Monday, March 31, 2014

Fun Facts: History of Women’s Sun Hats




It’s a ready assumption that hats have been around since, well, heads have been around.  We can easily imagine those first human heads encountering sun, rain or cold and searching for something – a leaf… an animal skin… a newspaper (OK, probably not a newspaper) – to cover their head!  Like those of our ancient forebears, our modern heads sure appreciate a good hat.  And with our modern knowledge of the sun’s rays, and the damage they can cause, we really value a good sun hat.  Let’s take a look at how women’s sun hats have evolved over the years, and where they’re at today.
 

Statue of an Ancient Greek Woman Wearing a Sun Hat
via Wikimedia Commons (PD-Self)
There are many depictions of women wearing hats in ancient civilizations, from the shell headpiece of the Venus of Willendorf, to paintings of Egyptians in headdresses, to Ancient Greek portrayals, such as this statue of a woman wearing a sun hat.  Zipping ahead to the middle ages, there are many examples of straw hats being worn as sun protection.  Often, these were depicted on peasants and field laborers.

But in the 1700’s, it seems that hats began to come into their own; fashion became on par with function.  The straw hat transitioned from lowly provincial garb to elegant headgear worthy of a lady.  In fact, for centuries, the covering of women’s heads had been (and would continue to be) a must, as dictated by moral standards.  But the demands of style were at work here as well; maintaining a milky complexion was absolutely vital for the fashionable lady, so shielding the skin from the sun was imperative. 

Portrait of Eleanor Frances Dixie by Henry Pickering, circa 1753
via Wikimedia Commons (PD-Art)
The shepherdess hat, the straw hat’s trendy new incarnation, was worn throughout the 18th century.  Also known as the bergère or milkmaid hat, it had a small, short crown and a wide brim perfect for protecting the wearer’s milky complexion.  It was usually made of straw and would have been adorned – simply or extravagantly - with some combination of ribbons, flowers, and lace. 
Fast forward to the beginning of the 19th century, and the bonnet comes to fashion.  The bonnet’s shape was different, with the crown at the back of the head, and the brim projecting forward to shade the face.  The size of the brim grew and grew, until it shielded the face not only from the sun, but from onlookers as well.  For those craving extreme modesty, a veil would have been added.  Bonnets were often constructed from straw and trimmed with ribbons.  In the mid-1800’s, the parasol became de rigueur, and the preferred means of shielding oneself from the sun.  Consequently, bonnet brims receded, until the bonnet was a small head covering with no brim at all.  Indeed, hats in general grew upwards, rather than outward, as the 19th century finished up.
Now in the early 20th century, the parasol is old hat (so to speak), and the hat comes back in a big, big way.  Hairstyles were big, and hats were bigger… with brim size sometimes reaching beyond the shoulders.  The embellishments were piled on – feathers, ribbons, flowers, even whole, stuffed birds.  While these hats certainly weren’t letting any sunlight mar the Edwardian lady’s complexion, they were so large that keeping them on was a challenge.  They were secured to the hair with hat pins as long as 18 inches.  18 inches!   
After the first World War broke out, hairstyles and hats calmed down, becoming smaller and closer to the head.  Fancy trimmings were considered unpatriotic; accordingly hats became quite plain.  Meanwhile, flappers were emerging, bringing with them a brand new approach to fashion.  Accompanying the trend of a youthful, boy-like silhouette came shorter hairstyles and the cloche hat.  A cloche fit closely to the head, and had a deep crown that came down low on the forehead.  Some were brim-less, while others – especially summer hats – had a brim that acted like a sun visor.  While they were sometimes embellished, the cloche’s look was quite streamlined compared to the Titanic hats from earlier in the century.
The 1930’s saw the return of fancy, as hats took on a variety of shapes and plenty embellishment.  The shallow-crowned, wide brimmed hat – similar to the shepherdess hat – made a resurgence, albeit with trimmings more appropriate for the day.  As parasols were once again out of vogue, the wide brims were appreciated as sun protection.  Throughout the 40’s and World War II, hats in every shape, size, and decoration were seen.  It’s worth noting that until now there had been very little crossover between men’s and women’s hats.  The styles were vastly diverse, the materials used were different, they were even made by different trades (a milliner for women’s hats, a hatter for men’s).  But now Men’s Fashions begin creeping into Women’s looks, with military-inspired berets and the fedora becoming more common ladies wear.

