The Origin of Hats – What We Know

People have been wearing hats far longer than records can show. Today people wear hats for practical reasons as well as for status. It is highly likely that early humans did likewise.

It is estimated that humans started wearing clothes, including hats, about 170,000 years ago as this was when humans lost much of their body hair. Hats would have been worn firstly as protection from the sun, followed by protection from the cold as humans migrated northwards.

The earliest hats were made from grass and animals pelts. Without fur, early humans relied on the use of these materials to provide protection from the elements.

First evidence of hats

Discovered in the Alps, Otzi the iceman has been dated to 5000 years ago. What makes this find so special is that the conditions mummified his body and preserved it to a remarkable degree. This mummy preserved by the cold conditions has revealed much about Neolithic life.

Remarkably he was discovered with a hat. He had a fur hat made from a brown bear. This early evidence proves that our early ancestors were wearing hats. In addition to his fur hat he also had leather shoes stuffed with wild grass.

A reconstruction of Otzi, with his fur hat made from brown bear pelt.
Melotzi, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

A reconstruction of Otzi, with his fur hat made from brown bear pelt.

Another ancient body preserved through time is that of the Tollund man. Found in Denmark preserved in bogland he is regarded as one of the best preserved bodies from pre-historic times (circa 400 BCE).

The head is remarkably preserved and so was the hat he was wearing. He wore a crafted, pointed, leather cap. Made from sheepskin this early example of headwear was fastened with leather straps fastened under his chin.

Tollund man with a preserved pointed hat
Image of the Tollund man as he was found, wearing a pointed hat.

First pictorial evidence of hats

One of the first known pictorial evidence of people wearing hats comes from the ancient Egyptians. Dating to around 3000 BC these pictures show people wearing canonical hats. It wasn’t until 2019, however, that evidence that these hats actually existed came to light. They were discovered in a non-elite burial site indicating that these hats might have been worn by every day people. It is also notable that these early hats were made from straw. Read more about these early canonical hats here.

First evidence of hats worn for status

While the canonical hats may have been for common wear there is also a lot of evidence showing the use of hats as status symbols in Egyptian art work. one of the first depictions we have is of the pharaoh Narmer (ca. 3150–3100 BCE) wearing a white crown.

First hats to have a brim

The ancient greek hat known as a petasos is the first hat that we know of to have had a brim. Worn primarily by farmers and travellers it was very much a practical hat designed as protection from the sun. Hermes, considered the protector of travellers and shepherds, is often depicted wearing the petasos.

Achilles embassy Louvre G264 n3

This early evidence confirms that hats are not a new addition to the human wardrobe. The function and ceremony associated with hats likely evolved alongside other forms of clothing as our early ancestors found ways to protect themselves from the elements.

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