Women in the Jazz Age did not leave the house without a hat or some type of head covering. Fortunately for them, there was no reason not to do so with the wide range of hats and headbands that were available to them. Although the snug fitting cloche hat was the most common, it certainly wasn’t the only women’s 1920s hat style.
1920s Picture Hats
1920s hat styles in the early years were still somewhat influenced by the enormous hats of the previous decades. The large hats from the turn of the century were often accessorized with an abundance of bird feathers, but the Audubon Society managed to get that trend banned with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Once that happened, big hats started to fall out of favor.
Wide-brimmed picture hats with round crowns were the thing to wear outside in summer. The brim shape mimicked that of a large bonnet with sides that drooped down, framing the face like a picture. Broad straw garden hats trimmed with a wide sash of silk, and perhaps clusters of artificial flowers on the crown, looked fabulous on a sunny day.
Keep in mind that these hats were worn for an afternoon on the town, not for an afternoon pulling weeds. Inside the home, women didn’t need to wear hats. Outside, they would wear a simple straw hat for yard work.
One particular summer straw hat was the sailor hat or boater hat. Men were wearing this style of hat already, and women had also worn them for the past few decades, especially when marching for the women’s right to vote. It had lost favor in the 1920s, but newer versions embraced the flat brim over the picture hat’s drooped brim. They were more minimally decorated with ribbon and a bow.
1920s Musketeer Hat
In 1921, the release of The Three Musketeers sparked a brief trend for ladies wearing the three-corner musketeer hat, also called a Cavalier hat. In the summer they were made of straw, and in the winter they were crafted from rich velvet.
The bi-corn hat was perhaps even more popular, with the front brim folded up to create points on either side. Bi-corns often had a bow to one side or long dangling ribbon, feather, tassel or jewel.
The fold-up brim gave way to similar hats that lacked the two or three points. I refer to them as bucket hats because of the deep pull down crown, like a cloche hat, but with a wide brim that circled that crown. These were casual, sporty hats, that were frequently worn with middy blouses.
Or they could be fancier street hats made of rich materials and embellished with feathers. They were usually made from any soft material, braided straw or shaped felt. The style remained popular in the first half of the 1920s only.
1920s Tam O’Shanter Hat
The Tam O’Shanter hat was another floppy hat along the lines of the beret and turban. It had Scottish roots as a hat worn by both sexes, but as a fashion item it was just for the females. The Tam was especially popular with teens and young women in winter as well as summer. It was made famous by the film star Clara Bow in the early ’20s.
Easily knit or sewn from wool, velvet, or felt, it was a cheap hat to own. Teens could make enough Tams to go with every outfit and every season. They were certainly a young flapper’s favorite hat.
The Beret had been popular for a number of years already. It was another hat loved by young girls and trendy teens. Floppy felt or fabric was held low on the head with either a traditional thin leather band or wide knit band in winter.
It had a sporty look, which made it ideal to wear with sailor tops, knit sweaters, plaid skirts, and horseback riding uniforms among other sports.
In the later years, the beret turned into the French style with a narrow matching band and a tip at the top. Angora fur, chenille, and other fuzzy materials made unique winter berets for children and teens. All colors were available to coordinate with the brighter fashions of the late 1920s.
1920s Toque Hats
Toque hats, often fashioned out of stiff panels, were worn on top of the head rather than down around the forehead like most other ’20s hats. They were the hat choice of mature wealthy ladies and those who preferred not to look like a flapper. The flapper also adopted the Toque, moving it down their foreheads and embellishing it with beads, sequins, metallic embroidery, and precious stones.
In heavy winter, Toques and other hats were wrapped and lined in fur.
Turbans were a good alternative to cloche and toque hats. Turbans were basically pieces of cloth wrapped horizontally around the head.
When done properly and accessorized with just the right feathers or jewels, the turban could be a very glamorous look. It was one of the only hat styles worn with formal evening attire that could also be shaped into a daytime hat.
The turban could be pre-made or wrapped using a long headscarf like this:
1920s Cloche Hats
“Bobbed hats for women with bobbed hair.”
Of course, the iconic hat of the Jazz Age was the cloche, which is French for “bell.” Its popularity began around 1925, dominating hat style well into the 1930s.
A woman needed to have a small head and a short “bobbed” haircut to fit under the ever-increasing tightness. These close-fitting hats were worn low over the eyebrows, making visibility difficult. Women walked with their chins up and eyes cast down, creating an air of conceitedness or feminine independence.
The brims of the hats were so slight that the New York Times called them “an apology for a brim.” Starting in 1924, brims were a mere 2 inches at most. Some curled up, some angled out like a mini visor, and still others pointed down. By the end of the decade, brims were non-existent. The bell-like fit was now a true helmet.
To keep the tight appearance of the cloche, decorations were usually kept to a minimum with ribbon trim and embroidery daintily applied to the right side. Fans of bows, small clusters of feathers, a single large feather, or a jeweled hatpin were common decorations.
In many later cloche styles, the side brims came down over one or both ears, which allowed more room for larger decorations. They often featured intricate embroidery, Art Deco geometric shapes, jewels, or ribbons. Those ribbons sometimes carried coded messages for those in the know. Ribbons tied like an arrow signified that the woman had given her love to another, a firm knot meant that the woman was married, and a bow meant that a woman had some openings on her dance card!
Cloche hats were worn throughout the year, so they could be made from straw or cloth, depending on the season. Straw hats came in various lightweight waves or braids in the summer months. If a straw hat lasted through one season, it was trendy to paint them in next season’s colors. Agatha Christie described in her autobiography how she painted hats and added new trims to refresh the look each year. Even fabric hats could easily be redecorated with new trim and a reshaping of the brim.
Hats for All Heads
“A face that is very round and full at the lower half must wear a hat that gives prominence to the upper part; but a woman with a large forehead and thin face should wear narrow hats that come rather over the forehead. A round face looks well in a wide brim; if short, a high crown is best; but a tall girl should select a low crown. A girl with fluffy hair can wear a hat that turns away from the head, but hair dressed close to the head should have the hat fitting well over it at the sides. The hat must always look as if it was a part of the wearer, not as if it had dropped on that head by mistake. A little study will soon teach any woman what is best suited to herself; and the opinion of others is not to be despised.” – The Complete Dressmaker: With Simple Directions for Home Millinery, 1917
There were lengthy articles for women advising the best kind of hat to cover “flaws and imperfections.” In addition to the above:
- Mature women should choose wider brim hats.
- Round faces should wear hats with tall feathers.
- Thin faces need decorations balanced on either side.
- Faces with square jaws benefit from decoration placed on one side only.
- Large noses should be balanced by decorations placed in the center of the forehead or a fold up brim.
- Dark-haired ladies look best with a narrow brim or brimless hats.
- Light haired ladies need a downturned brim.
Read more fashion advice for your face and body type here.
Buying 1920s Hats
Since the trend in the 1920s was to redecorate a hat every season, a woman only needed to buy one or two solid color 1920s style hats. You, too, can start with a simple cloche hat and add your own embellishments. Use the catalog images above as your inspiration or choose one of these simple ribbon techniques.
Most women will choose a cloche hat for a ’20s event – black felt in winter or a natural straw in summer. These are great choices, but don’t be afraid to choose something unique such as a velvet turban, wide brim picture hat, bucket hat, or straw boater.
Don’t be afraid to choose a contrasting color, too. Women’s hats usually did not match dresses, but may have coordinated with one other accessory or trim on the dres
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