Book Review: The Power of the Hat

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By Kathy A. Megyeri 

In 2011, the Design Museum in London published a delightful compendium of “Fifty Hats That Changed the World” that imparts a history and pictorial collection of the top hats and headwear that have made a substantial impact in fashion and design. Each entry details what made the hat iconic and the designers who gave them a special place in history. 

The Design Museum welcomes over 2 million visitors a year and is the world’s leading museum devoted to temporary design in every form, from furniture to graphics and architecture to industrial design all to demonstrate the richness of creativity to be found in all forms of design. So why feature the hat?  

Because hats have the power to transform.  

Hats sit in such proximity to the face that they can mesh with the wearer, embedding in our memories the events and people wearing them. And recently, millinery (the art of the elegant hat) has undergone a revival. 

Featured in the book is one of the oldest surviving crowns in the world, Monomakh’s cap, made of gold and sable and the first crown worn to inaugurate Russian rulers. The top hat (made of rabbit or beaver, we are told) first appeared in France and Britain in the late 18th century as a dandyish fad and caused such an uproar that they were labeled incroyable (unbelievable). By 1850, thanks to Prince Albert, silk replaced the original fur.  

There’s the bowler hat (derby), the Balaclava, and the Hardee hat, which became the official headgear of the entire U.S. Army in 1858 and showcased an elaborate system of insignia and codes. The book also includes the Victorian bonnet, the Stetson, the helmet-like cloche embraced by 1920’s flappers, Carmen Miranda’s turban, Marlon Brando’s biker cap, Che Guevara’s beret, Jackie Kennedy’s “pillbox,” the beanie from the grunge movement, and the ever-present baseball hat, officially adopted by major league baseball because it was lightweight, comfortable and cheap.  

Some of us still wear hats today (as our mothers insisted when we were young). Alicia Bauer, 85, of Venice, FL gives concerts in her retirement community and her hat is her trademark. She says it garners comments from men who wish their own wives would wear hats, and it commands respect and attention from concert goers. She believes, as I do, that hats are more than just for Easter and “Fifty Hats That Changed the World” will convince you of the hat’s importance in fashion and history. 

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