Archives for the month of: October, 2013

col works Christine de Pisan,1415c,BL

Illuminated manuscript, The collected works of Christine de Pisan, 1415c, British Library , UK

For my last post (for now) on men and hats I take you back to the early 1400s and the first image in post no.1 on Top Hats.

On The far left the gentleman in red dons a very wide-brimmed straw hat. Now, judging by the amount of fur and heavy clothing in the image, you may be wondering why this man is wearing a hat more typically associated with  summer. There is a quirky explanation for that: he flaunts a very particular french hat trend of the first decades of the 1400s. It consisted of wearing peasant hats which had been “upgraded” by adding a fur lining (no, we cannot see the lining but there is literary evidence available ). It’s incongruous of course, and that is just why it was so fashionable .

anon,Lavori dei mesi,luglio,1250c,San Marco VE

Wood engraving, the months of the year, 1250c, Basilica di San Marco, Venice, Italy

Peasants, male and female, had been wearing hats for ever. The most obvious material for protective headgear of this sort  was readily available plant fibres such as raffia, straw and reeds (or bamboo in Asia). As the 13th century wood engraving above shows, the wide-brimmed and shallow crown typology was very popular in medieval Europe.

Straw hats remained the favoured headwear for male peasants in Europe for the following centuries. With the Renaissance gentlemen gravitated towards more luxurious materials in their desire for conspicuous consumption.  It is only in the 1800s that we once again find straw hats on the heads of middle and upper class gentlemen.

paul Cezanne, Gustave Boyer in a straw hat, 1870-71, met ny

Paul Cezane, Gustave Boyer, 1870-71, Metropolitan museum of art, New York, USA

G.Fattori, Valerio Biondi, 1867, cp

Giovanni Fattori, Valerio Biondi at Castiglioncello (Tuscany), 1867, private collection

The two portraits above come from France and Italy and apart from a very similar date, they have something else in common. They both represent creative/intellectual men. It is precisely in the artistic milieu that straw hats once again “step up” from the fields to the well-kept gardens of European society. Artists in the 19th century dared a little with their appearance – in the true Romantic tradition  they could choose to break sartorial rules in the name of creativity.

Eliseo Sala, pittore Carlo Silvestri,1850,GAM MI

Carlo Silvestri, the painter Eliseo Sala, 1850, Galleria Arte Moderna, Milan, IT

More conservative gentlemen prefered the fashion version of these peasant hats to be found on sale  all over the mediterranean during the hot summer months and even in colonial countries where fibre hats represented the compromise between western elegance and extreme weather conditions of tropical lands.

top hat, raffia and silk, french Mellin, Poitiers, 1820c, met ny

Raffia and silk top hat, maker label: Mellin of Poitiers France, 1820c, Metropolitan museum of art, New York USA

straw hat, 1896-98, met ny gift of Louise Dahl Wolfe 1948

Straw cap, 1896-8c, Metropolitan museum of art, New York, USA

Finally this remarkable straw cap complete with decorative elements. This piece holds a story of its own which may be worth telling one day:  it was donated to the Met by the wonderful female photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe in 1948

now where did she get it?…


fratelli Limbourg,t.r.h.d.Duc de Berry,gennaio,part,1412-16,MC Chantilly

Limburg brothers, Les Tres Riches Heures de Duc de Berry, (detail : Duke John de Berry in blue and fur hat),1412-16, Musée Condé, Chantilly, FR

Once again we return to the 1400s to talk about men and hats. As I mentioned in the previous post, this was a particularly creative moment for hat makers throughout Europe. In this post I want to explore a symbolic “statement piece” of the male wardrobe – the fur hat.

Jan van Eyck,uomo con garofano,1435c,MS Berlin

Jan van Eyck, Man with a carnation, 1435c, Staatliche Museum, Berlin, Germany

Petrus Christus, man with falcon,1445-50c,Stadel Museum, Frankfurt

 Petrus Christus, Man with falcon, silverpoint on paper, 1445-50c, Stadel Museum, Frankfurt, Germany

 The painting and the drawing above show realistic examples of a most fashionable type of hat for men in northern Europe during the 1400s. it was large, shaped and made of fur. Fur was not the novelty here – fur had been around for thousands of years of course – what was new was that artisans now had the technology and skills to produce such large, free-standing (i.e. structured to hold the shape) headwear.

So why use fur? Just like today fur was expensive and exclusive. It was a status symbol in western society. It is significant that this type of fur hat becomes fashionable in Burgundy/the Netherlands , since the northern ports of this region were international fur trading centres. Cargos of precious furs came through  (for example the most exclusive of furs, sable, would come from Russia) and be sold on to merchants from the major cities of North and South Europe.

Not only do we see these fur hats in male portraits during the 15th Century, but we also find saints and other males who populate the religious paintings of the Netherlandish school  wearing fur-lined “costumes”, including hats.

Dieric Bouts, Martydom of st Erasmus, detail

Dieric Bouts, Martydom of St Erasmus (detail), 1458c, St Peter’s church, Leuven, Belgium

Here the central figure wears a fur-lined cap, the brim of which has been turned over and pinned back, giving it a strange exotic feel. The two-tone fur is probably mink.

 The Big Fur Hat trend soon petered out  and eventually gave way, in the early 16th Century, to the Big Fur Cap trend.

In northern Europe especially, these are often made of rare and expensive fur such as sable (rather than local fox or rabbit).

Hans Maler,Sebastian Andorfer,1517,met NY

Hans Maler, Sebastian Andorfer, 1517, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA

This gentleman wears a large cap (originally known as a Milanese bonnet or bereta) with a wide, segmented and upturned brim. What is unusual is that instead of being made of felt or velvet, it is made of Russian sable.  Once again a true statement to the man’s wealth and social status. We must, however, concede to the need for warm headwear in the rigidly cold winter months  of countries like Germany, where this gentleman lived.

