Where Can I Wear That Hat?

Recently, with my focus on hats, I have been asked a several times “where can I wear that hat?”

This is an excellent question. I love that people are asking. It means they are thinking about when and where they can appropriately wear a particular hat. It also means I don’t have to worry as much about one of my hats appearing in an inappropriate scenario. (Yes, I worry about such things.)

I want to cover the background to the answer(s) rather than just the answer.

First, where do we look to find out what situations are appropriate for different types of hats? We need to look at visual references for context. This will include context based photographs (cdvs, sterioviews), illustrations and paintings. This will show us the scene, the type of hat, the wearer and the clothing it accompanies. We should also include textual references, keeping in mind the written descriptions can misinterpreted due to various reasons.

Second, we need to keep in mind the chronology and geography of references. What was common in the 50s may not have been common in the 60s. What may have been common in an urban area may not have been common in a rural area. What may have been common in New England may not have been common on the Gulf coast.

Let’s look at some images. (Just as start. I’ll try to come back and add more.)



This pair of images I recently found after completing the violet velvet hat. These women are from a family photo that I lack citation details on. The daughter is holding a croquet mallet, indicating a recreational situation. Both women are wearing straw hats with brims that curve down all the way around, providing some sun protection. The hats appear to be simply decorated with ribbon. The clothing suggests a date between 1860 and 1863/4.(the link provided does not agree, estimating the photo is just post-war.) I estimate the girl to be in her young to mid teens, the mother in her 40s.

Straw Garden hat clip 2

Continuing with the recreational scenario, this shot from a Lily Martin Spencer painting depicts a picnic on the 4th of July. The hat is a larger hat. It has a wide brim that would shade the face. The crown is shallow, maybe 2″ high. It is simply decorated with a ribbon and possibly a ribbon or flower arrangement in the front, bow in the back.

2016-03-16-13.21.13.jpg.jpegThis stereoview, A Charming spot for a Country Home,  shows what appears to be a small town or rural garden of a comfortable family. Dated 1865, this image is from New Jersey. We can see a woman seated in the chair with her back to us, wearing what appears to be an undecorated straw hat (with little blocking in my opinion.) This hat reminds me of this description of a well worn, favorite garden hat. Near the fence is a pre-teen girl in a wide brim, low-ish crown hat with a simple bow. Hats to do seem to fairly common in photos of people in the yards or gardens (upper working class, leisure class homes.)

Harpers Monthly June 18502016-03-16-13.23.13.jpg.jpegThis next stereoview, View of grounds at Newport, is estimated to be 1860, taken in Herkimer, NY. This can also be considered a recreational image as the woman stands in a field alongside a haystack. Her hat is smaller, with a very shallow crown and brim that reaches just about the depth of her face. (meaning the brim comes about as far forward as her nose.) This is a fashionable shape for a hat that I believe would be appropriate for a walk in a village as well. Compare it to the hats to the right from June of 1850, which have significantly larger brims.

Seaside hats from Charles Wynne Nicholls

One can not mention recreation without touching on seaside. I don’t think many of us truely get to do impressions that spend time seaside. I think large, shady hats often come to mind when thinking seaside recreation. But, as we see in these late and post war paintings (English), smaller hats were worn seaside.

Close ups of how to wear a hat Stereoview The Baptisim




As a general rule of thumb, formal occasions were not appropriate for fashionable or casual hats. This includes church. This stereoview clip suggest there were some exceptions, in this case a baptism. (I’ll see if I have the whole scan saved elsewhere.)


Scenario Specific Hats (I really ought to find time to write more about):

  • Coarse hats
  • Southern made hats
  • Reform hats
  • Riding hats
  • Sporting hats (archery)
  • Resort/Watercure hats
  • TBD

More hats in context:

Published in: on April 4, 2022 at 4:05 am  Leave a Comment  

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