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The social hierarchy of hat styles

Blackthorn

I'll Lock Up
Messages
4,512
Location
Oroville
I’ve been musing about this subject for a long time, so now it’s time to give it a viewing here.


At the top we have, of course, the top hat, appropriately named. Top hats are for the elite whether of actual royalty or just the wealthy men, to wear at gala events or wherever they may want to wear them. I’m reminded of the various versions of Dickens’ Christmas Carol and how the rich financiers and investors are wearing their toppers. Or there’s the famous picture of JFK wearing his top hat and tuxedo…American royalty.


The next layer down are the homburgs, the lids worn by university professors or intellectuals of all kinds on a daily basis when they aren’t wearing their top hats to a formal event. Homburgs have a more European flavor. We don’t see them often in the U.S.


Next layer down the chain are the fedoras, worn in “the golden age” by average businessmen or even many tradesmen who could afford them. I have a picture of my dad wearing one in 1942 as he awaited his draft notice. He had been a farmworker all his life, but when he could finally put some money together and get a fedora, he felt like he had hit the big time. Now he could stop looking like a hillbilly (his words, not mine). He was very proud to be seen in it when he drove into town after a hard day in the cotton fields. After he got back from the War, he wore it in his new trade of carpentry. Gangsters, detectives, newspaper reporters, insurance salesmen—they all wore fedoras.


At the bottom of the list is the flat cap…newsboy, ivy, apple jack…whatever name works for the part of the globe where the wearer finds himself. They were and are worn by newspaper sellers, shoeshine men, taxi drivers, dock workers, gardeners, horse grooms. I take pride in wearing them as I think of myself as being of solid peasant stock. Cap wearers couldn’t afford any of the styles listed above. The caps were made of wool or cotton and thus were much more affordable.


I’m reminded of Schindler’s List where the Nazis are sorting out those who can be used by the Third Reich and those who can’t. One Nazi screener is interviewing a Jewish university professor (who is wearing a fedora), and the professor is saying, “What do you mean teaching history isn’t important to society?” Ben Kingsley’s character jerks the guy out of line and in the next scene the same character is back, wearing a flat cap and saying, “I’m a metal polisher.” I can’t think of a more profound example of what a difference in social class can be shown by hat styles.


The only thing that doesn’t fit these general rules, as I see them, are golfers who wear flat caps. It takes money to play golf, but frequently they wear the flat caps…it doesn’t compute, but there you have it.


Cowboy hats, straw hats for farmworkers, baseball caps…all are deserving of a post for another day.


Your mileage may vary. I expect it will. :)
 
Messages
18,936
Location
Central California
I’ve been musing about this subject for a long time, so now it’s time to give it a viewing here.


At the top we have, of course, the top hat, appropriately named. Top hats are for the elite whether of actual royalty or just the wealthy men, to wear at gala events or wherever they may want to wear them. I’m reminded of the various versions of Dickens’ Christmas Carol and how the rich financiers and investors are wearing their toppers. Or there’s the famous picture of JFK wearing his top hat and tuxedo…American royalty.


The next layer down are the homburgs, the lids worn by university professors or intellectuals of all kinds on a daily basis when they aren’t wearing their top hats to a formal event. Homburgs have a more European flavor. We don’t see them often in the U.S.


Next layer down the chain are the fedoras, worn in “the golden age” by average businessmen or even many tradesmen who could afford them. I have a picture of my dad wearing one in 1942 as he awaited his draft notice. He had been a farmworker all his life, but when he could finally put some money together and get a fedora, he felt like he had hit the big time. Now he could stop looking like a hillbilly (his words, not mine). He was very proud to be seen in it when he drove into town after a hard day in the cotton fields. After he got back from the War, he wore it in his new trade of carpentry. Gangsters, detectives, newspaper reporters, insurance salesmen—they all wore fedoras.


At the bottom of the list is the flat cap…newsboy, ivy, apple jack…whatever name works for the part of the globe where the wearer finds himself. They were and are worn by newspaper sellers, shoeshine men, taxi drivers, dock workers, gardeners, horse grooms. I take pride in wearing them as I think of myself as being of solid peasant stock. Cap wearers couldn’t afford any of the styles listed above. The caps were made of wool or cotton and thus were much more affordable.


I’m reminded of Schindler’s List where the Nazis are sorting out those who can be used by the Third Reich and those who can’t. One Nazi screener is interviewing a Jewish university professor (who is wearing a fedora), and the professor is saying, “What do you mean teaching history isn’t important to society?” Ben Kingsley’s character jerks the guy out of line and in the next scene the same character is back, wearing a flat cap and saying, “I’m a metal polisher.” I can’t think of a more profound example of what a difference in social class can be shown by hat styles.


