The essential function of a hat is to protect the head from the sun or the cold, and to shade the eyes from the sun. At the beginning of the 20th century, it was customary for men and women to wear hats. Women in particular, wore elaborately ornamental hats decorated with feathers, flowers, ribbons and other strictly artistic adornments that did not enhance the function of the hat. Although ornamental hats have given way to more practical hats in the 21st century, hats and headcoverings still are fashion symbols that sometimes serve to make political or religious statements.
19th Century Hats
Following the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), the United States acquired the Mexican territory which now corresponds to parts of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Wyoming, as well as the whole states California, Nevada, and Utah. Gold was found in California in 1848, triggering the California gold rush that enticed thousands of settlers to move west. During this time, it was possible to see the ceremonial feathered headdress of Native Americans, cowboy hats, and Mexican broad-rimmed sombreros. The bandana, or large handkerchief, worn by cowboys around their necks could be pulled up around the nose to filter the air during dusty cattle drives.
20th Century Hats
The beginning of the 20th century was a time of great technical advances. Fashion was greatly influenced by Hollywood. Silent movies showed Charlie Chaplin in oversized trousers and a bowler hat. Laurel and Hardy also favored bowler hats while Fred Astaire wore a top hat. Baseball was America's favorite sport and baseball caps became popular. Baseball caps are designed to just shade the eyes from bright sunlight, so the brim extends only along the forehead.
Fedora hats were popular from the 1930s to the 1950s. A fedora is a felt hat creased along the crown and pinched in the front on both sides. On cold wintry days, a fedora and a trench coat was a stylish way to keep warm and dry. The name "Fedora" comes from an 1882 play in which the main character, Princess Fedora Romazova, wore that type of hat. Fedoras were used in many movies starring Frank Sinatra and Humphrey Bogart, and they were the typical headwear of film noir detectives and gangsters. The hat worn by Indiana Jones is a fedora with a safari brim, turned down in the front and in the back.
The Russian ushanka is a fur hat with ear flaps that can be tied up to the crown of the cap, or tied at the chin to protect the ears and jaw from the cold. This type of fur hat is very popular in countries with cold climates because it keeps the head warm. The hats may be made of sheepskin, rabbit fur, or wool.
Traditional Indonesian hats were worn by Sukarno and Suharto who were presidents of Indonesia. The hats are popular because they can fold flat, and have mesh vents in the front and the back that keep the head cool. This type of hat may be called peci, songkok, or kopiah, and it is widely worn in Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Thailand. In Bali, the most common headgear is a headband with a knot in the front and a colorful asymmetrical crest.
Mosquitos are not a problem in the Australian Outback, which is a vast, hot and arid region of central Australia, but Australia's Northern Territory and Queensland are frequently infested with mosquitoes and swarms of blowflies. Australians wear long sleeve shirts and cork hats to ward off these pests.
The fez, also called a tarboosh, is a felt cap shaped like a truncated cone with a tassel attached to the top. The cap is usually red and the tassel is made of black silk. Fezzes developed and gained popularity during the Ottoman era.
Below is a Chinese hat with braided pigtail sold as a souvenir in New York's Chinatown.
Religious Head Coverings
In Western culture, people take off their hats as a sign of respect in public buildings, but some Middle Eastern cultures consider covering the head during prayers as a sign of respect toward God. Orthodox Jews always keep their head covered either with a small skull cap called a "kippah" or "yarmulke", or with broad rimmed felt hats. The Roman Catholic Pope wears a white zucchetto skull cap. Indian Sikhs also wear distinctive head coverings.
Arab Turbans and Headgear
The traditional garb of the Middle East developed as protection from the sun and the desert sand storms. The turban can be wrapped around the nose to filter dusty air. The loosely fitting cloth gowns and turbans keep the body cool because the light color of the turban reflects the sunlight and most of the material is not in direct contact with the skin. The typical Saudi Arabian turban has three components: 1) a Kufeya which is a white cotton cap which is worn directly over the hair, 2) a Ghutra which is a square-shaped cotton fabric folded diagonally to form a triangular shape placed on top of the Kufeya, and 3) an Igal, a double black rope made from goat hair or wool that holds the ghutra in place.