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 .
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 Cezane, Gustave Boyer, 1870-71, Metropolitan museum of art, New York, USA
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.
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.
Raffia and silk top hat, maker label: Mellin of Poitiers France, 1820c, Metropolitan museum of art, New York USA
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?…