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, Man with a carnation, 1435c, Staatliche Museum, Berlin, Germany
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), 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, 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.
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, fur outfit, A/W 2013-14