Hats of the 1800s: Bonnets, Hats, Toppers and Caps

In the nineteenth century, every season–spring, summer, fall and winter–was awash in hats. There were hundreds of choices! Women’s styles were heavily influenced by popular hairstyles and clothing fashions. Newspapers advised women to wear colors that complemented their complexions and attire.

Men’s hats were more functional and all about status or part of a work uniform.  However, there was a wide variety of toppers for young men. Women and men both wore straw hats in the summer and felt hats in winter.

Here are a few fast facts about hats of the 1800s:

  • The first baseball cap debuted in about 1849.
  • In the early 1800s, the popularity of the beaver hat contributed to that animal’s near extinction. By the 1840s, manufacturers processed felted silk to resemble beaver when making men’s tall hats.
  • Women’s hats were sometimes decorated with real stuffed birds.
  • In the late 1860s, a New York hat maker requested a bridge be built over Broadway to increase his business.
  • In 1897, women in the United States spent $100 million on Easter hats, an average of $3.33 for each woman in the country.

Learn about poke bonnets, day caps, top hats, seedy bonnets and many, more styles of headgear in my book Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats. The pictures, descriptions and advertisements you’ll find in the pages of this book can help you whether you’re trying to reproduce a style or date a photograph by the styles of the hats.