Headwear fashions and why they change

Lady with fashionable hat

So You Thought A Hat Was For Keeping Your Head Warm?

Everyone knows that hats are a timeless way to upgrade an outfit and protect your head from the elements. But did you know that the history of hats for women is almost as rich and varied as their current incarnation? From fur hoods to fascinators, from turbans to top hats, the variety of headwear for women has increased almost immeasurably over time. This article takes a brief look at how the different types of headgear for women have changed over time.

Prehistoric Times: 40,000 to 300 BC

The earliest known piece of headwear for women was discovered in Siberia, and dates back to around 40,000 BC. The wearable was a fur hat that was probably worn to keep warm in cold climates.

Little else is known about how women’s headwear developed in prehistoric times, but we do know that it was important for them to cover their hair. This was especially true for women in religious communities who had to cover their heads as a sign of respect and piety. This custom was also followed by women in Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome.

Ancient Egypt: 3000-300 BC

Ancient Egypt saw the rise of the shemagh or turbans, which have a long history of being worn by women all around the world. The shemagh, or keffiyeh, as it’s known in the Middle East, is a traditional Arabic headscarf that was once worn by Egyptian women, along with the shawl and the nemes headdress.

The nemes head dress was a ceremonial head scarf made of pleated linen that was worn by Ancient Egyptian women to signify their high social status. It was worn by both royalty and priests, and was designed to protect the wearer from the sun, sand and insects.

The shawl, on the other hand, was a long, rectangular piece of fabric that was wrapped around the head and body, and is still worn today in the Middle East.

Ancient Rome: 200 BC - 400 AD

Like its Egyptian counterpart, the shemagh was also popular among Roman women, who wore it as a headscarf or veil known as the fidel. The fidel was a fashion accessory that was usually worn by married women and was either wrapped around their heads or pinned to their hair.

Roman women also wore a type of headwear known as a pileus. This was a conical hat made of wool or felt that was worn by both men and women as a sign of social status and as a means of protection against the cold. It was worn either as a cap or a hood, and was a mark of freedom, as only people who were not Roman slaves were allowed to wear it.

The Middle Ages: 400-1499

During the Middle Ages, women’s headwear was largely limited to the veil or headscarf, although some women from wealthy families wore elaborate headdresses decorated with jewels and feathers. The veil was usually worn by married women and members of the upper echelons of society as a sign of modesty, and was typically made from silk, linen, or wool. It was sometimes worn over an elaborate wimple, or headdress, which was a piece of headwear worn by upper-class women during the Middle Ages.

16th and 17th century Europe

The most common item of headwear during the 16th and 17th centuries was the hood or bonnet. These were often made from silk and worn over a linen cap or a wig. Bonnets were usually worn by women of all social classes and were often decorated with jewels and feathers

Other items of headwear worn by European women during this period were the cornette and the coif, which were both types of headdresses designed to cover the hair.

19th Century Headwear for Women

The Victorian era saw a return to more modest and practical forms of women’s headwear after the extravagance of the previous century. Bonnets, hats, and turbans were the most common forms of headwear for women. Bonnets and hats were usually made from linen or straw and had wide brims that were designed to protect wearers from the sun, rain, and snow.

During this period, women who lived in rural areas or had a practical profession, such as fishing or farming, wore bonnets or hats as a matter of course, while women who lived in urban areas typically only wore headwear indoors, as a fashion statement.

20th Century to the Present Day

The 20th century saw women's headwear change dramatically. It was no longer the norm for women to cover their heads in any way, unless they were on their way to church. Instead, it became increasingly common for women to let their hair flow freely, regardless of where they were.

This sudden switch from headgear to no headgear at all was largely due to the rise of feminism in the 1960s and 1970s. Headwear for women was seen as a way of de-sexualising women and making them appear more like men. As a result, many women stopped wearing certain types of headgear, such as hats, bonnets, and headscarves.

There is evidence of a small-scale return to headgear in the 21st century, with women wearing turbans, bonnets, and fedoras being particularly common. There is also a growing trend of women wearing fascinators, or ornate headpieces that are pinned to the hair rather than worn as part of the hair itself.


From fur hoods to fascinators, from turbans to top hats, the variety of headwear for women has increased almost immeasurably over time. Indeed, the only constant seems to be that people have always wanted to protect their heads from the elements. Despite this, the materials used to protect heads have changed over time. From animal skins to synthetic materials, from precious jewels to simple cotton bonnets, the types of headwear for women have evolved with each passing century. As a result, we have a rich and varied history of headwear for women to look back on, and a variety of styles to choose from as we go forward.