People have covered their heads with various materials to protect themselves from, heat, rain, or other elements since ancient times. The first recorded use of a hat with a brim was in the 5th century B.C. in Greece. The felt petasos was a wide-brimmed hat worn by huntsmen and travelers for protection from the elements. This hat was popular into the Middle Ages.
Another early hat was a brimless hat made out of felt shaped like a truncated cone. The Greeks copied the design from the Egyptians and named it pilos, which means “felt.” Over the years, there were variations throughout Europe. With the rise of universities in the late Middle Ages, the pileus quadratus, or four-sided felt hat, became the head covering for scholars. It later became known as the mortarboard worn by graduates.
Throughout history, men have worn hats and it was acceptable for them to keep them on indoors, even in churches. In the 16th century, men wore false hair and wigs. As the size of the wigs grew, it became impossible for most men to wear hats. As the fad of wigs declined towards the late 1700s, men started wearing hats again and new customs included men not wearing hats indoors, in church, or in the presence of women. In addition, hats for men were considered important items.
In contrast, women wore soft head coverings such as veils, kerchiefs, and hoods, but not hats. Bonnets were known as small, soft hats. Most European women wore plain caps indoors and hoods outside. In the late 1700s, women in the upper and middle classes, as well as country women, began to wear hats decorated with ribbons, feathers, and flowers.
During this time, a bonnet became known as a particular type of large, brimmed woman’s hat that tied under the chin and was decorated with gauze and feathers. Milan, Italy, became the bonnet capital of Europe, and other Milanese hats were in great demand. As a result, the word “milliner” became synonymous with hat makers. Hats became fashion items for women.
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