Stephen Imbeau

Do you chapeau?

Well, today not so many do, certainly not like the 1500s when most folks wore hats or some sort of head covering.

Curiously, Americans stopped wearing hats in the 1960s, but hat popularity is revived in this decade.

Hats go way back, probably before the Great Deluge, the Biblical Flood, as testified by ivory statues recently unearthed in Austria from that era of a woman with a scarf-like head covering.

Of course, hats have been worn for protection, for style and for status.

The ancient Egyptians wore helmets as part of a military ensemble; Greeks since approximately 3200 BC, the same. But in both civilizations, over time, the hat evolved to be a sign of status and rank, in a nonmilitary context.

Since the Middle Ages, hats have been mainly worn for decoration and style, with the hat style often differing among geographic regions, ethnic groups and social status. The hat could thus serve as group identification.

Some hat makers and purveyors have become famous; James Locke, Sharp and Davis, David Shilling, Elvis Pompilio and Fabrienne Delvigne, Philip Treachy, the Stetson family, John Cavanagh, Boraslino and even President Harry Truman.

The first American hat maker was Zadoc Benedict in 1780 and for mostly women’s hats, John Genin in 1851.

Some hat styles are fascinating. The Scots have made the Balmoral Bonnet famous as the traditional Scottish cap. Baseball caps are now everywhere, the first one was invented in 1894 for the New York Knickerbockers and made of straw before being made of wool.

The Bearskin hat was made famous by the Brigade of the Guards now at Buckingham Palace. The Beanie, a brimless hat often topped with a propeller, mostly was worn by young boys; it was called a Tuque or ski cap when knitted longer and pulled down around the ears.

The Beret from the Basque region of France, now universal, is a soft and round woolen cap with an overhang also favored by some militaries. A close friend of mine with a history of skin cancer from spending too many hours in the sun as a highway sign boy, wears a rotating collection of Berets daily to protect his vulnerable bald head.

The Bowler, called a Derby in the United States, is a hard-felt hat with a rounded crown, invented by James Locke in 1850 to serve Thomas Cooke, the Earl of Leicester, and his servants. Leicester is now famous as the burial place of King Richard III.

The Spanish Sombrero Cordobas for Flamenco dancing was made famous by Zorro.

The Coonskin cap, from racoon or beaver fur, was made famous by pioneering Americans such as Daniel Boone. The Custodian Helmet worn by British constables on patrol. The Deerstalker, a tweed cap with front and rear brims and ear flaps, was invented in Scotland and made famous by Sherlock Holmes.

The Fedora, a soft hat with a medium brim and a lengthwise crease, was made famous by U.S. gangster movies and is back in style again. The Homberg is similar. The Fez, a soft red hat in the shape of a truncated cone, is mostly worn in the Middle East and North Africa.

The hard hat, usually of rigid plastic or metal, was first invented in 1919 to protect coal miners is now obligatory for workers and visitors to construction sites, etc. … as protection. The Mitre, typically worn by religious leaders, was made famous by the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, but it also was worn in some Anglican traditions. The Panama, a straw hat, originally was from Ecuador, but now it is worldwide. The Pillbox, a small hat with a flat top and no brim, usually is worn by women.

The Sombrero, from Mexico, usually is made of straw or lush felt with a cone shape and very large brim, saucer shaped. The Top Hat, made from beaver and now felt, was very popular in the 19th century, but now it is just for very formal wear or magicians, tall and flat crowned. This hat is largely responsible for the Astor family fortune and the beginnings of the Hudson Bay Company.

The Tricorne, a low crown hat with a broad brim, is pinned up to produce a triangular shape. It was made famous by the French Revolution. The Turban is a hat made from a single sheet of cloth wound around the head or a frame to fit on the head. It was made famous by the Sheiks of India.

The Ushadka is a Russian hat of fur with ear flaps. I have one made of rabbit fur. (I hope you don’t mind a story: I took this hat to the Swiss Alps one winter, but it was Indian summer week and certainly no need for a winter hat. I wore it anyway, and the local children made fun of me.) The Cowboy hat made famous by the Texas Rangers and the Stetson Company, usually has a central crease and a wide brim. (This list and descriptions were modified from Wikipedia.)

Originally men wore most of the hats. Now it is woman. In the modern era, hats are mainly worn for style or fun.

However, sometimes hats are required. Women are required to wear hats in several Protestant denominations and they were almost universally required in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, usually simple and not ornate, but now they are often replaced by scarfs or mantillas.

Islam requires female head coverings, for some Muslim cultures even when not in a religious context with head wraps and sometime full body covering.

Jewish women require hats, particularly when at prayer or in the synagogue, although many wear wigs as their head covering. And the African culture often expects female head covering most often with scarfs or other head wraps.

Hats for women are absolutely required at two famous horse races: The Royal Ascott in East Berkshire, England, and the Kentucky Derby in Louisville, Kentucky. The racing fans’ hats, often called bonnets, are large and decorated with all sorts of materials and colors, deliberately designed to demand attention.

I usually don’t wear a hat except when in the sun at football games or trying to hide or out as a tourist. But you go ahead. They’re popular again.

You can buy hats at clothing stores and department stores all over Florence, particularly at Hat World, Lids and Pro Image … and, of course, off the Internet.

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Dr. Stephen Imbeau and his wife, Shirley, have been in Florence for more than 30 years and raised their three children here. He and Dr. Joseph Moyer started the Allergy Center about 21 years ago, and it is now one of the largest in South Carolina. Contact him at

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