Women's Hats and Their Evolution From the 1700 to 1800s - Geri Walton (2023)

There were remarkable transformations in the style of women’s hats from the 1700s to the 1800s. The hat changed to match empires, dynasties, and ages, but it did not take on a fashionable turn until the mid-1700s. It was at that time that women made popular the shepherdess hat, a wide-brimmed, shallow-crowned straw hats, known as a bergère. They were usually stiff crowned hats, made from straw, and tied under the chin. These hats had been worn since the early 1700s but took on a fashionable bent between the 1750s and 1760s.

Women's Hats and Their Evolution From the 1700 to 1800s - Geri Walton (1)

Woman wearing a bergère hat. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Rising hairstyles soon caused many of these hats to tilt forward to accommodate the popular hairstyles. As hairstyles became larger and larger, hats styles became smaller and smaller until they were discarded altogether for a time. However, extremely large hats were soon introduced and sometimes completely covered the high coiffures. It was also around this time that the word “bonnet” began to take on the its modern connotation and began to describe a variety of new hats.

As with all fashions, for a time headdresses and hat styles became radical. By the end of the 1770s and the early 1780s, headdresses became monstrous. Hats also reached colossal proportions and were worn on formidable angles to accommodate the curls, plaits, and frizzed hair beneath them. One famous eye-popping hat from this period was the “portrait” or “picture hat,” a hat Georgina Cavendish, better known as the Duchess of Devonshire, created and wore when Thomas Gainsborough painted her in 1785.

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Detail from Heinrich Lossow’s oil on canvas showing Marie Antoinette getting her hair dressed in the ever popular towering style. Public domain.

Hats also began to be named for events, characteristics, or cities. For instance, The Lady’s Magazine in May 1775, provided a list of all sorts of popular hats at the time: “The City Hat,” “The St. James’,” “The Ranelagh,” “Macaroni,” “Otaheite,” “The Skimming-dish Hat,” and “The Calash.” The French also began naming their hats after American cities, with the “Philadelphia” and the “Boston” being two of the more popular ones.

After Italian Vincenzo Lunardi’s balloon ascent, the “Lunardi” or “balloon” hat became popular. Another popular balloon hat was the Chapeau à la Montgolfier after the ballooning Montgolfier brothers. Balloon hats were created from gauze or silk and had large puffed crowns with wide brims to match. Although the name of the hat (Lunardi or balloon) lasted a couple of years, the hat remained popular until about 1790.

Women's Hats and Their Evolution From the 1700 to 1800s - Geri Walton (3)

Chapeau à la Montgolfier and Chapeau au Ballon Aérostatique. Public domain.

(Video) How Men's Perfect Body Types Have Changed Throughout History

From about 1785, hair was combed low and bonnets were worn high with the styles of the times retaining similarities to the previously radical and towering hairstyles. It was also around this time Marie Antoinette originated the fashion of big curls at the side of the head with the remainder of the hair fashioned into a chignon at the back.

After the revolution began and guillotine was used, women sometimes cut their hair short around the neck to represent those who were beheaded. Apparently, the condemned were ordered to have their hair cut before their execution and the style on the street was fashionable enough to take the gruesome name of “Guillotine Coiffure.” There was also the coiffure à la Titus of the bals des victimes (victims’ balls), which reputedly took place after the Reign of Terror and was popular with women.

Women's Hats and Their Evolution From the 1700 to 1800s - Geri Walton (4)

Madame Fouler (Henriette Victoire Elisabeth d’Avrange), comtesse de Relingue, with the coiffure à la Titus in 1810 by Léopold Boilly. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The bergère from previous years remained fashionable. However, it had a smaller brim. Before the end of Louis XVI’s reign in 1792, women’s hat began to be tall in style similar to the man’s stove-pipe top hat of the late 1800s. This style, shown below, was high enough to require mechanical contrivances to secure them in place. Besides their high crowns, these women’s hats also had broad brims and were often garnished with floral decorations.

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Hat requiring mechanical contrivances to secure it in place. Author’s collection.

Starting in 1795, women’s fashions began to follow the classical ideals of the Greeks and the Romans, and it extended to hairstyles as well. Curls were worn over the forehead and ears, and loose buns or knots were created at the back of the head. When Napoleon Bonaparte began to reign in 1804, the variety of women’s hats was bewildering. One of the most unusual hats at this time was a huge bonnet with an enormous visor — stiffened from whalebone or wire — and tied securely under the chin. Large feather plumes often garnished these large visor hats and cascaded over them. Additionally, a woman’s hair was worn in a Grecian style: cut short, curled, and tied in the back with velvet bands.

