Rather than the “history” or “origin” of the hat, you could say that the hat “evolved” instead of someone simply inventing it and the invention spreading in use. This is because, historically, no one person can be pinned down in having invented the hat. The use of hats simply grew out of necessity to cover the head as far back as ancient times.
The first ever recorded image that depicts a hat is from ancient Greece and Rome that shows straw hats. However, throughout the world, ancient civilizations depicted people wearing straw or other material hats simply as protection for the head against the elements. Later on, hats in Europe began to be worn as symbols of religious or tribal leaders for identification of ranks and privileges.
A fascinating story is the discovery of felt as hat material at different times in different parts of the world. Ancient Egyptians accidentally discovered felt when they noticed that camel hair can become moist and compact with pressure. Native Americans found felt in their fur moccasins. St. Clement is pronounced as the patron saint of hat makers because according to stories, he found felt when he filled his shoes with flax fibers.
Hats became a commercial viability for both men and women beginning in the 1500’s with the emergence of the guilds of “milliners” that started in Milan and the northern Italian regions. These milliners would become the commercial haberdashers from the 17 th century up to the 1950’s. The most famous hats produced by milliners were the tricorne (three-cornered) and bicorne (two-cornered) made popular by army and naval officers. Both hats acted as both a sun and rain protector as well since its brim-forming gutters tilted rain away from the wearer’s face.
By the 17th century, the wearing of a hat became a symbol of wealth for the women, to distinguish the wealthy from those that simply wore ordinary bonnets. Thus, was born the wide-brimmed or “shepherdess hat” in order to protect the fair skin of wealthy ladies.
The 19th century saw the popularity of the top hats or ‘dandies.’ The top hat eventually gave way to the bowler or ‘coke’ hat invented by a British soldier, Edward Coke. The 20 th century then saw the entry of a new cultural hat evolution with the Trilby and Fedora hats. However, by the 1970’s, the gender of hats became entirely interchangeable with the entry of an endless variety of hat designs such as psychedelic hats, flat hats, peaked baseball caps, mod hats, and even the adoption of the design of the Australian bush hat for commercial purposes.