Vintage hats are both fun and practical to collect. For hundreds of years hats have helped to define a person's style and personality. Antique hats are those that are at least 100 years old while vintage hats are those that are less than 100 years old.
As you can imagine vintage hats are much more available than their antique counterparts. Best of all, they are more affordable. Finding them is as easy as shopping at your local thrift stores, garage sales, or eBay and other online venues.
While there were some style changes in men's hats they were minimal and generally it is the women's hats that are prized by collectors. A vintage hat can create a unique statement as a wearable collectible or a whimsical addition to your décor.
Four Decades of Hat Styles
Most vintage hats that you find will be from the 1920s through the 1960s. Although some styles are similar from decade to decade you can usually date a hat by the style and embellishment. Looking at a variety of hats online can help you identify the different styles as well.
Hats from the 1920s
Hats, especially women's hats, changed drastically from the Victorian and Edwardian era to the freer Flapper days of the 1920s. Women had gotten the vote and were feeling their new freedoms. Hemlines skyrocketed to the knee and hair was chopped short. There was no longer any need to create time consuming (and heavy) updos with yards of hair. There was also nothing to push the long hatpins into either. Designers looked to Japan, China, Egypt, and even Russia for inspiration.
The cloche hat became popular in the 1920s. It was an easy to wear, pull on style of hat that fit close to the head and often had a large rosette or other décor on the side. It was said that in order to wear a cloche correctly one must pull it nearly over the eyes, creating the need for the wearer to lift her head and peer down her nose at whomever she was speaking with.
The earliest cloche hats had brims but after 1926 the brims were gone completely.
Hat Designs from the 1930s
The hats from the 30s were a nostalgic look back at the more feminine hats of the Victorians. High crowns worn at a jaunty angle created a flirtatious and feminine look as women got used to having their freedom and no longer felt the need for extremes. The 30s gave women more of a variety of hats than had been available in 20 years and women reveled in the luxury of it.
Although much of America was neck deep in economic ruin, women managed to continue to buy hats. Designers came out with outrageous creations; the Lambchop, hats decorated with fruit, the shoe hat, and others. Each created a definite ripple when worn on the street; the desire for shock value was high.
The release of Gone with the Wind in 1935 brought the snood and other early Victorian hat designs back in style as women worked to emulate the elegance of Vivian Leigh.
Vintage Hat Price Guides
Hats Lose Importance
Throughout much of history hats had been an important accessory for women. World War II with its hardships, rationing, and women in the workplace changed the role of hats in fashion permanently. While they were still shown in magazine and on the runway, fewer women wore hats on the regular basis that they had before.
Hat Styles from the 1940s
The onset of World War II gave fashion a kick that sent it reeling out of the priority list. There was precious little time to set a cute hat on the head just right when one was heading off to the factory or to a Red Cross meeting.
Vintage hats from this period tended to be small. Some were little more than large bows that attached to the head while others took on a decidedly military look. Often hats were not worn at all. Fashion became somber and more utilitarian as the war consumed everyone's lives.
Clothing was rationed in most of the world and only the most important items were bought on an as needed basis. Scarves and turbans were easy to pull on and covered hair that had was not freshly coiffed.
Vintage Hats of the 1950s
Women were ready for glamor after the harshness of the previous two decades and hats, as well as fashion in general, became glamorous.
The pillbox hat, a small, brimless hat that perched atop the head, came into style mid-decade and was popular for ten years because it was a personal favorite of Jackie Kennedy. The pillbox was available in many different fabrics and sometimes had a short veil attached.
Toward the end of the decade hats began to fall out of favor. Women were spending more time on their hair and hats spoiled the intricate beehives and other hairstyles that they spent hours in the salon acquiring.
Last Hat Decade
The 1960s were really the last decade that hats were popular. In the first five years things did not look much different from the 1950s; pill box hats were part of the look, thanks to Jackie Kennedy.
The European runways were filled with bell shaped hats that sported large brims, silk scarves, and a variety of other shapes and sizes.
As the 1960s ended there were a few woven hats with wide
brims that made it in to the 1970s but for the most part hats had lost their
impact on fashion and American society as a whole. If you are interested in fashions of the 1970s as well as earlier decades you should check out the Acadamy of Art University Library online. They have numerous resources available including a fashion design history collection.
Collecting, Storing, and Displaying Vintage Hats
It happens all of a sudden. One minute you are looking at an antique vase and the next you are oohing and aaahing over a leopard print pillbox and a purse to match. It has begun; you are a vintage hat addict. You can find hats in many places locally but there is no substitute for the Internet when it comes to finding the biggest selection of vintage and antique hats.
Some places to try are:
While some collectors buy hats only to display, others use them as valuable additions to their wardrobes. A vintage hat can create a unique look for those confident enough to wear them.
Hats should be displayed behind glass if possible, where they will be safe from the effects of dust and sunlight. It is best to keep hats in hat boxes in a dry, cedar lined closet if at all possible.
Vintage women's hats are a reminder of times past, when casual style meant short gloves and flat shoes and people enjoyed dressing up for church, school, and social activities. Whether you are an admirer of hats, a beginning collector, or looking for a new old hat for Easter Sunday, vintage hats can create a statement that no other article of clothing can. Best of all you will probably pay about the same for vintage millinery as you will for a new hat.