While we were wandering historic St Charles MO (one of the first French towns along the Missouri with 1700s buildings still in existence), we came across a monument to Lewis and Clark, who started their western expedition on these shores. I wish I’d had a camera but we were Christmas shopping, not researching at the time (wonderful boutiques and restaurants and everyone dresses up for a Victorian Christmas—but I digress). What struck me was the enormous bicorn hat on the statue—how the dickens did one keep that thing on one’s head? I mean, this is Missouri. The wind blows. Frequently. You could fly this enormous thing like a kite easier than use it to keep rain off. I wondered if it unfastened to let down that enormous brim to keep the coat shoulders dry.
(the image below is from IL not St Charles but the hat is the same.)
Those are the kind of questions that keep leading me down weird pathways. Bicorn led to felt led to hat led to… I shall try to summarize.
Head gear has almost always been available for protecting the head from the elements. Hatmakers might actually be the oldest profession. (Or furriers) Tomb paintings from Thebes show men wearing conical straw hats, which would have been a lot less smelly than animal furs, so that was some progress.
We have depictions of unstructured skull caps and Phrygian caps in ancient Greece and Rome. The Phrygian caps were given to slaves when they were freed, hence the nickname Liberty hat that was sported during the French revolution. The Greeks also show images of the first hats with brims. Women traditionally wore unformed head covers like kerchiefs.
The wonderful structured hats that we see in paintings began about the 16th century. The term “milliner” comes from Milan where quality hats were first designed, using laces, ribbons, etc—for men as well as ladies. The term first came into use around 1529, but at that point might refer to just the hat adornments.
The felt to which the adornments were attached has been available for centuries, discovered in
various ways. St Clement—patron saint of felt hat makers—theoretically discovered felt when he filled his sandals with flax fibers. The moisture and pressure of walking presumably compressed the fibers into a crude felt sock. But Native Americans also discovered a form of felt with their fur-lined moccasins, and ancient Egyptians learned to felt camel hair that fell in their sandals. The nomadic tribes of Asia may have used felted sheep’s wools for tents and clothing.
History of hats image: http://www.hatspassion.com/hello-world.html
So—ta-da—the first felt hats were probably just circles of felt that molded to the head. The structured “sugar loaf” Capotain hats date back to the Renaissance and are most popularly known as the hat the pilgrims wore. Tall, with a small brim and a buckle or belt around the “loaf.” The style would return in the late 18th century as a top hat, but the military tricorn and bicorns that caught my interest were the hat a la mode for most of the 17th and 18th centuries.
The tricorne developed from a broad, round-brimmed hat worn by Spanish soldiers. After war broke out
between Spain and France, the French adapted the style, tacking up the brims to form gutters to allow the rain to run down the shoulders instead of into the face. Normally, the point of the hat would be over the face but soldiers might adjust the cock to allow clearance for their weapons.
“Cockades” were added to hold the brim fastened but also to express political alliances. This is the hat most likely to be associated with pirates. It could be trimmed with almost anything that tickled a man’s fancy (and a woman’s since women’s styles imitated a man’s at this juncture). Braid, brocade, silk, feathers, fur—whatever trim came to hand, and I’m sure pirates had a broad range.
And finally—the tricorn evolved into the bicorn. The bicorn originally pinned the broad brim in front to the one in the rear. These were the hats worn by Napoleon and his officers, and later, in military units for years to come. But no one tells me why these silly things were worn, other than for show. And yes, the bicorn known as the chapeaux de bras, which folded flat to fit under the arm, was almost entirely for show. Otherwise, they look like wind catchers to me. (History of tricorne image: http://www.gentlemenoffortune.com/tricorne.htm)
Someone else will have to haunt diaries of the time to explain why anyone would wear towering hats on a frontier expedition. I won’t be doing westerns anytime soon! Do you wear hats? Just in winter or all the time? What's your favorite hat?
Hope everyone is ready for Christmas and has stocked up on a large supply of books for reading! Mischief and Mistletoe is still available as a stocking stuffer.