The wide brim felt hat is a style staple that knows no bounds. Just walk into a room with a bold wide brim fedora or rancher atop your head. It seems to emanate its own aura, be it timelessness, class, mystery, or power.
A well-styled felt, leather or straw wide brim hat has the ability to up-level your ensemble and make you matter more. Go with a contrasting hat band for a little interest, or keep the look monochromatic.
You don’t need any other accessory.
Throughout the eras, these shadow casters have been loved equally by men and women. They’ve been just as accessible for royalty as they have been for humble fashion neophytes.
Let’s look at three exclusive special events. One from the Met Gala red carpet, another from a high-end champagne soirée. And the last, a ground-breaking Fashion Week show that proved men’s and women’s wide brim hats have endured as a timeless hat trick. They’ve earned their place in the modern closet.
A colorful celebration of inclusion
The first wide brim hat we’re looking at is a felt pork pie that completed Rio Uribe’s colorful Met Gala concoction. It spoke right to our hearts – and demanded a more unified future.
The gender-fluid, pan-ethnic fashion designer behind Gypsy Sport has woven inclusion into the fabric of his designs since his brand’s inception.
During an interview with Vogue, he talked about his mission. “I realized that everybody on the covers and billboards was a beautiful, skinny, and, most likely, white person. And I never fit that stereotype. It became my mission to break into the fashion industry. [To] create a space that was for people who were shorter or darker or fatter or queer, or whatever you might be.”
Uribe’s 2021 Met Gala look echoed that sentiment. His wide brim felt hat was a fiery eye-catching red. And it finished his matching red wool zoot suit, red nail polish, and black platform combat boot ensemble with gender-neutral perfection.
Casting a closer look at wide brim hats
You’ll see Uribe chose a mix between a boater hat and a pork pie, with a flat top and circular indent in the crown. His modern, gender-fluid rendition of the 19th-century classic includes a flat, wide brim, and red satin finish silk hat band.
The hat band creates a subtle-yet-stunning contrast with the wool felt material of the hat. And it creates a wearable style that would indeed look great on anyone.
His hat makes me think of the well-known Red Hat Society. I think of their iconic red hats with wide brims and silk wrapped around the band. Years ago, it was designed to be a community for like-minded women over 50.
But this is now.
Uribe casts a wide net, welcoming hat lovers of all ages and all genders. This is a community that is much more inclusive. He reinforces the idea that clothing and accessories are for everyone – and can bring us together. And his look is so much more elegant than if he’d worn a simple bucket hat.
It was a night that was designed to celebrate American fashion. And an American designer donning a gender-neutral wide brim felt hat is perfectly on theme.
What’s more iconic than not just pushing the limits but completely dissolving them?
A testament to timeless glamour
For our second hat style, we look to Kamie Crawford. She attended the 13th Annual Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic in Los Angeles looking effortless chic.
A cream sheer chiffon dress with an oversized natural straw boater style summer hat featuring a circular crown, flat brim, and contrasting tan suede hat band, which she wore with braids.
She chose a gold snakeskin leather mini purse and gold snakeskin leather corset belt as accessories. And she completed the look with a touch of matching gold eyeshadow in the corners of her eyes, creating a luxe late summer look.
The rich gold accents were perhaps a nod to the same hue of the V. Clicquot P. Werlé Yellow Label. The label was trademarked and has adorned Veuve Clicquot champagne bottles and other products since 1877.
Making a classic boater hat more modern
This wide brim boater hat is reminiscent of the 1800s styles women preferred for social outings and derby days.
Coincidentally, that would have been the same era that Madame Clicquot was busy making history. She was uncorking the world’s first vintage champagne in Reims, France. After, she’d invent the riddling table process that gives our beloved bubbly its nearly translucent hue. She’d also invent the first-known blended rosé champagne in a process that’s still favored today.
Skip the chardonnay and break out the bubbly.
While the first bottles of vintage champagne were being enjoyed in the royal courts, women were wearing darker wool or felt millinery. These were worn with opulent floral bouquets and exotic feathers jutting from the crown.
Crawford kept her boater all modern minimalism for the soirée du journée. After all, this was a high-end who’s who main event, polo match, and luxury champagne experience with print invitations. Of course, hosted by one of the industry’s most iconic legacy names.
