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There came up a lass from a country town
intending to live in the city,
In a steeple-crown hat and a Paragon gown
who thought herself wondrous pretty:
Her Petticoat serge, her stockings were green,
her smock cut out of a sheet, Sir;
And under it all, was seldom yet seen
so fair a young maid for the street, Sir!
Roxburgh Ballads, 1685
THROUGH the centuries the hat has played a varied and, at times, an amusing role in the history of dress. Today it is regarded as an essential detail in the costume of both men and women. In the apparel of women the hat is comparatively modern, whereas in men's dress, as a simple cap or hood, it dates back to remote times. From this ancient and humble beginning, followed by constant changes through the centuries, it has emerged as the indispensable head covering of moderns.
All primitive peoples have worn the simple, close-fitting cap. Figure 1. Some form of the cap was worn by the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Gauls, the Franks, and the Anglo-Saxons. It was used as early as 4000 B.C. From that distant period down to the fourteenth century it continued to be the accepted head covering for the great mass of the people. Though hats came at a much later date, both the words "hat" and "cap" seem to have had their origin in terms used to designate the primitive home. Long before these peoples gave much thought to clothes they built themselves shacks or huts which, according to Planché, they called haet or hutt. Their head coverings imitating the ancient hut were probably given the same name, a term which through the centuries changed to the modern word hat. The word "cap" comes from the Anglo-Saxon cappe; however, Planché, an early authority writing on the subject of costume, points out that the Belgic Britons had in their language the word cappan, used by later peoples of the same region in describing their conical caps made of rushes and curiously resembling the ancient hut made of wattles tied together in a similar way and called cab, cabban, whence our modern word cabin. So it would appear that some relation seemed to exist, particularly in these early days, between the primitive home and the first head covering.
The ancient cap made of skins, often with the shaggy side out, of cloth, of woolen stuff, and later of leather, probably at first resembled a loose, hoodlike cap, then took on more or less of a conical shape. This was gradually followed by more fitted shapes. The first recorded use of a hat with a brim comes from ancient Greece, where the petasus and pileus, low-crowned, broad-brimmed hats of felt, sometimes likened to a "barber's basin," were worn by huntsmen and travelers. However, with rustics of this and later periods, the simple cap, sometimes conical, sometimes with side flaps, continued to be worn. By the fourteenth century the popularity of the cap gave way to the hood, which with its long peak lent itself to many interesting arrangements and so helped to prolong the fashion over a considerable period. Hoods were fashionable for both men and women. Previous to this women had been wearing enveloping veils, short coifs, and, later, chin straps and wimples with head veils. It was not until a much later date that both men and women adopted the hat as it is known today. Consequently, in tracing the development of the modern hat it is necessary to go back through the period of veils and hoods to the little cap which innocently enough started the fashion of hats.
In Egypt, as in other warm countries, the climate and manner of living had much to do with dress development. Though the hat had no place in the Egyptian wardrobe, the various types of headdress served as worthy substitutes. Persons of all classes occasionally wore caps, some of which were large, others close fitting. Men generally, however, preferred the wig. See page 84. Wigs had been adopted at an early date and were worn as a protective covering from the sun. They were usually constructed of human hair or sheep's wool. The hair was shaved or cut short and the wig, built upon a netlike foundation, allowed the heat of the head to escape. Figure 2. In fact, the wig far surpassed the modern turban which is worn for the same purpose. Another very familiar head covering was the simple cloth or kerchief fitted about the brow in such a way that it fell to the shoulders, sometimes in two broad bands or lappets which framed the face. Figure 3. Dignitaries of Egypt are seen in a helmet cap, apparently of woolen stuff, rising high above the head. Figure 4. These are usually ornamented with emblems symbolic of office or rank. Chief among the princely insignia were the asp, signifying kingly power; the lotus, the emblem of abundance; and the sacred feather, indicating sovereignty.
