5 Intriguing Facts About Pith Helmets

Pith helmets have an iconic shape with their round crown and straight, wide brim. You may have seen the hat in numerous movies, but there are a few facts that might surprise you. 

Many European officials wore the pith hat in the middle east and some parts of Asia during the 19th century. Since the hat was so popular amongst colonizers, the hat soon became a symbol of imperialism. Today, pith helmets are more common in Vietnamese taxi drivers and Peruvian police officers.

Many people can recognize the hat by its unique silhouette. Still, many do not know the story of the iconic piece. This article will cover five intriguing facts about pith helmets. Let’s get started. 

Historians Believe the Hat Originated From India

Even though the pith helmet’s origin is still debatable, there is a consensus among historians. Many experts believe that people used pith from swamp plants in India to make the original pith helmet. When 1850 came around, the pith helmet was popular amongst Europeans. It was common for them to wear pith helmets in the Middle East, parts of Africa, and Southeast Asia. 

Pith Hats
Pith hat -Stasyuk Stanislav@123rf.com

Pith Helmets Symbolize 19th-Century Imperialism

The pith hat was most popular amongst a certain type of crowd in the 19th century. In particular, it was very common for missionaries, colonial officials, and soldiers to wear the pith hat while traveling the Middle East and parts of Asia. 

It later became representative of imperialism because not many locals wore the hat; people associated the helmet with European officials, explorers, and travelers.

Taxi Drivers and Police Officers Wear the Pith Hat

Despite the hat’s strong historical symbolism, many people still wear the helmet today. For example, in Hanoi, Vietnam, many taxi drivers still sport the helmet. And police officers in Peru and Cameroon also wear pith helmets while on duty. 

The hat is even present in modern U.S. fashion. Many postal workers wear the hat during their daily rotations, and U.S. Marine Corps’ coaches at shooting ranges also wear pith helmets. 

The Pith Helmet Has Practical Uses in Hot Climates

This iconic fashion piece was not always an icon of imperialism. In hot climates such as India and Africa, many people would wear the pith helmet to protect their head and keep their body temperature down. Manufacturers designed the hat to allow for air to circulate easily; this helps keep the scalp and head cool. 

Former First Ladies Were Shamed For Wearing Them

Former first ladies Melania Trump and Hillary Clinton were both criticized for wearing pith helmets. Melania Trump sported a white pith helmet while on tour in Africa, and Hillary Clinton reportedly wore one at the San Diego Zoo in the safari park.

Even though the hats are quite useful in humid climates, the media still criticized both ladies for wearing a hat that European colonizers famously wore.


The pith hat is very practical and provides optimal temperature regulation in hot climates due to its build.

Historians believe that the pith hat originated in India. During the 19th century, the hat was very popular amongst European explorers, travelers, and officials, so it soon became an icon of imperialism. 
Despite the hat’s reputation, it is still an excellent hat for hot weather. Check this popular pith helmet by Jacobson on Amazon if you want to try one yourself.