A name so iconic, in fact, that a cabana for you and nine of your closest friends costs a cool $19,000.
Giving effortlessly chic and laid back luxe
Like Crawford’s carefully-crafted outfit and boater hat, the gathering was all about the details. Each cabana came complete with high-end perks:
- One bottle of Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame 2012 champagne by Yayoi Kusama Limited Edition
- Two glasses of Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame Rosé champagne per person
- A gourmet lunch with hors d’oeuvres
- A butler
- Private security service
- Valet service
Crawford’s look feels unpretentious, though undeniably sophisticated and glam. The wide brim hat in a boater style adds a touch of a casual feel to her summer-y chiffon dress. And it’s balanced by the glam of her gold accent pieces. Seeing a wide brim natural straw boater hat at such a posh polo venue reminds us that this is the perfect silhouette. It delivers a bit of understated class and enduring sophistication. All this about 200 years after it originally became a style staple for the social elite.
The only thing better than sipping a flute of expensive bubbly in the afternoon sun is looking as deliciously fresh as your drink.
And I do say that the delicate little mini purse would loo stunning perched on a high top table. You know, should Crawford need to set it down to raise a glass of bubbly in a toast. Perhaps to celebrate one female champagne-preneur who was playing in a league of her own?
An interesting infusion of styles
I highlighted the class and sophistication of a women’s wide brim felt hat (or rather, a woven iteration). Our third example shows another side of the multifaceted wide brim hat style: edginess.
Mesrara El Maddahi’s Fashion Week makes 90s Western grunge style fresh again, and is in many ways so much more refined than J.Lo’s sexy leather cowboy hat at The Met Gala.
Her silk-lined wide brim felt panama hat added a light-hearted, laid back vibe to the look with an ivory hue and relaxed brim while keeping her hair moist at the same time. It was complete with a biege hat band that created a nice contrast with the color of the hat itself.
The classically-90’s style featured an oversized leather blazer and loose, ripped pants with western-inspired chap fringe down the side seams. These details make her hat feel a little bit like a western or rancher style itself.
But more notably, this cream hat and blazer combo worn on the runway is a menswear-inspired look made modern fem. It was complete with squared-toe sandals and a folded-under crop top. (The latter is a style that’s been popular with the trendsetters of TikTok and that shows off Maddahi’s toned abs).
And as jet-setters are well aware, felt hats are so much more packable than straw.
Making a bigger statement
It’s this taken-from-the-boys what-you-can-do/wear-I-can-too air that was the perfect fit for the statement made by L’Oréal Paris. The day was all about self-worth and freedom of expression.
The world’s top beauty brand chose to host their public Fashion Week Runway Show at the Parvis des Droits de l’Homme. It was dubbed the Parvis des Droits de l’Homme et de la Femme for the day as an ode to women’s empowerment and diversity. This was the place that the UN General Assembly first adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948.
L’Oréal Paris shared that the show was in alignment with an important message the brand has been trying to share. One about flaunting bold individual style.
Empowering women to walk without fear
The runway show went against the Fashion Week grain in more ways than one. With stunning 360-degree views of the Eiffel Tower, it was meant to be enjoyed and accessed by the masses. Not just a few lucky fashion industry insiders and celebrities. Much like their direct-to-consumer product line.
They did more to show that they are a brand for every woman. L’Oréal Paris released BTS tutorials. The goal was to help the likes of you and me get the same runway looks with the products we have at home. And they featured models of all ages with a whole spectrum of skin colors.
And yes, luxury fashion houses designed the outfits. Think Balmain, Coperni, EgonLab, Elie Saab, and other high-end ateliers. But the looks veered from traditional high fashion that feels reserved for a catwalk.
Instead, this wide brim felt hat look — and the others in the show — feel attainable. And I’d argue that, if you shop correctly, you could find suitable swaps at any price.
Styling the look yourself
To emulate Maddahi’s wool panama hat look, shop or thrift for 90s pieces with relaxed fits and brown leather details. Casual, oversized blazers are a-plenty right now. And any pair of straight-legged jeans can become the shredded statement pants of your dreams with a pair of scissors and a little ingenuity.
