Beneath the Brim of a Favored Hat Part I: History and Sizing

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By Roxy Rowton

Few of us are unable to resist the invitation to try on a hat and discover the changed person in the mirror looking back at us. Far more than coverings that shield our heads from sun, sand and surf, hats are a means of self-expression, and as such, hold a unique history.

The tradition of wearing hats may have started as a utilitarian covering of the head, such as with a veil, scarf, shawl or kerchief. These simple coverings ultimately evolved into elaborate headdresses and became indicators of style and stature. In some cultures, hats articulated who a woman was and indicated her social rank. This often meant the more extravagant and impractical the hat, the more elevated the woman’s social position.

Until the 1960s, no fashionable woman in the U.S. would have been bold enough to appear in public sans hat. Then, for the first time in fashion’s history, a woman’s hat ceased to distinguish her social class and position. In fact, the hat nearly disappeared from the feminine wardrobe as a definitive accessory.

Today, rather than constraining a woman’s individuality, as it had often done in the past, the donning of a hat has become an accessory of self-expression and fashion prowess. Although hats come in various shapes, textures and tones, it is often the material used and the type of weave that determine the hat aficionado’s choice in purchasing and wearing a particular style of hat. Almost any cloth used for making apparel can be pressed into hat form, but the most popular materials are straw and felt.

Straw hats are woven or braided from wheat, rice, paper, hemp, seagrass, raffia or toquilla palm leaves. The quality of straw hats can vary vastly by the fineness of the straw and the tightness of the weave. Straw hats are especially popular accessories for seaside and tropical destinations.

Felt is one of the oldest hat-making fabrics. The better quality of this fabric is made of fur sheared, especially from beavers. The lesser quality is made of wool.

Getting the Right Fit for Your Hat

Fitting the head for the correct hat size is key. Too small, and a hat will leave creases in the skin. Too large, and the hat will blow off with a slight breeze.

To get the right size hat, use a tape measure or a string and ruler. Measure from the widest part at the back of your head, bringing the ends together at the center of the forehead. Make certain the tape measure or string is slightly above your ears. Hold the tape or string firmly but snugly. It may be helpful to repeat these steps a couple of times to ensure accuracy.

Compare the measurement of your head with a hat size chart. If your head measurement falls between sizes, choose the larger size. Generally, the larger size is more comfortable than one that is smaller and tighter. Keep in mind there can be slight variances in hat sizes, especially with handcrafted hats.

Next month, we will examine the caring and wearing of your hat. This gives you plenty of time to explore selections and find the perfect hat you’ve been wanting to try on. Don’t be shy. The right hat might be just the wardrobe piece you have been missing.

Wardrobe and style consultant Roxy L. Rowton ( spends much of her workweek in the closet or the fitting room helping women look and feel their best. She has two-plus decades in the fashion, apparel and beauty industries.


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