They have been compulsory wear for men for almost all of recorded history. For centuries hats kept peasants' heads warm and were fashion accessories for the rich. Men always wore them outside the home, even up to the early 1970s.
Men lose a lot of body heat through their heads particularly men who are going bald. Hats have always been worn to minimize this heat loss. Men would wear nightcaps in bed, even up to the early years of the 20th Century.
Over the centuries affluent men have worn fancy-ones, such as the one in this picture, to set themselves apart from ordinary men.
Photography gives us wonderful evidence of men's hat wearing styles over the past 200 years. In different countries hats for men had different styles, but the wearing of hats in public was universal. Even in the 1960s a man would keep his hat on a hook by the door and grab it every time he went out.
Men in Britain
In the 19th century Great Britain's society had a rigid class structure. They were used as badges to show their class. Flat caps were for working class men. Bowler-hats were for men who were overseers and foremen bankers or who worked in the City of London. The Top-Hat was for men of the upper classes, gentlemen.
The flatcap is no longer the exclusive preserve and badge of the working man though, even lords wear flat caps when shooting on their estates.
The bowlerhat was it for middle class men, lower and middle level management in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. In Northern Ireland it became a badge of the Orange Order, a group of protestant men who still hold marches today to celebrate Protestant victories over Catholics. These men would have been the protestant foremen of long ago, supervising Catholic working class men in their flat caps.
It was an Englishman in 1849 named William Coke who originally commissioned the design for the bowler-hat. He specified that he needed a low crowned hat that would protect the heads of his gamekeepers from low hanging tree branches while they were riding. Reports have it that when Coke arrived to view it's design, he stamped on the sample hat twice to test its strength. It stood the test and has been in use ever since. British colonial administrators even introduced it to Nigeria, where it is still in everyday use as an essential male fashion item.
The Trilby-hat was for men at horse race meetings and similar sporting activities. It is still popular at these venues today.
The Tophat is very expensive, so wearing one is a sign of affluence. The tophat was the top wear for rich men, for gentlemen, for members of the gentry. It is made from a felt made from wool and rabbit fur.
Panama-hats Were also hats for rich men who travelled or lived in India and the tropics. These hats are traditionally hand-made from particular grasses from Central America, so were expensive, making them another affectation of the moneyed classes.
The Homburg was it for men who were affluent and influential. It was introduced to England by King Edward VII, who brought a hat back in this style from Bad Homburg inGermany. It is a ery stiffgelt hat with a tightly curled brim and a sharp indentation along the crown.
The Pork-Pie-hat was a hat for men living in towns in England and America. It is rigid with a low, flat crown. The crown is indented all the way round, like a pork pie, rather than having the longitudinal indentation of a trilby or fedora. It came to be associated with musicians, comedians, such as George Formby
Men in USA
Hats for men followed different fashions from those in Europe. They were influenced by western style cowboy hats, whereas European hats were not.
Bowler hats were more commonly worn in the American West than the Cowboy hat. In America it is usually called a Derbyhat or a Cokehat
The Watchcap was a hat for men who wanted to keep warm. Anyone working outside in cold weather would wear a watch cap. Some watch caps had ear muffs or a pom-pom attached. This hat is found in every country because it does an excellent job of warming the head and ears
The News BoyCap is a variation on the Flat Cap. It has a bulkier, puffed out appearance.
The Fedora hat was for middle class men, including bankers and teachers. This is it that Hollywood took to its heart and increased its popularity by making it a hat for men who were successful both financially and with women. Even today, the stereotype of an American police detective wears a rain coat and a fedora-hat. All fedoras have a hat band, usually in a contrasting color
Men Modern Styles
Trilbyhats are soft-hats with a flexible brim. They have a deep indentation along the crown. Traditionally made from rabbit fur, most trilbies are now made from tweed and wool. Race-goers and bookmakers at race-courses often wear trilby hats.
Fedora-hats have a wide brim and are indented along the crown. They are much stiffer than trilby hats and generally more suited to wearing with a suit than a trilby is.
Hats based on the Australian slouch-hat are widely available and are usually worn as a casual hat, especially in sunny countries.
Stra-hats for men are ideal for summer. Some have ventilation holes that create a forced draught through it, cooling the scalp.
There are straw or straw and felt dress-hats available from any good hat shop.
Bowler-hats are still available and still popular.
Cowboy-hats are popular in some parts of the United States, as are Stetsons and waterproof slouch hats.