From the 17th Century onward fur in its natural state falls out of fashion in favour of the use of fur felt. Fur hats seem to be relegated to the sphere of extreme weather conditions and certain cold-weather sports. In the 20th Century for example, with the appearance of the first automobiles,  warm hats were required as cars had no overhead covering or windscreen.

male hat, wool and fur, 1900c, met ny

 Man’s wool cap trimmed in fur, possibly for motoring, American, 1900, Metropolitan museum , New York, USA

Today men still wear fur hats in extreme weather conditions; placing this accessory in the sportswear category rather than fashion. However men’s fashion designers have recently returned to the idea of fur for men. This winter’s collections were full of fur in all shapes, sizes and colours. Possibly the most bizare use of fur was at Moncler’s Gamme Rouge catwalk show – it will be interesting to see if we spot any item from this collection in the streets of New York, Paris, London or Milan by Christmas time….

Moncler Gamme rouge aW 13.14

Moncler Gamme Rouge, fur outfit, A/W 2013-14


gentlemen,Montreal,1895,McCord mus

Photo anon, Gentlemen, Montreal, 1895c, McCord museum, Canada

One of the earliest images I have found of a top hat (by that I mean a hat that has been built up in height and is made of wool, fur felt or other material that can be “shaped”) dates from the early 1400s:

col works Christine de Pisan,1415c,BL

Illuminated manuscript, The collected works of Christine de Pisan, 1415c, British Library , UK

In this image,  where we see French noblemen and kneeling before them the formidable Christine de Pisan, in the act of presenting her new  book , the gentleman in dark pink on the right is wearing a tall, black hat decorated with red and white feathers held by a gold brooch. Like the rest of the men, his head is covered despite being indoors, confirming the new fashion of the period. A gentleman always covered his head except in the privacy of his own home. This new trend gives great impetus to contemporary hat makers who competed with each other to create the most striking shapes. The size of these hats is also significant – they are large and attention seeking. The black hat he is wearing is important because it represents a new manufacturing skill of the period – the ability to shape felt (wool or the more costly fur)  by moulding the material over a wooden, pre-carved shape or “block”. This is still the way felt hats are made today.

In subsequent centuries,  the top hat disappears making room for an array of shapes and sizes in the history of men’s head-coverings.

We meet up again with the top hat in England  during the last decade of the 18th Century. But it is really in France during the Directory   that we see the top hat become the emblem of the new dandy fashions – wonderfully represented in the fashion plates produced by the Vernet family  between the end of the 1700s and the first decades of the 1800s

H.Vernet, Incroyable (parasole)1799-1815

Horace Vernet, “Un Incroyable” (or The parasol), France, 1799-1815c

At first contained in size, it will rise to extreme heights during the course of the 19th Century. Between 1800 and 1900 it is THE accessory for men, synonymous with status and power.

silk plush top hat,1892,McCord mus

Silk plush top hat, 1892, McCord Museum, Canada

Giuseppe Molteni

Giuseppe Molteni (Italian), 1835-9c, for sale: Lorenzo Vatalaro Antiques

Continental gentlemen took their elegance seriously, even when out game shooting. The Italian nobleman above wears a light coloured top hat with contrasting edging and green lining. The artist has expertly represented the “plush” (slight pile or furiness) of the material and the way it reflects the light. Exactly the desired characteristics of this mid-season or early summer hat. Very similar to the surviving item below.

Jas Wilson,top hat,1830-40c,manch.

Top hat, 1830-40c, Manchester museum UK

In full summer, in America top hats were even made of straw to combat the heat. Managing to combine the symbolic with the practical in a very elegant manner.

cappello, paglia, 1850c, mfa Bost

Top hat, straw, 1850c, M.F.A. Boston, USA

Francesco Merletti, First Lady, 2008, tecnica mista, 22 x 23,5 x 28,3 cm, collezione privata

Francesco Merletti, First lady, 2008, mix media, p.c.

For my last post on feathers I have decided to put together a selection of extraordinary feathered items I have come across. One thing is certain it takes character to wear feathers, just as it does to carry off real fur (yes! fur posts coming soon).

scarf and muff of sea-gull feathers, 1880-99,MET NY

Sea gull muff and scarf, 1880-99c, Metropolitan museum of Art, New York, USA

And it takes a real woman to carry off a whole bird – eyes, beak and all. This skillfully made “set” of sea gulls from the US seems totally audacious today, but probably less so back in the 1890s when there was a genuine vogue for stuffing and wearing just about any form of living species.

Emanuel Harry of London, gold earings with bird heads, 1865c, V&A

 Emanuel Harry, London, gold and bird head earings, 1865c, Victoria and Albert museum, London, UK

In 20th Century fashion, the trend re-emerges during the 1940s in the form of exquisite little hats:

LIFE cover 1942

cover of LIFE magazine, 1942

Hattie Carnegie, feather hat, 1940, MetNY

Hattie Carnegie, birds hat, 1940, Metropolitan museum of Art, New York, USA

Caroline Reboux, feather hat suede base, 1946, V&A

Caroline Reboux,Paris, bird hat, 1946,Victoria and Albert museum, London, UK

And finally lets not forget shoes! In this example (image below) Roger Vivier not only covers the exterior in feathers but also echoes the fluid shape of an exotic bird in the silhouette of the shoe – a masterpiece

Roger vivier for Dior, feather covered shoe,  1960c,Met NY

Roger Vivier for Dior, feather covered shoe, 1960, Metropolitan museum of Art, New York, USA