women no longer wore elaborate headgear as often, but lush hairstyles combined with small hoods, veils or shawls.
A new relationship to nature - triggered by the works of important English poets - made the straw hat ("shepherd's hat") modern for both sexes in the late 17th century. With this, women and men expressed the desire for a simple country life. The straw hats were first made in Tuscany. Straw hat manufacturers finally established themselves in England around 1690: around 1400 people worked as straw hat weavers in the Bedfordshire region alone.
Just don't ruin the hairstyle ...
With the advent of the men's wig in the 18th century, hat fashion changed for men. Wearing a hat on your head would only have messed up the wig. But going out of the house without a hat was equally inconceivable. The solution to the problem: the "chapeau bras", a three-cornered hat that was worn under the arm.
At the beginning of the 18th century, fine women continued to rely on elaborate hairstyles rather than lavish headgear. If anything, the ladies wore little bonnets. The hairstyles were often decorated with hair ornaments, and artificial flowers were particularly popular.
The women of the petty bourgeoisie wore a completely fitted, white linen hood throughout the 18th century. An encyclopedia from 1783 shows the importance of the hat at that time: it devotes 160 pages to the hat.
Top hats, sailor hats and traditional hats
Shortly before the French Revolution, the cylinder reached mainland Europe from England. In France it was initially worn by the French freedom fighters and was soon also popular with the German revolutionary supporters.
However, in the course of the revolution, the radical republicans more and more established a red, conical cap with a soft, forward-falling tip and a blue and white cockade - later called the "Jacobin cap" after its wearer.
The top hat quickly lost its democratic symbolism and became a hat for everyone in the first half of the 19th century. It was available in different forms for daytime and evening. What about the ladies? They initially wore a women's bonnet with a chin strap, the "capote", and also shapes of the cylinder and straw hats.
From the middle of the century, sailor hats and sailor clothing became generally fashionable in Germany. This trend came from England and found a great supporter in Kaiser Wilhelm II. In a photo from 1896, all of his sons wear sailor clothing and thus served as a fashion model for the boys of the bourgeoisie.
At the end of the century hat fashion became rustic: both men and women wore regional costume fashion and thus also traditional hats.
"Not wearing a hat is the most modern thing"
The fast-paced hat fashion brought new trends with it as early as the beginning of the 20th century: the hats for women were now imaginatively decorated, medium-sized and were usually put on at an angle by their wearers. The women, who were already motorized at the time, added a "car veil" to their headgear.
By the mid-1920s, women's hats became larger and flatter and were lavishly adorned with feathers and rosettes. After that, pot hats without a brim came into fashion with women - made of felt, velor or straw. With the advent of "Garçonne" fashion, women also conquered men's hats.
Afterwards, women's hat fashion changed again quickly: from small, flat felt or velvet hats to fancy plate hats to headscarves and self-wrapped turbans.
In the 20th century, gentlemen primarily wore elegant, simple felt hats such as the Homburg with a rolled-up brim. In the evening you put on a top hat to go with your tailcoat. Until the 1950s, it was unthinkable for men to go out of the house without a headgear. From the 1920s onwards, men's felt hats became more sporty; the beret also became fashionable.
In Germany, the downfall of the hat as part of everyday clothing began in the 1960s. "So, so not wearing a hat is the most modern thing?" Asks comedian Karl Valentin in a scene in the hat shop - and then doesn't buy a hat.
And what is modern today? Classic felt hats for women and men are almost exclusively worn by older men and women. Baseball caps are always in fashion, as are (knitted) caps in various shapes. Headgear is no longer part of traditional etiquette.
Nevertheless, the hats have retained one characteristic: they are still used as a distinguishing feature. However, no longer in order to distinguish oneself from other social classes, but rather to stand out from the crowd with a style of one's own - with a hat.
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