Women's Hats and Their Evolution From the 1700 to 1800s - Geri Walton (6)

Empire stye bonnet. Author’s collection.

In the 1800s, for the first time women sometimes left home without a hat. This happened even though millinery was still popular. Among some of the fashionable pieces at the time was the turban, which was particularly popular with Madame Récamier‘s good friend, Madame de Staël, who is shown below wearing a turban in 1813.

Women's Hats and Their Evolution From the 1700 to 1800s - Geri Walton (7)

Madame de Staël in her turban in 1813. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Besides Madame de Staël’s fashionable turban, the Highland or Greek helmet was also popular. In 1810, of all the styles, the helmet style was the favorite because it was simple and tended to have an extraordinarily long visor. It was also popular because it had many variations and was often ornamented and bedecked with feathers, ribbons, and trims.

By the 1830s, the Ladies’ Museum noted, “hats have increased in size; the brims are very deep and extremely wide, the crowns are of moderate height in front, and very low behind.”[1] Hats at this time were either straw hats (Leghorns) or created from stiffly starched cotton. These hats were tied under the chin and the outside was often a different color from the inside. They were also sometimes covered with satin or silk, often had sweeping curves, and tended towards botanical embellishments as noted by one fashion magazine:

“Wild flowers, particularly daisies, are much in favour, as are also bouquets of violets; but nothing is considered more elegant than branches of lilac, placed in the same style as feathers, that is to say, to droop from the right side to the left.”[2]

Women's Hats and Their Evolution From the 1700 to 1800s - Geri Walton (8)

Wide brim and very deep. Author’s collection.

Straw hats remained popular into the 1840s but were worn primarily with informal wear. Women’s hat styles of the 1850s were created from velvet or felt and richly trimmed with huge bows that were frequently secured in place by flowers, pins, or buckles.

Women's Hats and Their Evolution From the 1700 to 1800s - Geri Walton (9)

Self-portrait by Madame Vigée LeBrun wearing a straw hat with a feather in 1782. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Moving into the Romantic Era (1837-1850) or the Victorian Era (1837-1901), bonnets were in fashion and women’s hats were out. However, around 1857 young women began to wear hats with informal wear, and, by the 1860s, hats began to replace bonnets. High crowned hats with turned up brims came back into fashion in the early 1870s, and hats in general were tilted forward or towards the rear of the head, depending on the hat and hairstyle.

Around the 1870s women’s hats began to feature feathers, wings, and sometimes whole birds. One style of women’s hats was called “The Mercury” and featured wings as its main ornament. It was made from felt or velvet, sometime sported flowers, and sat well back on the head to show a woman’s hairstyle to its best advantage.

Women's Hats and Their Evolution From the 1700 to 1800s - Geri Walton (10)

The type of hat that somewhat resembled “The Mercury” from November 1896. Author’s collection.

About 15 years later in the mid-1880s, as a general rule, women’s hats began to have mesh veils of spotted net, gauze, or tulle. These veils often helped secure the hat in place. Certain physicians did not approve of this spotted net covering. Apparently, they believed it would damage a woman’s eyes. That did not stop women from wearing them because they liked the look, claimed it was becoming, and maintained it kept their hairdos in place.

Women's Hats and Their Evolution From the 1700 to 1800s - Geri Walton (11)

Ladies round hat with spotted veil from March of 1897. Author’s collection.

Another popular hat in the 1890s was known as an Alsatian bonnet. It was a simple style that consisted of nothing more than a large bow (and sometimes fur ornaments) attached to a bonnet too small to be seen.

Over the course of 150 years, garnishment and ornamentation was as varied as women’s hat sizes. Ribbons and bows gave way to feathers and eventually to whole birds. Owl heads and full stuffed bird bodies, such as Baltimore orioles, hummingbirds, blue jays, rollers, bluebirds, woodpeckers, and even prairie hens were used, but it did not stop there. Animals, such as mice or small reptiles were also put atop hats, and many hats did not just sport just a single item. Sometimes they were covered with an owl head, ostrich plumes, sparrow wings, multiple tufts of flowers or ribbons, and four or five warblers.

Women's Hats and Their Evolution From the 1700 to 1800s - Geri Walton (12)

Common warbler (top) Roller (bottom). Author’s collection.