Hat-less women frolic on a beach in North Africa in 1944
via Wikimedia Commons (PD other reasons)
At this point, we should bring up the suntan, and its history.  Until the 1900’s - for centuries, perhaps millennia - sun-colored skin had been ardently avoided.  It was the mark of lower class, who had to work outside, exposed to the elements.  The quest for pale was so passionate that ladies would clothe themselves from head to toe and carry a parasol.  On top of that, in some eras, there was prevalent use of lead-based skin lighteners.  Talk about making sacrifices for beauty! 

As the 20th century commenced, these age-old attitudes toward the sun began a major transition.  First, doctors started to learn of benefits that the sun can provide, for example, sunlight was used as a remedy for rickets.  So, exposure to sunlight begins earning a new reputation.  Then, in 1923, Coco Chanel made the historic move of getting a suntan and boasting about it.  Sunbathing was born, and a sun-kissed “glow” became the ambition of all.  Though hats were still very much in vogue at that point, as the decades passed, they became less compulsory.  The newborn desire for tanned skin, the acceptance of sunlight as a medical treatment, and a waning emphasis on modesty meant that the wearing of hats was now optional.  After World War II, it was common for ladies to leave the house without a hat, and by the 1960’s, wearing of hats was mostly old-fashioned. 

The absence of hats in fashion (with some exceptions) has been the norm until recent years, when the risks of tanning were uncovered.  It was determined that exposure to the sun’s UVA and UVB rays contributed to skin cancers as well as wrinkles and premature aging.  The advice of medical experts to avoid sunburns and suntans has spurred a new appreciation for sun hats. 
Fashionable Sun Hat: Pitch Perfect in black/natural tweed
From SolEscapes.com
We have come full circle.  The sun hat has been re-born, and beautifully so!  Today’s sun hats reflect the past, echoing styles such as the straw hat, the cloche and the fedora.  At the same time, they’re modern, complementing today’s trends.  Current sun hats are not likely to be festooned with voluminous layers of feathers, but do carry on-trend embellishments such as metallic threads, gorgeous colors and sophisticated ribbons.  There is such a range of styles, that there is something for everyone and every activity.  Glamorous wide brimmed hats are well suited for a day lounging at the resort pool, while sporty visors look great for a round of golf.  A bucket hat is perfect for a play day at the beach, and a straw sun hat makes working in the rose garden safe and enjoyable. 
Not to be outdone by their good looks, these modern-day hats are hard working too.  The materials are crafted to provide ultimate sun protection; many hats have a UPF 50+ rating, meaning they block 98% of the sun’s ultraviolet rays.  The large brims on sun hats give even more coverage, providing good shade for the head and face.  Features such as adjustable head size make the hats comfortable; a pleasure to wear.  Even more, many sun hats can be folded or rolled, so they’re easy to pack for a trip to the beach, resort vacation, or island cruise getaway. 
Sun hats have a rich history, including a recent, regrettable decline.  How fortunate that sun hats are back - and we dare say - here to stay.  They perform the crucial role of shading us from the sun, keeping us safe and comfortable.  Just as (or more?) importantly, they act as stunning accessories, complementing wardrobes, heightening style and adding flare to our fun, sun-filled lives. 
      
What historical sun hat would you love to wear?
Sporty Naples Visor / Sun Hat Combo from SolEscapes.com
Pretty Bimini Ribbon Sun Hat from SolEscapes.com









 

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