The only thing that doesn’t fit these general rules, as I see them, are golfers who wear flat caps. It takes money to play golf, but frequently they wear the flat caps…it doesn’t compute, but there you have it.


Cowboy hats, straw hats for farmworkers, baseball caps…all are deserving of a post for another day.


Your mileage may vary. I expect it will. :)


My mileage does indeed vary. A working class man might only have one or perhaps two hats, but the wealthy had many more. Royalty don’t wear top hats out for a day of shooting. A dinner with friends where a dinner suit/jacket is worn calls for a black homburg and not a top hat (although this wasn’t the case before the Edwardian era). The lord of the manner might be in a wool cap or a soft felt (fedora etc.) depending on the venue, activity, time of day, etc. Bankers, prime ministers, lords, and near-do-wells matched their accessories to the activity much more than they do today. In Victorian times it wasn’t uncommon for the prosperous working class to wear toppers. And it was royalty that popularized the homburg. I believe it’s wrong to say that a style or type of hat belong to one social class or a group of occupations. Gangsters were seen in fedoras because at that time (and in Hollywood’s depictions) men had mostly moved from hard felt to soft felt. Similar correlations, as opposed to causations, are present for the other groups too.

Today, for good and ill, we don’t have the highly structured social norms for dress. Billionaires are seen in public in ripped jeans and tee-shirts. It’s rare that we ever “dress for dinner,” and I’ve grown to like a homburg with a polo shirt. It’s a brave new world. :)
 
Messages
19,124
Location
Funkytown, USA
I think the social stratification based on hat style is interesting; however, I think it's a secondary factor.

Hats were and are functional items. So a hat choice was often a choice based on profession (Westerns, Newsboys, Homburgs for bankers, etc.). The social class is defined by the profession. The hat is/was an indicator.

Even within subgroups. Cowboys wear Westerns, the Trail Boss wears an Open Road.

And Steve is right. At one time, the bowler was ubiquitous.
 

Blackthorn

I'll Lock Up
Messages
4,512
Location
Oroville
I think the social stratification based on hat style is interesting; however, I think it's a secondary factor.

Hats were and are functional items. So a hat choice was often a choice based on profession (Westerns, Newsboys, Homburgs for bankers, etc.). The social class is defined by the profession. The hat is/was an indicator.

Even within subgroups. Cowboys wear Westerns, the Trail Boss wears an Open Road.

And Steve is right. At one time, the bowler was ubiquitous.
I totally forgot the bowler, but I think it transcends social status, as opposed to my point in posting about hat styles reflecting lifestyles. :) And I knew there'd be disagreement. That's okay. :)
 
Last edited:
Messages
18,936
Location
Central California
I totally forgot the bowler, but I think it transcends social status, as opposed to my point in posting about social styles reflecting lifestyles. :) And I knew there'd be disagreement. That's okay. :)

Always room for gentlemanly disagreement. I do agree that certain hat styles are more closely associated with certain groups. However, I don’t think the breakdown follows professions or even strictly follows socioeconomic status. The King of England wore a top hat, Homburg, wool cap, etc. all within the course of a day. I think we can say that the headwear was more event/setting/time of day driven. Kennedy occasionally wore a fedora (Cavanagh I believe) and rarely wore a top hat. Churchill was a homburg man, but he wore a top hat at formal occasions. I just think there are too many data points that don’t fit to support your supposition.
 
Messages
10,390
Location
vancouver, canada
I think an important piece of info is the 'why' of hat wearing. Hats were, back in the day, a practical more than a fashion statement for most as it kept the airborne dust and dirt out of one's hair. Shampoo is a relatively modern invention and the washing of hair daily a boomer generation conceit.

The good news is that we don't have to wear hats any longer for that purpose as our air quality is so much better in modern times than it was even in our parent's generation. I remember London in the 1960's and returning home from a day out and about, wiping my brow with a white towel revealed an alarming amount of black soot on the towel.....residue from the dirty diesel being burnt in cars and the coal for heating houses.
 

GHT

I'll Lock Up
Messages
9,341
Location
New Forest
Always room for gentlemanly disagreement. I do agree that certain hat styles are more closely associated with certain groups. However, I don’t think the breakdown follows professions or even strictly follows socioeconomic status. The King of England wore a top hat, Homburg, wool cap, etc. all within the course of a day. I think we can say that the headwear was more event/setting/time of day driven. Kennedy occasionally wore a fedora (Cavanagh I believe) and rarely wore a top hat. Churchill was a homburg man, but he wore a top hat at formal occasions. I just think there are too many data points that don’t fit to support your supposition.
Giving status to a hat, albeit unwritten, means that hats describe both the pecking order and the station in life that goes with it. Much the same can be said of accents and jobs. In the UK the garbage collector is known as The Dustman. When giving an example of extremes it was quite common to say, "From a Lord to a dustman," The Lord being topdog and the dustman the underdog.

