Cloche Hats – An Overview
If you happened to be a woman in the early 20th century, you wouldn’t be caught dead leaving the house without donning your best cloche hat. This long-lasting fad originated in 1908 but didn’t become popular until the 1920s. This fashion statement consisted of a tight fitting top (similar to today’s beanies or caps) and a loose brim which occluded the woman’s forehead and occasionally her eyes. This resulted in a bell-shape that was quite befitting to every sort of woman, regardless of her features, shape, or colors. “Cloche” is a French word literally meaning “bell.”
What Started the Cloche Hat Fashion Fad?
As mentioned above, the cloche hat had its beginnings in the 20th century, 1908 to be precise. It was the invention of a milliner named Caroline Reboux. A milliner is an old word which refers to a maker and seller of women’s hats – much like a haberdasher refers to a dealer in men’s clothing. Reboux was well-known as a French fashion designer, more specifically as a Parisian milliner. She helped influence the world of fashion not only with the cloche hat, but with hats in general; with her help, the hat became an essential accessory to every fashionable outfit worn by a woman.
What Influence Did the Cloche Hat Have on Fashion?
The cloche hat, as mentioned in the first section of this article, did not become a widespread fashion trend until the 1920s. However, once it became a fashion trend, it lasted a long while before dying out. Many popular female figures, like the famous silent film actress Vilma Bánky, could be seen sporting these bell-shaped hats, and there are even photographs of them today in which the cloche hat can be seen.
When the cloche hat trend didn’t die out, milliners were overcome with demand, and couture houses opened ateliers to take a part in the profit. The cloche hats produced by these couture houses were specifically designed to match the expensive and refined outfits they produced.
Cloche hats became so popular that they even began to influence the popular hairstyles of the time. The result was the Eton crop. The Eton crop is a slicked-down hairstyle specifically for women, although it occasionally looked very similar to the way men’s hair is cut and styled. In fact, the name of the cut came about because of how similar it was to a popular cut worn by the pupils at Eton College. More generally, this short hairstyle was popular among butch lesbians in England, but it become widespread when it was found out that it was perfect for complimenting and, indeed, showing off the shape of the cloche hat. To this day, we can look at pictures of famous actresses of the era sporting these close crops, and they are the ancestor to the pixie cut being popularized today.
What Were Cloche Hats Made Of?
Typically, cloche hats were fabricated out of felt, as this material was one of the best in conforming to the shape of a woman’s head. This material extended to just above the wearer’s eyes. This material was great in keeping the head of the wearer warm in the winter, but it wasn’t particularly favorable during the hot summer months. Because of this, cloche hats worn in the summer were very often made from sisal (an agave plant typically used for making twine and rope) and straw. This fabric, as you can imagine, was less stifling than felt. There were even cloche hats designed for formal events, and these were commonly made of timeless lace or even beads. These could be found at balls, dances, and cocktail parties. Some women even went so far as to match these high-end cloche hats to their wedding dresses. This occurred even at a time when veils were not typically considered optional.
How Did the Cloche Hat Last So Long?
Perhaps the main reason why the cloche hat lasted so long was because it was so variable. About halfway through the cloche hat’s stand, it became fashionable to turn the brim of these hats up, much like it was popular for young men to turn up the collars of their coats and polo shirts not so long ago. This gave a new spin to an old trend and helped it stay in the mainstream for longer than it would have otherwise.
Another way the cloche hat was variable was in the design not of the shape but of the image it presented. While plain cloche hats were indeed very common, it wasn’t uncommon for them, especially ones for evening wear, to be decorated with fabric appliques or a wide variety of other materials, including but not limited to jewels, brooches, scarves, spreads of feathers, or even a woman’s own embroidery (although even this could be bought from a merchant).
Another way the cloche hat was customizable was in its ribbon. Typically, a cloche hat would be tied with a ribbon just at the top of the brim where it became loose. Women invented a sort of code in their ribbons: code intended not for them but for men (though, to be sure, occasionally these messages were probably for other women). If the ribbon on a woman’s cloche hat resembled in arrow, it indicated that, though she was single in a sense, her heart had already been struck by Cupid’s arrow and had thus been given away to someone else. A ribbon tied in a knot meant that the wearer had tied the knot with someone else and was thus unavailable for male attention. Single women with no romantic connections, on the other hand, were happy to wear their ribbons in a brightly colored bow, meaning that they were ready and willing to be shown attention.
Cloche Hats: To Conclude
Cloche hats were a popular fashion statement taken up by women of all social and economic classes. They influenced fashion in the West to the extent that women were willing to cut their hair in order to accent their headwear, and they even became a method of communication among the sexes. It’s no wonder, then, that the cloche hat has made three comebacks since its origin in 1908 – in the 60s, late 80s, and late 2000s.