Hats Wearable Art

For two thousand years, hats have reflected practicality or aesthetics. Hats have marked social and cultural change. Hats have expressed and revealed notions of class, gender, authority, fashion, and etiquette. Sometimes, hats deflect the rain off one’s head just as they shield the noonday sun. In Santa Fe, New Mexico, Milton Johnson of Montecristi Custom Hat Works makes hats wearable art.

Hats Through History

The first hat in human history was probably a big leaf or a piece of leather, according to the website historyofhats.net. The first image of a person with a hat is a painting in a tomb in the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes. It was a simple conical straw hat. At the same time appeared “pileus” which is a simple skull cap, “petasos” – first hat with a brim known to men and a Phrygian cap. When freed, slaves would be given a conical cap with a folded-up top. Because of that, it was called the “Liberty hat” during French Revolution. The discovery of felt was one of the first big steps in hat making. Aside from being protection from the elements, hats evolved in different parts of the world at different times. Traditionally, a milliner is an artisan who makes or sells ladies’ hats. The term was first recorded in 1529, as it referred to the fashion products for which Milan and northern Italy were famous.

There are, of course, many sizes and shapes for hats in all cultures. The yarmulke or kippah is the skullcap worn by Jewish males. Roman Catholic clergy wear the skullcap called a zucchetto: black for priests, purple for bishops, red for cardinals, and white for the pope. The hijab covers the head of a Muslim woman. In the 18th century, men wore the tricorne, a hat with wide brims folded up to form three points. A French chef wears a toque, a tall white hat with no brim. A dandy – or sometimes Fred Astaire – wore a top hat. If he went home to enjoy a smoke, he would don a smoking cap, a pillbox shaped hat worn in the 19th century to prevent the hair from smelling of tobacco. Greta Garbo wore a slouch hat, a soft hat with a high crown and drooping flexible brim. A summer outing in a rowboat called for a skimmer – also called logically, a boater. A pioneer woman in the American south or west would wear a poke bonnet, a headdress with a deep brim, and ribbons to tie under the chin. Some of the most famous hats are the Stetson, Sombrero, Bowler, Fedora, Hard Hat, and the ubiquitous 10-gallon cowboy hat.

Montecristi Custom Hat Works in Santa Fe, New Mexico, specializes in two very distinct hats – the Montecristi Panama and the world’s finest fur felt hats.