Though hats for women came at a much later date and in an entirely different world, it is interesting to note the elaborate wigs, ornamental bands, wreaths, and ribbon which, in a measure, made up to these women of Egypt for the lack of a hat. During the Old Empire and down to the Eighteenth Dynasty (1583 B.C.), elaborate coiffures falling over the shoulders and entirely concealing the contour of the head were worn. Figure 5. These masses of long hair, either plaited or straight, hung at the back, covering the shoulder blades, while two side pieces fell to the front of the shoulders. These side tresses were secured by combs or an ornamental headband. As stated by many authorities, these large constructions must have been wigs, for the same woman is frequently seen in different coiffures, some of which are long and elaborate, others short. In still others a little of the natural hair is seen under the wig. The wall painting "The Deceased Entertained by the Goddess Nut" gives a very definite idea of this coiffure of three thousand years ago. PLATE I. The most important ornamental head covering of the early period was the vulture headdress of the Egyptian queen. Both sculpture and painting show the royal lady wearing this emblem of the sacred bird whose plumage covers the head. Figure 6. In marked contrast with this ancient headdress is the tall cap or crown of a much later date worn by Nefertiti, queen of Amemophis IV, who reigned during the fourteenth century, B.C., and whose daughter was the wife of King Tutankhamen. PLATE II. During this later period the former heaviness was abandoned and various styles were accepted. A few examples of the prevailing mode show outstanding bobs; others are long front and back and short on the shoulders. Some show a more natural arrangement of the hair which reveals rather than conceals the contour of the head. Wreaths, ribbon, and the lotus flower turned about the head were used as ornament. Figure 8. It is said that the ribbon which the Egyptian woman tied about her brow, leaving two streamers hanging at the back, is the first sign of the modern hatband.
One of the most familiar types of ancient cap came from Phrygia in Asia Minor. This has passed into history as the "Phrygian bonnet." Figure 9. Originally it resembled a hood with a pointed, extended crown bent forward, with flaps hanging to the shoulders. When made of pliant material, the crown lay in a soft fold; when made of leather, the crown supported itself, taking on the form of a helmet. It was later worn in Greece and Italy and, during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, was revived in a somewhat similar shape as the hood and worn as a fashionable head covering by both men and women. At this time the tippet or pointed crown assumed many and amusing styles. See page 11. The general shape of the Phrygian bonnet is seen in many later types of headgear. Even in modern times, an occasional molded hat form harks back to this little cap of long ago.
In Greece, coverings for the head were not generally worn. Here again the mild climate and the leisurely life of the people made no particular demands for head coverings. Among the peasant folk the little, close-fitting cap, sometimes with flaps fastened under the chin, was sufficient. Strange as it may seem, it was reserved for the men of Greece to introduce the hat with a brim. This was of felt, tied under the chin and known as the petasus and pileus. Figure 10. Such a hat was worn only by travelers and huntsmen as a protection from the sun. When not upon the head it was pushed back on the shoulders and supported by a string about the neck. The felt used for the petasus as well as for caps, cloaks, and shoes of this day was made by matting together hair or bits of wool while moist. In England, as late as the fourteenth century during the reign of Edward II, a type of felt hat similar to the petasus was worn.
Greek women are said to have been blessed with beautiful and abundant hair. This is characteristic of southern races. No doubt the vanity of the feminine world of that day found complete satisfaction in the beautiful crowns, diadems, cauls, and tiaras which ornamented the head. At least there is no mention of hats. Instead, when a covering for the head was needed, the himation served the purpose, for it could be easily adjusted about the head and shoulders.
In Rome, the leaders of fashion followed the Greek custom. When necessary they adjusted the toga in such a way that it could be readily pulled over the head. Roman women had no need for hats. Their veils, nets, and adjustable wigs, however, received the same careful attention that a modern woman bestows upon her hat.
After the conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar (55 A.D.), Roman civilization was gradually introduced into that corner of western Europe. Later there followed the invasion of the Franks from the north, bringing other influences. The mingling of the Romans, Franks, and Gauls naturally brought about many changes in dress. During the long period of the Middle Ages the cap with its many variations continued to be the favorite head covering for men. Women, too, wore the little cap. It was, however, reserved for the feminine world to make new and interesting changes in this important matter of dressing the head.
Throughout the long period of the Middle Ages, women of all classes favored head draperies of one sort or another. These were usually large, square, oblong, or circular pieces of linen or cotton material falling from the head to the shoulders or below, sometimes reaching the feet. When long, this drapery was known as the palla, a name no doubt taken over after the Roman occupation. Another popular headdress which came by way of Byzantium and Rome was the large, turbanlike cap edged with a roll or pad. Figure 11. Though the crown and roll were usually of different colors, both were decorated with narrow bands set at regular intervals. The hair was completely hidden, for the cap fitted close to the brow, coming well down over the ears so as to leave only the lobes visible. Soon the large cap gave way to one smaller and more snug fitting. The decorative bands were reduced to five, and these were frequently edged with pearls. A jeweled crown or coronet was often worn just above the roll, and a beautiful veil added the finishing note. Though the caps appear to be a very charming headdress and must be considered as a type fashionable during this early period, they were by no means so generally popular as the simple drapery or veil, which has passed into history as the couvrechef.