Decorating women’s hats with birds eventually reached a point that bird populations were decimated, and this resulted in an outcry and action to stop bird slaughters. Yet, no matter the fashion and whether birds or not were placed atop millinery, women loved their hats. This was why one witty man in 1896 gave the following definition, “[A] bonnet as a thing made partly of ribbon and partly of lace, but principally of price.”[3] Women objected that a hat was much more and they considered their hats to be invaluable:

“[A hat’s value does not lie] in the value of the frame or the ribbon or the flowers, but in that indefinable something called ‘the style,’ that stamp of distinction, which [makes their hat a prized] work of art.”[4]


  • [1] The Ladies’ Museum, Vol. 31, 1830, p. 355.
  • [2] Ibid.
  • [3] Abbott, Lyman, The House and Home: A Practical Book, 1896, p. 218.
  • [4] Ibid.



What type of hat was popular in the 1700? ›

Worn with one point forward, the tricorne hat emerged as the most fashionable hat for men in the late seventeenth and most of the eighteenth century. To be most stylish, men cocked, or tipped, their tricornes to one side or another.

What was the women's headwear in the 1800s? ›

It seems no one would be caught outside without a hat throughout the 1800s, in particular the wealthy, who could afford different head wear for every occasion. The unwashed masses made do with simple bonnets or head kerchiefs for women, while men wore peaked caps, tams, and knit toques.

What hats were worn in the 1800s? ›

1840 - 1910
  • Top Hat 1840-1860.
  • Top Hat 1860-1880.
  • Top Hat 1880-1900.
  • Bowler Hat.
  • Homburg Hat.
  • Straw Boater Hat.
  • Cloth Cap.
  • Deerstalker Hat.

What were hats made of in the 1800s? ›

In the early 1800s, the popularity of the beaver hat contributed to that animal's near extinction. By the 1840s, manufacturers processed felted silk to resemble beaver when making men's tall hats.

What is a 1700 hat called? ›

The cocked hat, also referred to as a Tricorne or Tricorner hat was very popular with military and civilian men during the 1700's.

What was the most popular hat in the 1800s? ›

Boater Hats

The boater hat, also know as a skimmer hat, is a summer hat that was most popular in the 1800's and 1900's.

Why did girls wear caps to bed in the 1800s? ›

From the Middle Ages to the 20th century, nightcaps were worn in Northern Europe, such as the British Isles and Scandinavia, especially during the cold winters before central heating became available. People tended to think that cold air was harmful, so a nightcap protected them.

What is the old lady hat called? ›

A fascinator is a formal headpiece, a style of millinery. Since the 1990s, the term has referred to a type of formal headwear worn as an alternative to the hat; it is usually a large decorative design attached to a band or clip.

Why did ladies wear bonnets to bed? ›

The use of a sleeping cap, nightcap, or sleep bonnet goes back to the 14th century and likely even earlier. They were originally worn by men and women to protect against cold nighttime temperatures. Men may have also worn them to cover their bald heads in the name of dignity.

Why were hats so popular in the 1800s? ›

For one, hats were a sign of respectability and were often worn by people in positions of power or influence. They were also a practical way to keep warm in the colder months. Finally, hats were simply a fashion statement during this time period, and people often used them to express their personal style.

Did people wear top hats in the 1700s? ›

By the 1790s, the directoire style dress coat with top hat was widely introduced as citywear for the upper and middle classes in all urban areas of the Western world.

What is the history of wearing hats? ›

The history of hats extends back millennia, with possible evidence of hats appearing as early as 30,000 years ago. Many head coverings throughout history and around the world carry religious or ceremonial significance. Hats can convey social status or military rank, much like Napoléon Bonaparte's signature bicorne hat.

What materials were used to make woman with a hat? ›

Image of What materials were used to make woman with a hat?
Oil paint is a type of slow-drying paint that consists of particles of pigment suspended in a drying oil, commonly linseed oil. The viscosity of the paint may be modified by the addition of a solvent such as turpentine or white spirit, and varnish may be added to increase the glossiness of the dried oil paint film.

What was the purpose of hats in the 1700s? ›

While hats had always played a role of reflecting social distinction, in the 17th century, dress and headdress were adopted to reflect specific political and religious affiliations.

What is a wide brimmed hat 1700s? ›

A cavalier hat is a variety of wide-brimmed hat popular in the 17th century. These hats were often made from felt, and usually trimmed with an ostrich plume.

What were flapper hats called? ›

The cloche hat or simply cloche ( pronunciation (help·info)) is a fitted, bell-shaped hat for women that was invented in 1908 by milliner Caroline Reboux. They were especially popular from about 1922 to 1933.

