09. Arm in arm with a hat

Man with hatThe evolution of XVII Century men‘s fashion witnessed the end of stuffing in bodices and trousers. Encumbering, uncomfortable ruffs were substituted with large linen or lace collars. Tall crown felt hats became stiff and conical, or soft and round. The middle class substituted feathers with leather ribbons of gros-grain and a buckle in the centre, but the gentlemen with wheel capes, which followed the new fashion of moustache and goatee, adored the sumptuous “musketeer” hats decked with feathers and plumes.

This Century saw the history of hats heavily influenced by an important aesthetical object from France; the wig. It spread rapidly in all European countries where French tradition and language dominated. Up to the 1700’s it covered male and female heads forcing all other headgears to take its encumbering presence into account.

As is often the case in major evolutions, and not just in fashion, it was a small and yet royal event that put an image revolution into effect. In 1620 King Louis XIII of France became bald. Not being of age, he decided to wear a wig in order not to lose the dignity of his crowned head.

The protective function of hats was strongly snared by this new “covering”, but not their aesthetical role. Carried under an arm and uniquely used to bow and pay elegant homage to damsels, the large crowned encumbering hat was substituted at first with a two-cornered hat (bicorne) with lateral brim attached to the crown and then by the chapeau bas; the three-cornered hat (tricorne) that was in beaver fur felt or velvet gold trimmed for the aristocrats. Under King Louis XIV’s reign, France was the most well known country for hat making.

Man with hatIt was not just the noble class, but also other social classes that used less refined tricornes in wool felt and without adornments. Held or carried under an arm, this dressy object was brought to every elegant occasion and was matched to the mannered notes of the minuet.

The Goldoni and Molière comedies represent it as male accessory that united nobles and servants, at least in appearance. Under Luois XV’s rule, nobility wore velvet while less encumbering white wigs brightened by a brush of baby blue powder were escorted to success with candid jabots around collars which were still firmly fixed.

The French aristocrats continued to carry their tricornes under their arms as they set off towards their decline. Glasses, snuff boxes and lace handkerchiefs completed the rococò image.

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