Anchor the look in a monochromatic hue (it doesn’t have to be cream!). Top it with a wide brim felt hat in the same color for a head-to-toe visual treat that’s unique and 100% you.
It sends a message that women are as free, as strong, and as bold as ever.
Lest you think this is a new statement to make, let’s look into just how long women have been content to steal this look from the boys. While we’re at it, let’s explore the different messages wide brim hats have encapsulated over the decades too.
Felt through the ages: the history of felt hats
The history of wool or felt making predates spinning or weaving, and many ancient cultures claim ownership of its invention.
Classical Greek authors mention the use of felt. Excavations at Pompeii reveal felt workshops. And the National Museum of Copenhagen has wool felt caps from the Bronze Age on display.
If you ask the Sumerians, you’ll find that their legendary war hero, Urnamman of Lagash, is who we owe the history of felting to. Ask Christians, and you’ll be regaled with legends of Saint Christopher filling his sandals with carded wool. Wool that turned into felt from the pressure of his feet in 50 AD.
Wherever felt first came from, it has proven time and time again that it is here to stay.
Causing drama from day one
One of the earliest documented examples of a wide brim hat was in 797. A particularly wide and bold top hat started a riot. The reason? Its silky sheen and ground-breaking height.
It might also be the first documented record of actual fashion police. John Hetherington, the owner and inventor of said topper, received a hefty fine of £500 for causing terror and panic.
No one had seen a hat so tall or a brim so wide for a men’s hat before.
And as there are no photos of said offense, the verdict is still out on whether it was a true fashion crime. It may have simply been an envelope-pushing fashion statement made by a well-dressed man ahead of his time.
I choose to believe the latter.
Even today, stepping out in a larger-than-life hat is a way to go against the grain. It helps you stand out amidst the well-coiffed fashion crowd (without receiving a fine). Hats aren’t the norm. They send a message and leave space in their wake for interpretations and commentary.
Prices fell, popularity rose
Historically, the finest felt hats were beaver fur. They were referred to as “beavers,” and may have been designed after Hetherington’s tall top hat. And it was normal to have a few variations based on the wearer’s civil and/or military status.
The original beaver felt hats were expensive and coveted items. But by the end of the 14th century, more hatmakers were producing them and prices fell. Eventually, the lower class could afford a felt hat too.
At the turn of the 16th century, a high-crowned, wide brim felt hat was all the rage across Europe. After discovering beavers in abundance in the “New World,” Americans started shipping the furs overseas to Europe en-mass.
Wide brim felt hats go mainstream
By the 1800s, there was nary a hatless head found on the streets. Those with the sartorial sense to know that their hat style signaled and solidified their social status chose carefully.
For women, the colossal, plumed creations made popular by the likes of Maria Antionette had fallen out of favor post-French Revolution. The new styles grew out by the brim, rather than up at the crown.
The average Joe (or Jane), whether European or American, was buying a hat at least every year or two. They were seen on everyone from the political elite such as Winston Churchhill and the Prince of Wales to socialite women. The latter preferred to drape the swooping brim of their hat with branches of fresh lilac or bouquets of violets. A well-placed feather or two also did the trick.
Hats, particularly wide brim hats, had historically served a practical purpose of sun protection. But these new styles — and manners of adorning them — served as a way to show off one’s individual style and sophistication.
Ladies’ Museum, a publication in the 1800’s, was quick to inform women about the shift in millinery styles. “Hats have increased in size; the brims are deep and extremely wide, the crowns are of moderate height in front, and low behind.”
The United States finds its own hat style
Bowler hats, top hats, fedora hats, and derby hats remained popular choices. But a new American hat style was coming onto the scene in the US.
In fact, two particular events welcomed a wide brim into the fabric of American culture and classic hat styles.
First, Stetson released his unique creation of a wide brim felt hat he coined as the “Boss of the Planes” in 1865. What we know today as men’s cowboy hats are a beloved symbol of the rugged cowboy. It is an iconic hat style that’s become a ubiquitous symbol of American culture.
Second, the first annual Kentucky Derby in 1875 immediately became an event to show off styles that were emblematic of peak luxury and sophistication. Horse racing was popular overseas. But this was an event on American soil to see and be seen.
