A hat is an item of clothing designed to be worn on the head and can be used for both aesthetic and protective purposes.
Hats are worn as fashion accessories, to protect the wearer from inclement weather or excessive sun, for identification purposes as part of a military or civilian uniform, or as an act of religious observance.
Many people collect hats on their own or as part of a wider vintage or antique clothing collection.
Hats previously worn or owned by celebrities are often collected as items of memorabilia, and those worn by significant people or during historic events are highly-prized by collectors.
Some collectors will focus on a particular area: the most popular is fashionable hats from particular periods in history, and many people will concentrate on the changing styles of a particular era.
Others will look for the work of a specific designer or milliner. These collectors usually focus on hats from the 20th century.
Other collectors focus on the historical aspects of hats, and look for examples from the 18th and 19th centuries.
The changing attitudes and cultures of a society can often be illustrated by its clothing and fashions, and some collectors view these antique hats as cultural artefacts.
Other areas of collecting include hats from a particular profession, the wide range of military hats and helmets (although these items are usually classed as militaria), the national hats of different countries and even hats and head-dresses from tribal cultures.
Since the dawn of civilisation humans have worn coverings on their head to protect themselves from the elements.
As cultures progressed, hats came to symbolise status, and for thousands of years they were worn in many forms by tribal chiefs, leaders, shaman, religious leaders and authority figures.
In the ancient cultures of Egypt, Rome and Greece they were worn as symbols of rank, status and wealth. Although very few of these earliest hats still exist, they are regularly represented in images, paintings and sculptures.
Hats as fashionable accessories
The wearing of hats as a fashionable accessory did not begin to any large degree until the 14th century, when felt and wool hats with no practical function or significance began to be worn.
The aesthetical style that distinguished the Renaissance society was present in every aspect, and clothing became elegant and refined. Fashions were shaped by royalty, and hats worn in the palaces and courts of Europe became popular throughout the higher echelons of society.
The extravagance of the period was in many ways brought crashing down by the French Revolution, and 19th century society was shaped by more sober, scientific and rational ideas.
As ever, this new age was reflected in fashion. But as the century continued and the newly-created middle class appeared in numbers, fashionable styles began to change at a far more rapid pace.
Sewing machines were first used in 1829, the textile industry began to evolve, fashion magazines were born and the new invention of photography soon meant the ever-changing fashionable trends of Europe could be seen in all their glory.
By the mid 1800s both men and women were not seen in public without hats. The century saw styles develop from the top hat and the Bowler to the Homburg and the Fedora for men, whilst women’s styles had been elevated to works of art made from silk, straw, flowers and feathers by skilful milliners.
Both society and fashion became more informal as the 20th century dawned, and as it progressed the icons of celebrity and society were far more visible thanks to magazines and moving pictures.
Famous figures set the trends on a far larger scale, and mass production combined with lowering prices meant the styles which started as expensive and exclusive soon found their way down to the lower classes.
In the 1920s and 30s society hostess Lady Diana Cooper set the trend for the coolie and the picture hat; in the Forties and Fifties, film stars such as Joan Crawford and Deborah Kerr popularised the turban; while in the Sixties the pillbox hat was made the must-have accessory by Jackie Kennedy.
Types and manufacturers
Main article: List of types of hat
Main article: List of hat manufacturers
The world’s most expensive hat
The world's most expensive hat is a metre-high hat bejewelled with precious Lightning Ridge opals, valued at more than $1m according to newspaper the Lightening Ridge News.
The $1m hat is actually a wearable sculpture entitled Deep Blue Sea, created by Australian designer Ann-Maree Willett.
Other notable hats
Main article: List of notable hats
Hat clubs and societies
Main article: List of hat collectors' clubs and societies