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A brief history of hats


By Christine Lovatt

Most writers hope to be remembered for their writings, and the characters they create, but in some cases they are also remembered for the fashion crazes that their characters inspired.

At the end of the 19th century, two French writers created heroines whose names are both in the dictionary, listed as hats for men – the trilby and the fedora.

Humphrey Bogart may have been surprised to know that the fedora he wore pulled low over his eyes in his famous Casablanca scene was first worn by Russian princess Fedora Romanzoff. She was the heroine of Victorien Sardou’s play Fedora, published in 1883.  

Eleven years later, George du Maurier (Daphne’s grandfather) wrote what has been described as the first runaway bestseller. Across England and America , the critics and the public alike adored Trilby, the story of a vivacious French girl and a satanic hypnotist.

Indeed, the name of the hypnotist, evil Hungarian musician Svengali, is also in the dictionary, being synonymous with a person who controls another’s mind with evil intentions.

Trilby O’Farrell, the vivacious artist’s model, wore a soft felt hat with a lowish crown. Suddenly, everyone was wearing a trilby – and they weren’t just hats. There were Trilby slippers, coats, dolls, chocolates, even waltzes.

The fedora/trilby was worn right up to the early 60s. When John F Kennedy made his inauguration speech, he wore no hat, and the fedora lost its flavour in the United States (apart from Indiana Jones, never seen without his fedora).

It is curious, therefore, that the hat became known as the trilby in Britain and as the fedora in the States. A few years ago, I was asked by a Lovatts reader why we use both 'fedora' and 'trilby' in our crosswords. My answer is that with a theatrical history such as theirs, how could we not?

Happy puzzling!

10 Responses to

A brief history of hats

February 06, 2012 at 3:11 PM

Hats! I avoided them most of my life. All I used was caps with a frontal brim to shield my face from the sun, as I did not (and still do not)like sunglasses. The past half year, of course, with all the hair on my head gone, I had to use full hats, with sizeable brims all round. Which entailed buying some. Now I have become used to wearing hats, and just put them on by habit. Well, when I know I am leaving home, anyway. In my garden I don't bother. Which often gets me lectures from one of my oh so officious kids (mature adults)when they visit and see me outdoors with my half centimetre head of blonde/grey hair all uncovered. I must confess, though, that I rather like hats now.

postie57 said:
February 07, 2012 at 2:23 AM

In 1998 a woman named Sue Ellen Cooper formed an organization for women over 50 called the Red Hat Society. It has really caught on and women everywhere are getting together for functions and wearing, you guessed it. Red Hats. So from a society where hats had become obsolete you now can see hats, from big floppy brimmed hats to fascinators and everything in between. It is a sea of red. And the ladies are all proud to wear them.

kragzy said:
February 07, 2012 at 10:34 AM

Hey Liesl, you get it from your kids - I get it from my mum. To set the scene, I am 60 and my mum is 87 (she lives with us). I can never leave the house without her reminding me to take a hat. Once a caring mum, always a caring mum I guess. It seems that I will always be a child that needs to be looked after!

February 07, 2012 at 4:11 PM

I hated having to wear my hat for school (and gloves, uuuggghh!) then they were out for a time. Now the kids of today have to wear hats outside during recess and lunch breaks. Thank goodness gloves haven't made a come back for school wear.

February 07, 2012 at 6:45 PM

Hey arctic, one advantage of schoolkids wearing hats with full brims outdoors, is that they are all far less likely to have cancer on their noses. A number of my friends have had to have it removed. And yes, at High School I wore a hat.

maggaz said:
February 08, 2012 at 7:15 PM

Having had to wear hats at high school (panama in summer & velour in winter) I have avoided hats whenever possible. The most hats I wear are on my avatar at YP.

rhve said:
February 09, 2012 at 12:22 AM

I hated hats at school because they were hard straw things that were never the right shape. Fortunately they were not compulsory so I never did wear them. Now I only wear soft hats that don't try to force my head to conform to their shape, and only to avoid sunburn.

Xrosie said:
February 09, 2012 at 7:51 AM

I still hate hats, but are essential living on the edge of a desert. Agree with Liesl Grimm, been there done that, and still having them removed.

tezza1551 said:
February 09, 2012 at 2:18 PM

Wore hats at school - straw boater in summer, felt bowler in winter.. then caps and later a veil while nursing..nowadays a battered old Akubra when I'm drafting sheep...otherwise, no hat !

February 09, 2012 at 9:41 PM

I like hats. I wear an Akubra in the winter if I am going in the rain as it completely stops you getting wet on your head. In the Summer I "sometimes" wear a sunhat. Don't like peaked caps at all. They look ridiculous on most people. I sometimes wear a nice hat with a brim in the Winter if it is really cold.