When Hats Were Huge, Literally

The few years between 1908-1912 could be considered the king of hats. During these five years, hats grew to overwhelming proportions — not only a large brim, but an colossal crown was very chic.

To support such a mammoth size, the foundation of the hats were mostly constructed from buckram and thick metal wiring. Over the base, silk and velvet were popular materials. Some hats were made of straw.

La saison à Trouville, toilettes | toilettes à Auteuil, both from Gallica Bibliothèque Numérique

This was the period when Coco Chanel opened her first shop at 21 rue Cambon in Paris, creating hats before she became a couturier.

And there was no shortage of decoration. Artificial flowers, buckles, feathers, ribbon, rosettes, and lace were de rigueur. It seems the more over the top they were, the better, when it came to trims.

hat, c. 1910, from Metropolitan Museum of Art

hat, 1910, from Philadelphia Museum of Art

hat, 1909-12, from Metropolitan Museum of Art

But the crowning glory was none other than the ostrich plume. Hats could be piled with ostrich feathers. They were luxurious and voluminous. One advertisement in a 1909 Sears catalog raves “most becoming dress hat literally loaded with ostrich plumes.” And another from the same page describes the trim as “a single 17-in. ostrich plume in black, applied from the left side of the crown, drooping across the front to the right brim.”

Sears catalog no. 124, 1912, pages 119 & 124, from Winterthur Museum Library

About 1913-14, women’s preferences changed and the crown shrank. No other period in the 20th century has seen hats like these.

illustration of women in hat, 1910-14, from Metropolitan Museum of Art

photo of Phyllis Le Grand by Bassano Ltd, May 15, 1911, from National Portrait Gallery, London

Could you imagine the balance it would have required to keep one of these things atop your head? Even though they aren’t heavy, I can imagine they’d be quite unwieldy perched on your coifed hair.


  1. Ellie says:

    All I could think of during this was the scene from Titanic where Rose gets out and all you see is that purple hat.

    I can just imagine there is a woman who hung onto her wide brimmed hat through the thirties going, “they’ll come back in, someday!”

  2. And the hat pins that they had-And even with hat pins, I still think it would have been a challenge to navigate even a small breeze.

  3. lyn says:

    This is astounding. I cannot imagine wearing something on my head on a daily basis, let alone something so LARGE. But I CAN imagine what a disappointment it was to attend parades during this time period — nothing but a sea of plumes, flowers, and ribbons.

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