While ladies' feathered hats and towering calashes (not to mention the big hair) garner the most attention in 18th c. caricatures like The Spruce Sportsman,the hat of that same Sportsman seems almost tame by comparison.
Perhaps that's fitting, considering that the main style in men's hats was virtually unchanged from the late 17th c. until the early 19th c. A moderate crown with a wide, flat brim, made from dark felt was worn by men of every rank. The personal style came from the quality of the felt (gentlemen's hats were made from beaver fur felt, while more inexpensive hats were made from wool), the embellishment (braid, lace, buttons, cockades, plumes, and badges), and how the brim was cocked, or bent upwards. Most men worn their hats cocked on three sides in a triangular shape, a style so popular that it has become the ubiquitous hat of the 18th c. European man. From kings to peddlers, military officers to fops, dukes to footmen – hey, even Captain Jack Sparrow – all wore cocked hats.
(And let us take a moment to put to rest the term "tricorne" or "tricorned hat." Yes, that was what such hats were called in your Bicentennial History Pageant in third grade, but it's not right for the real George Washington. "Tricorned" doesn't come into usage until 1819, and "tricorne" doesn't appear until even later, in 1857.)
Although our Sportsman sits in a lady's parlor, he is dressed for hunting (doubtless for hearts instead of foxes), and his clothes have the stylish military air popular at the time for outdoor activities. The skillful tailors of Colonial Williamsburg have replicated his handsome black beaver hat, above, along with the rest of his clothing. The cocked brim is edged with a metallic gold braid and held in place with loops of more gold braid. Centering the crown is a button wrapped with gold thread, in a pattern known as death-head.
Now we've seen plenty of hats like this in prints and paintings, but we'd never seen the inside of one. Here it is, lined in pale blue silk. Over the forehead is a patch of suede to protect the hat from sweat (shudder), and in the center of the crown is the hatter's paper label, proclaiming the admirable taste of the wearer every time he bows and removes his hat.
But just because our Sportsman's hat is elegant in its restraint, we feel we must offer a balanced view with another 18th c. print, right, to prove that, without a brain beneath it, even a cocked hat could go tragically wrong. (Also see this young macaroni.)
Right: detail of "What, Is This my Son Tom?" published by R. Sayer, London, 1774
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.