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Hats & Hairstyles 1920s

Edwardian Hats & Hairstyles
Hat Fashion History


By Pauline Weston Thomas for


Edwardian Hats and Hair Fashion


After 1900

New Edwardian Hat Fashions of the Early 20th Century - The 1st Decade

Hats during the Edwardian period were not as universally wide as is sometimes thought.  The new century began with a continuation of art nouveau influence in fashion and as skirts swirled around the feet of women forming in fans like bell flowers, so did the hats swirl and swoop around the head.

Lavish brims swept around the face creating an illusion of a hat suspended as if by magic on the head.  The hat was often an amorphous mass swathed in tulle and smothered in flora, ribbon rosettes or plumage.  After 1903 large lace veils gave an impression of the hat being a frothy mass.

Hair Contribution to the Hat Silhouette

The shapeless nebulous appearance of the hat in part existed because of the work of hairdressers, who created a mass of supports for women to build their own hair-over.  Women or their maids collected the combings of hair from their hairbrush and stored it for future use. 

Pompadour Hair Frame Supports

By 1902 supports called pompadour frames were easy to buy and these were used as a base for the style and a woman’s own hair was built up and smoothed over the base.  The combings were added when extra matching hair was needed to get just the right effect.  The volume these contraptions enabled meant that the hats had a great support to rest on and so they gave an impression of often appearing to be hovering when in fact they rest on a substantial and fairly firm structure.

Even so hatpins were essential. With the pompadour frame in place hatpins could be threaded through and find a safe anchor.  Picture of a line drawing of an Edwardian hat 1907

After 1904 the width of hats decreased, but concentrated instead on the height until 1907.  These smaller hats had trimmings that highlighted the important fashion feature of height.  So between 1905 to 1906 height in elegant occasion hats with a somewhat narrower width can be an important aspect of dating a photograph.

Left - Edwardian Hat 1907

After 1907-8 wider hairstyles with central partings and side hair that fanned out over the ears meant that wider brimmed hats were introduced to balance the fuller hair silhouette. 


Merry Widow Hat

1907-8 saw the start of a new body silhouette called the Empire or Directoire where the long columnar outline that tapers to the feet is contrasted with the big Merry Widow picture hat.  The fashion designer Lucile had designed the original widow hat for an operetta in 1907, but it influenced hat fashions for 3 more years.  It was always black and encased in filmy chiffon or organdie and festooned in feathers. 

Black Ascot 

On May 6, 1910 King Edward VII died and a few weeks later there was a scheduled race meeting at Ascot. So 1910 saw the famous and memorable black Ascot meeting where all participants wore black and large wide picture hats.

Lingerie Hats Versus Day Hats

Lingerie hats made from muslin or froths of lace appeared about 1904 and were ideal for those able to idle away time in a perpetual summer whether abroad or at home.  They were perfect with lingerie dresses in fine white lawns and linens in white, ivory, cream or ecru.  If we call to mind women wearing these dresses and hats they seem to be a vision from another planet, another time another world. 

What we need to remember is that in the Edwardian era wearing white was a symbol of wealth, as whites needed laundering and laundry needed the efforts of maids who spent hours scrubbing out grass stains on soiled hems wear ladies had strolled lawns.  Lingerie dresses were in effect status symbols that made a statement. It visually told the onlooker that the wearer could afford to pay someone to launder their clothes.

However for more modest day wear and often in winter, the toque was a favourite choice for many women.  It was more and more acceptable to participate in sports, particularly bicycle riding. For these activities panamas, boaters, felt homburgs and sectioned pancake berets resting on a flat brim were all used for golf, motor cars and cycling.

Wider period hats in general became fashionable and were bedecked with an abundance of large cabbage rose, poppies or gerberas all overwhelming the crowns.  Hat purchasing amid the Edwardian wealthy was a statement of conspicuous consumption.  Every type of trim possible was used throughout the Edwardian era, from lace, to whole birds to bunches of cherries, blackberries to rosettes and ribbon streamers.


Turbans Drawing in the style of Poiret's turban hat 1911.

We cannot ignore Poiret’s completely new famous maharaja turban design. In 1907 Poiret was instrumental in setting a trend that would begin the concealment of hair when he dressed his models in Directoire columnar styles and turbans.  By 1910 for evening turbans were all the rage and gave an exotic eastern influence which had originated in the oriental fashion movements as a style depicted by Poiret after the Ballets Russe.

Drawing in the style of Poiret's turban of 1911.

Smaller Toque Hats 1911 -12

Mephisto Feathers Fashion plate - Titanic eraBy 1911 hats became much smaller, although large wide picture hats were still worn for dressy functions.  These smaller hats of 1911-12 were adorned with stiff spiky hussar plumes and fan effects of ostrich feather.  By 1913 two long narrow plumes called Mephisto feathers gave many hats a curious military quality.

Mephisto Feathers.

From 1914 the toques developed into tall toques and these were worn with the fashionable high collars of the day.  More feminine styles included wider styles with deep crowns worn low on the head to hide all hair. Right - 1910 Toque Hat

Once the war started other hats developed military tendencies and by the end of the war tricornes and postillion hats were popular having first been adopted by war widows who added black veiling.  Soon sophisticated women adopted them so variations on the veiled styles became the height of chic. 
Left - 1918 Veil Hat

The cloche hat was fashionable from 1908 to 1933 was one of the most extreme forms of millinery ever with an appearance that resembled a helmet.  As early as 1908 close fitting hats with deep crowns that clung over the brow had emerged and as the war years progressed.  At both the start and end of World War 1 the close head fit became even snugger.  From 1916 the cloche was firmly established as a style women wore a great deal. 

Read more detail about the cloche hat in the 1920s hats section.

American Fashion

Fashion communication and export dried up between Paris and New York in the 1914-18 war.  Necessity meant that America sought out its own talent and a flurry of young designers emerged with new fresh and innovative designs that had style and chic that Manhattan women embraced. This was the real start of original American fashion produced on home ground and covered everything from clothes to hats.


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