Home > Hat History > Feathers on Hats – The Tradition Explained

Feathers on Hats – The Tradition Explained

By Taylor James


Updated on

Feathers are often used as an extravagant accessory in fashion today and in history.

We commonly see feathers on jackets, dresses, skirts, accessories, and even shoes. However, feathers on hats were far more popular historically.

The History of Feathers on Hats

Feathers have been used in clothes and accessories for centuries. Older paintings show feathers in creative arrangements on hats, clothes, and hairstyles.

Black fedora style har with a red feather

The interest in feathers in fashion still lives on today. The bird feathers used on hats and fashion are usually feathers from a pheasant, peacock, or heron.

Looking back, we can see how feathers have not only been used in everything from accessories to decorations but also for indicating one’s status.

Hat Feathers and Status

Hats with feathers could, for example, be worn to indicate that the wearer was healthy, civilized, and cultured. Musicians and artists often wore them as a mark of subtlety and style.

There’s even a saying today that goes “feather in your cap,” meaning an achievement someone can be proud of.

Popular Feather Types for Hats

In the early 14th century, feathers as hat decorations became popular in Europe. Hats decorated with ostrich feathers became popular during the 16th century among the wealthy to purchase in the fashion centers of Europe; Paris, Vienna, Florence, and Prague.

Ostrich feathers are still expensive today, but at the time, they were nearly the same price as diamonds.

An old hat with ostrich feathers

From 1901 to 1910, extravagant hats with feathers were worn frequently during the Edwardian era. The Edwardians took the status of feathers on hats a step further adding entire birds to their heads.

The feathers from the birds were made into pumes, pompoms, wings, and bands. The demand for these feathers was so high that they were produced in massive factories. These factories employed thousands of women and children who dealt with hundreds of thousands of feathers daily.

In North America in 1900, 83 000 people were used in the millinery industry. Later, the exceptionally high demand for feathers damaged the migratory bird population. This resulted in the Audubon Society’s federal ban in 1918 on certain types of feathers.

Hats and Feathers Today

The birds excluded from this law are still used for feathers in fashion today. Some of the feathers used today are, for instance, ostrich, goose, peacock, and pheasant.

Although feathers are still being used in today’s fashion, feathers on hats are not as widespread as they once were. In the modern age, feathers on hats are mainly worn in costumes or avant-garde designs but do still frequently appear on bespoke designs.

About Taylor James

As Philip Treacy once said, “How a hat makes you feel is what a hat is all about.” And on that note, I hope you enjoy your hats and find the site useful. Learn more about Hat Realm's Editorial Process.