Today any man can wear any kind of hat, but this wasn’t always the case. Today you can slap on a baseball cap, cowboy hat or chain mail cap (although the chain mail might raise a few eyebrows on the subway) whenever you want to. In centuries past, men’s hats were more restricted and indicated your status while providing protection of some kind.
The ancient Romans were often bare-headed except for the military. Soldiers and officers wore caps topped with metal helmets to protect them during warfare. Roman senators and emperors wore crowns for ceremonial purposes but didn’t wear them all the time. It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that hats and hoods became the norm for men for daily wear.
During the middle ages’ males in all walks of life often wore linen caps that tied under the chin to keep their long hair in place. In northern climates these also protected them from the cold. An unspoken reason for wearing these caps was also to either keep bugs out of their hair or cover them so they weren’t easy to spot. Hygiene wasn’t a big thing back then. Everyone from serfs to merchants to the nobility wore these caps. The clergy usually wore hoods instead to protect their heads and signify their position in the church. High ranking officials such as cardinals and bishops had elaborately embroidered skull caps or ornate men’s hats to advertise their status.
Soldiers began wearing chain mail helmets over their linen caps to protect their heads during battle when wars broke out. Peasants eventually developed hats with brims to wear when working outside. These shielded them from the sun and rain.
Late Middle Ages
As the centuries went by, however, hats evolved into more of a status symbol than a practical piece of clothing. Men’s hats became increasingly elaborate, decorated with feathers and jewels to indicate status or wealth. Brims became larger and details more complex until Cavalier hats became so large and flamboyant, they became impractical. Today’s women might think Cavalier chapeaus were a bit over the top if they weren’t envious of their beauty.
Hats to Wigs and Back Again
In the eighteen century, men began wearing wigs instead of hats. These also became more and more elaborate over time. Some men wore wigs wearing several pounds with elaborate curls that hung down their backs and over their shoulders. Eventually these fell by the wayside and hats once again became popular as both protection against the weather and stylish accessory. The tendency toward elaborate head coverings gave way to simpler, more wearable hats, however, as men’s clothing became more subdued. Women were now the ones wearing ornate clothing and luxurious clothing while men turned to more sober shades.
Tops hats and bowlers were much more subdued and usually were either brown or black. They were usually worn by the elite classes or wealthy merchants. Flat wool or cloth caps with short, front brims were worn by the working class. These eventually became the golf caps of today. By the twentieth century, hats increasingly fell into two groups – casual caps such as baseball caps or dressy head coverings such as fedoras worn with suits. They were also worn by people of all classes instead of just the nobility or the wealthy.
Today hats are seldom required and most men wear them by choice, not out of necessity. A baseball cap or beanie is often worn as a fashion statement rather than for protection. They may also indicate someone’s allegiance with a group such as a sports team. One exception is the American cowboy hat, developed to protect those working outside from both rain and sun. It has evolved into a fashion statement and symbol of the Old West. Men’s hats continue to evolve and may take new forms as time goes on. At Halloween Empire, we carry a complete line of costume hats that can be worn for any occasion or no occasion at all.