By the tenth and eleventh centuries conditions were rapidly changing. The Romans had introduced weaving, needlework, and dyeing, and materials were becoming more varied. Trade had been established with Britain, and, naturally, various customs and manners were carried back and forth across the channel. In Britain the identical type of head covering had developed under the name headrail. Figure 12. This drapery is considered woman's characteristic headdress of the early Middle Ages. Under the modernized name it served the woman of the new age with the same degree of comfort and satisfaction as had the palla and veil of old. This drapery seems to have been sufficiently large to have covered the head and to be wrapped about the neck and passed over the shoulder. Head draperies were always in color, never white, and materials, as is evident from the folds, were varied. In some, the cloth falls in innumerable small folds; while in others only a few appear.
About the year 1100, these head draperies grew smaller and the long, flowing hair was much in evidence. Many early drawings show the hair arranged in two long plaits twined about with colored ribbon. Sometimes ribbon and false hair were braided in with the natural hair with the intention of suggesting long and abundant locks. Another fashion was that of covering the long braids with cases of gay-colored silk, usually finished off with tassels. This attractive coiffure was always completed by the addition of short veils of cotton or linen. Of course these little coifs varied with the distinction of the wearer. Many leaders of fashion adorned the head with transparent veils which sparkled with gold and silver spangles. When the veil was secured by a diadem, a very majestic appearance was given these women of long ago. Figure 13. At this period men's caps, formed of rush and straw, began to take a definite shape. They resembled loose caps with crowns of various heights. A few of these were given brims and worn with a string attached so they could be pushed back off the head, to hang behind the shoulders. Soon these shapes were repeated in wool, felt, and other materials. The art of felt making is probably as old as that of weaving. It was practiced in both Greece and Rome. The story runs that St. Clement, fourth bishop of Rome, first discovered this property of wool by placing bits of it in his sandals. During his long travels, heat, moisture, and friction wore the wool into a compact mass, which he afterward recognized as a very useful material. Felt hats have been in use to the present day, their rise and fall in popularity being affected only by new and temporarily more attractive materials.
One can readily understand how draping the head, adopted so generally by women of the Middle Ages, created the tendency to frame in the face and hide the hair. In the twelfth century (1154-1216) the flattering fashion of the chin strap was introduced. A band of white linen was passed under the chin, and brought up, and pinned at the top or side of the head; another band was bound about the forehead; and over this arrangement of bands was draped the veil. Thus the hair was entirely cov-ered. Sometimes, after the chin strap had been adjusted, the stiffened band about the forehead was so placed that it resembled a little, low, broad-crowned cap. This framing of the face soon ushered in another mode which strongly appealed to the feminine heart. A shaped piece of fine, white or colored material was caught under the chin and, while its fulness draped the throat, was brought up tightly around the face and either pinned to the hair at the side or carried to the top of the head and fastened. Over the head was draped a veil which hung to the shoulders, framing the face. Thus the wimple. was born. Figure 14. Sometimes the complete headdress, veil and wimple, is termed the wimple. Wimples are first mentioned in twelfth century records. A manuscript of that date mentions, "small gwimples for ladies' chyunes," and "gwimples dyed saffron," which leads one naturally to suppose that yellow was a popular color. Following the wimple came the gorget (1200 A.D.). Figure 15. This accessory was an ample piece of material carried about the neck several times, and frequently pinned high at the sides to the headdress. In many ways it answered the same purpose as the wimple. The gorget was always tucked in at the neck of the gown and therefore is distinct from the guimpe, which fell outside the neck opening. Though the exact shape of the gorget is not known, an inventory of the time of Henry VIII, listing the apparel of his queen, shows this entry, "A gorget of silver tissue, in length one yard and three quarters." This gives a definite idea of its size, and one's imagination can readily picture the appearance of this mass of material draped about the neck and shoulders.
Excerpted from Accessories of Dress by Katherine Morris Lester, Bess Viola Oerke. Copyright © 2014 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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