Hats do have a system of prestige but there is the scenario of working class head wear, like the cloth cap, being worn by nobility; at game bird shoots for example. Does the Lord like to display his working class credentials, or is it a case of inverted snobbery? Personally I'm with the, "if the hat fits, wear it sort." So if the Lord of the manor wears a flat cap, he won't mind if the dustmen wear something a little more prestigious.
dustmen2.jpg dustmen1.jpg
 

Rmccamey

I'll Lock Up
Messages
5,665
Location
Central Texas
The OP was written from a decidedly western and 19th and 20th century perspective. Many, many hat styles have been left out of the discussion thus far. Even if a date range and place were specified, I doubt there would be anything other than a very weak, and probably random, correlation between hat style and social status. There might be some correlation between hat price and social status, but I suspect that would be very weak as well.


What about the bowler? Won’t somebody think about the bowler!
;)
Johnny

Always room for gentlemanly disagreement. I do agree that certain hat styles are more closely associated with certain groups. However, I don’t think the breakdown follows professions or even strictly follows socioeconomic status. The King of England wore a top hat, Homburg, wool cap, etc. all within the course of a day. I think we can say that the headwear was more event/setting/time of day driven. Kennedy occasionally wore a fedora (Cavanagh I believe) and rarely wore a top hat. Churchill was a homburg man, but he wore a top hat at formal occasions. I just think there are too many data points that don’t fit to support your supposition.
 

johnnycanuck

My Mail is Forwarded Here
Messages
3,005
Location
Alberta
Time and location makes more of a difference. Here is an English law

One such law, the Statute of Apparel, passed in 1571, specifically stated that all English citizens above the age of six, except nobility, "had on Sabbath and Holydays to wear caps of woolmanufactured in England.

so if you were a working class stiff and needed a hat you would probably just buy a wool flat cap so you won’t get in trouble for wearing the wrong hat on your day off. I know my Grandfather, a Scottish farmer then grounds keeper, wore one every day of his life.

The bowler started as a labourers hat but by the 1960’s London if you had certain office job it was mandatory you wore one to work every day. (Found this out from an older gentleman I met that worked in London as an accountant)

fun hat information.
Johnny
 

johnnycanuck

My Mail is Forwarded Here
Messages
3,005
Location
Alberta
I guess if they MADE you wear a hat every day that would tend to put you off them.
Nobody is making me wear a homburg so I wore one today to try and class up the neighborhood a little.
There was also a mentality that if you always wore your hat, you would never catch a cold. Heard both my grandfathers say that a few times. That was in the 1980’s. So there was that as well.
Johnny
 

HelenMachine

New in Town
Messages
3
I am a very big fan of hats and I like to collect any kind of cool hat I see in a store. However, I can not wear any type of hat because of my big head. Panel Hats are my favorite ones because I can order them custom sized and I can put any design on them. I like that there are hats that cover not only the head but the ears too and I tend to wear them when it's cold because I live in Montana and it is very cold here when winter comes and I always say that being warm and healthy is our first priority.
 
Messages
17,901
Location
Nederland
I am a very big fan of hats and I like to collect any kind of cool hat I see in a store. However, I can not wear any type of hat because of my big head. Panel Hats are my favorite ones because I can order them custom sized and I can put any design on them. I like that there are hats that cover not only the head but the ears too and I tend to wear them when it's cold because I live in Montana and it is very cold here when winter comes and I always say that being warm and healthy is our first priority.
Welcome to the lounge. We're looking forward to seeing your hats.
 

ILB Frank

One of the Regulars
Messages
180
A question more than an assertion...
Bowlers, homburgs, fedoras, etc. made their way west (in the USA) but the cowboy hat never really made its way east. At least until after movies and mimicry became a thing?
 
Messages
17,577
At the top we have, of course, the top hat, appropriately named. Top hats are for the elite whether of actual royalty or just the wealthy men, to wear at gala events or wherever they may want to wear them.
I think that is a broad assumption without taking the era into consideration.

The Victorian Medical Student/Doctor

IMG_7859.JPG


The Victorian grave robber supplying cadavers to medical students

IMG_7861.JPG


The Victorian Chimney Sweep

IMG_7860.JPG
 
Messages
19,124
Location
Funkytown, USA
A question more than an assertion...
Bowlers, homburgs, fedoras, etc. made their way west (in the USA) but the cowboy hat never really made its way east. At least until after movies and mimicry became a thing?

Westerns are functional and more suited to the activity in the western US. You see them in the south to a certain extent, too. Outdoor activity requires a wide brimmed hat.

And it's also true that bowlers, etc. were more common in the west before John B. gave us the BOP.
 

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