The western styles donned by cowboys just weren’t quite right for the derby. This event featured flamboyant, fashionable sun hats for women. Like their European inspiration, brims were wide and hat bands were adorned with fresh flowers and bright feathers.
And it would have been a fashion scandal to arrive without the nicest hat your budget afforded.
A symbol of sophistication
Even today, the price for custom Kentucky Derby headwear begins at $450 and can go for as high as $2,000 or more. Styles range from woven sun hats with rigid brims to floppy felt hats in a wide spectrum of colors.
By the end of the century, any proper lady’s outfit of the day necessitated a large hat. And that hat needed plenty of flowers and feathers resting on it’s even larger brim. It was all à la the styles donned by Kate Winslet in The Titanic. The wider the brim, the better –- many hats extended beyond the width of the wearer’s shoulders! Because these hats were so unwieldy, they were secured with massive hat pins that were over a foot in length.
Light colors were especially a sign of prestige, as they required more care and frequent laundering — something that only the upper class could afford.
And so, we were ushered into a new era and new style of wide brim American made hats, worn to make a statement. Different interpretations and re-imaginations of the wide brim hat have been donned by Hollywood tastemakers. These are trendsetters who wanted to make a big impact with their look.
Style icons keep women’s felt hats alive
Brims stayed wide throughout the 1930s. Parasols were out of fashion, and a black felt wide brim hat was the perfect substitute.
But hat popularity was beginning to wane. In fact, a wide brim hat may not be the fashion statements it is today if it weren’t for the style icons of the time.
In particular, we can thank Audrey Hepburn, Jackie Kennedy, Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones, Princess Diana, and Sarah Jessica Parker’s Sex and the City hats for keeping them alive.
They showed the world that hats were still very much in. What’s more, it could be worn with style and grace – or grit – with the most modern silhouettes.
Ask anyone to think of the most iconic hat from the silver screen, and by and large, they’ll mention Indy’s soft felt fedora. The distressed wide brim felt hat that Harrison Ford wore in the Indiana Jones series is among the most recognizable in motion picture history.
Indy made the crushable wool fedora hat the adventurer’s favorite and thes style are widle sold online and at retail shops. He showed versatile the hat could be. Men’s wide brim felt hats weren’t reserved just for finery, they could keep up with the action too.
Like the original beaver hats, the toppers worn by Harrison Ford were coveted pieces, and auctioned for upwards of $500,000.
The felt force is strong with him.
More recently, the dramatic wide brim hat silhouette stole the global spotlight. Can you recall the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011?
The fascinators on display during their nuptials reminded the world of their own love affair with big and bold millinery.
We couldn’t help but notice the different ways hats have been used as a go-to accessory on red carpet events since.
Felt for everyone and every style
When I say a felt hat is a timeless – nay, eternal – style staple, I’m not exaggerating.
It’s been donned by everyone from princes and paupers to A-list celebrities and everyday hat lovers like you and me. Some hat styles and silhouettes have changed throughout the years. You’ll find wool, felt, and straw numbers in western, panama, boater, fascinators and other hat shapes.
But many refuse to fit into the confines of a certain decade or style era. Just look at Maddahi’s panama hat and Indiana Jones’s iconic cowboy hat. These looks can’t even be regaled to the confines of a particular gender, and we couldn’t love that more.
A wide brim felt hat is a second-to-none accessory to invest in.
Kamie Crawford showed us that a wide brim sun hat is a symbol of sophistication and elegance. Just as it was hundreds of years ago. Rio Uribe made high fashion — and a very fashionable red hat with matching red hat band– a gender-fluid concept that everyone can enjoy (might I suggest stealing his look and going for a work-friendly pantsuit with an unexpected matching hat).
And Mesrara El Maddahi served an edgy 90s-inspired menswear look with a panama hat and a human rights message that’s all about the women.
The wide brim hat stops here
I’ve unpacked the history of women’s wide brim hats.
And I’ve looked at few of the ways this style is both versatile and timeless. I’ve given you several examples of a wide brim hat being used as a celebration of female prowess and human equality. And I’ve highlighted how it always, always elevates your look.
Now it’s your turn.
Get started with a classic black, white, or beige wide brim hat with clean lines and quality construction. From there, your possibilities are limited only by the confines of your creativity.