What did Victorian ladies wear on their heads? ›

Veils were an accessory to a head-covering, whether bonnet, hat, band, ruff, or decorative fabric, and attached to it. Some veils were designed to cover all or part of the face, or gathered at the back of a head-covering to fall down the back, sometimes to the waist.

What is the oldest hat in history? ›

One of the first pictorial depictions of a hat appears in a tomb painting from Thebes, Egypt, which shows a man wearing a conical straw hat, dated to around 3200 BC. Hats were commonly worn in ancient Egypt. Many upper-class Egyptians shaved their heads, then covered it in a headdress intended to help them keep cool.

What is the most popular hat color? ›

The most popular color range for hats tends to be neutral colors. This makes some of the best colors for hats neutral shades of brown, beige, gray, and navy, as well as the classic black or white. Most desaturated colors fit into this range well.

What did poor girls wear in the 1800s? ›

The general trend for women's uniforms were long gowns, aprons, a shawl or bonnet or a mobcap. This is similar to the maid's uniforms, however, for these poor ladies, the fabrics were old and often pre-worn.

Why wear a shower cap to bed? ›

Your hair will thank you because you are reducing damage and hair breakage. Using a shower cap when sleeping, getting ready, or prolonging your hair washing means less pulling and styling, and thus stronger, longer, healthier hair.

Why do girls wear caps? ›

to shield self from the heat of the sun. to make outfit look better or different. to give a different look to the head and face. the person wearing the baseball cap is an actual baseball fan and/or plays baseball with other people as a recreational sport.

What hat did Queen Elizabeth wear? ›

The Tam. The tam o'shanter, named after the 1790 Robert Burns' poem, is a flat men's hat, traditionally made of wool. Very popular in Scotland in the late 1500s through the 1800s, the tam o'shanter has a wool pompom on the center of the crown as part of the style.

What are church lady hats called? ›

A church crown, also known as a church hat, is a decorative hat worn by women in the Southern United States as a headcovering during Christian church services in accordance with 1 Corinthians 11:2–13.

What is a witches hat called? ›

The origin of the dunce cap style is thought to come from the followers of a 13th century magician called John Duns Scotus who believed humans act as a funnel for wisdom. The tall, conical hat would act as a receiver and focusing point for wisdom. Drawing down power.

Why do blacks wear durags to bed? ›

So, for those of you wondering, "why do people wear durags?" the answer to that question is relatively simple. Black men use durags to protect and style their hair overnight. Simply put, standard pillows can damage curlier hair types while also ruining your meticulously brushed hair.

What does sleeping with a bonnet do? ›

Wrapping your hair up in a protective cap helps to extend the life of protective hairstyles, fight frizz, and retain moisture while you get your zzzzs in. Sleeping without one can dry your hair out, cause breakage, and force you to buy even more hydrating shampoos and moisturizing conditioners to reverse the damage.

Do sleep caps help with hair loss? ›

And contrary to popular belief, Gillen recommends staying away from sleep caps (unless they're made of silk). "They can be too tight on the head and rub generally in one area, which can pull hair out from the roots and damage your hair follicle," he says.

When did hats become disrespectful? ›

In fact, it probably began with medieval knights. The Institute writes that back in Medieval Europe, any knight who failed to remove his helmet or lift his visor to identify himself could face fatal consequences.

What does a hat symbolize? ›

The hat represents authority and power. Because it covers the head, the hat contains thought; therefore, if it is changed, an opinion is changed. The covered head shows nobility, and different hats signify different orders within the social heirarchy. Removal of a hat upon entry into a building shows respect.

Who wore bonnets first? ›

According to Crowned's researchers, bonnets or "sleep caps" go back to the mid-1800s, when European women wore them at night to keep their heads warm. Headwraps were also traditional attire in African regions, like Ghana and Namibia, where people referred to them as dukus and doek, respectively.

What year did people stop wearing top hats? ›

Top hats became popular around 1800 and remained popular until the end of the nineteenth century. Just like other clothing, top hat styles changed with fashion. Some, like Barnum's first top hat, were a light color because that was stylish when he bought it.

Why did everyone wear hats in the old days? ›

Basically, hats have been essential in many, many cultures as a way to protect a person's dome from the elements. A hat could protect a person from the rain, the wind, or the soot from local smokestacks. Long before SPF 55 was readily available, hats were also the single biggest protector from the sun.

What do top hats symbolize? ›

The Symbolism of the Top Hat: Status, Power, Masculinity. Men who wanted to get ahead in Victorian society had to wear a topper and yet they complained bitterly about this tyrannical accessory.

What did the first hat look like? ›

The oldest evidence of hat-wearing comes from a pictorial depiction of a man with a conical straw hat in a Thebes tomb painting dating back to 3200 BCE. The first hat to have a brim of sorts was the 'Petasus', a sun hat worn by ancient Greeks. It was made of wool felt, leather or straw, with a broad, floppy brim.

Why did people take off their hats? ›

Throughout history hats identified social standing and removing a hat was a gesture of respect. In the "old days," men took off their hats in Christian churches, when they entered someone's home, when greeting a boss, and always in the presence of a lady.

What is the story behind the Woman with a Hat? ›

Woman with a Hat is characteristic of Matisse's Fauvist style. It depicts a half-length portrait of his wife, Amelie, in vivid, unnatural colors and rough, fluid brushstrokes. The viewer's of the day mistook Matisse's brushwork to signify that the work was unfinished.

When was Woman with a Hat created? ›

NARRATOR: This is Femme au Chapeau, or Woman with a Hat, a vertical portrait of a woman made with patches of wild color and rough, energetic brushstrokes. Henri Matisse painted it in oil in 1905. His signature is in the top left corner of the canvas.

What type of art is Woman with a Hat? ›

Image of What type of art is Woman with a Hat?
Fauvism /ˈfoʊvɪzm̩/ is the style of les Fauves, a group of early 20th-century modern artists whose works emphasized painterly qualities and strong colour over the representational or realistic values retained by Impressionism.

What hats did they wear in 1776? ›

Perhaps one of the most iconic—and easily recognized—pieces of clothing from the colonial era is the tri-corner hat, or more simply known as the tricorn. Although the style originated in Europe, it is now associated with the American Revolutionary War and our nation's fight for freedom.

What was the military hat in the 1700s? ›

The bicorne or bicorn (two-cornered) is a historical form of hat widely adopted in the 1790s as an item of uniform by European and American army and naval officers. Most generals and staff officers of the Napoleonic period wore bicornes, which survived as widely-worn full-dress headdress until the 20th century.

What hats did men wear in the 17th century? ›

At the beginning of the century men wore fancy versions of the copotain hats of the previous century, with high crowns and wide brims, often stuck with large plumes, or feathers. However, the preferred hat by the end of the century was a simple, low-crowned tricorne hat.

What is a revolution hat called? ›

Hats adorned with a tricolor ribbon cockade became symbols of patriotism, while the liberty cap or bonnet rouge, became a symbol of the Revolution.

What did girls wear in 1776? ›

The everyday dress of women was a short gown of durable material, with a full skirt over a homespun petticoat, covered by a long apron of white linen. The more stylish dress was longer and made of finer material.

Why did everyone wear hats in the 1800s? ›

For men, hats and head gear provided protection from the elements, could often imply social status or even identify careers and affiliations. Men often felt that the wearing of a hat indicated that they were gentlemen, no matter their social status.

Why did we stop wearing top hats? ›

So, with the advent of highways, there were even more cars and car travel occurring, and fewer people were traveling by train, subway, bus, or tram. This got us into a cycle where roofs were low enough that hat-wearing became less prevalent, and because hats were less commonly worn, roof heights could get even lower.

What is a hat called in the military? ›

United States. In the U.S. Armed Forces it is known as a garrison cap, campaign cap (not to be confused with campaign hat, a distinct form of headgear), flight cap, garrison hat, fore-and-aft cap, envelope cap, or overseas cap.

What do soldiers call their hat? ›

When the Army Combat Uniform was introduced, the beret was the mandatory headgear for those in garrison. If they deployed, the boonie or patrol cap were the options, but the beret remained. Today, berets are worn by Airborne, Special Forces and Ranger units with the Army Combat Uniform.

What did female Puritans wear? ›

Puritan dress

Puritans advocated a conservative form of fashionable attire, characterized by sadd colors and modest cuts. Gowns with low necklines were filled in with high-necked smocks and wide collars. Married women covered their hair with a linen cap, over which they might wear a tall black hat.

What is a three pointed hat called? ›

Tricorn hats were the style of hat that men wore during the 18th century. Its name comes from the hat having three corners.

What year did men stop wearing hats? ›

The History of Hat Wearing

Hat-wearing peaked from the late 19th century to the end of the 1920s. Back in 1912 men didn't leave the house without a hat. And boys wore caps. There isn't one sole reason, but many factors contributed to the decline.


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