I have always been intrigued by the jazz-loving, rule-breaking flapper girls of the roaring twenties who paved the way for women across the world to challenge societal norms in their legendary pursuit of liberty.
In my vivid imagination, I can still see those glamorous women during the prohibition era wearing risqué evening dresses and alluring cloche hats – charming bootleggers in smoky clandestine speakeasies. Although you might ask yourself, what is a cloche hat?
The cloche hat was named after the French word for Bell, which resembles its shape. This tightfitting hat reached just above the wearer’s eyes. It was crafted from various materials, e.g., felt, straw, sisal, or wood, ordinarily unadorned or embellished with feathers or brooches.
This little bell-shaped hat tells the story of unapologetic pioneering women who created a world where women have the right to self-determination today. So, if you want to share their incredible journey through time – read on.
The Roaring Twenties Flapper Fashion
Women’s attire during the late Victorian era, consisting of restrictive corsets, high necklines, and demure hemlines, mirrored the ultra-conservative, stifling rules of engagement for women.
Similarly, Pre–World War I ladies’ hats reflected what was expected from them as they were overtly feminine and lavishly decorated hats with deep-seated crowns and wide brims.
In 1908 hat shapes started changing as a fashion article credited the “queen” of French fashion, Mademoiselle Sorrell, for her chic mushroom-shaped cloche hat worn by bridesmaids as far afield as New Zealand.
The earlier versions of the cloche hat differed significantly from newer versions. In a 1917 fashion advertisement for race day accessories, the cloche hat was described as a large hat with black tulle underlining, a high crown, including draped silk, with flower trimming.
Due to the horrors suffered by all in World War I, hats became less extravagant, and young women started to rebel against the strict confines imposed on their mothers’ generation.
Women celebrated their newly won freedoms which included the right to vote due to great strides in the suffrage movement and financial independence by embracing stylish dresses with lowered waistlines and shorter hems that were not only comfortable but liberating too.
In the twenties, America experienced a golden era that was earmarked by great financial prosperity. This newfound wealth was celebrated with extravagant parties where the newly termed “flapper girls” could flaunt their emancipation in prohibition-era clubs and speakeasies.
Women started cutting their long hair to dramatically shorter styles, which promoted gender equality at the time. Trendy bob hairstyles ranged from the elegant shingle bob haircut to the masculine slicked back Eton style, the perfect precursors to the sleek iconic cloche hat.
These flapper girls who fully embraced the hedonistic twenties lifestyle, sporting cloche hats, and liberating fashion trends, were seen as daring modern women who challenged and defied the status quo by more conservative pockets of society.
The French Milliner Cloche Hat Innovators
The close-fitting cloche hats complemented the flapper generation’s sleek new bob hairstyles far better than the overtly decorated dowdy Victorian hat varieties with wide brims, fake flower decorations, and annoying hat pins.
There is much debate amongst Milliner historians about whom should be credited as the inventor of the cloche hat as Caroline Reboux and Lucy Hamar both introduced this little bell-shaped hat style in 1914.
Caroline Reboux, based at the Parisian Maison Virot, first became famous for creating bespoke hats for the likes of the French Empress Eugenie. In later life, she was also credited with creating the classic cloche hat that we know today.
When Reboux first created the cloche, it was an unstructured “helmet” hat crafted from felt material. She started the hat fitting process by laying a piece of felt on her client’s head, then cut the fabric and shaped it into a bell form.
Throughout the 1920s, the cloche hat’s appearance went through several changes. Most notably, their brim sizes decreased. And in 1926, it became fashionable for cloche hat brims to be worn up with a laurel leave trim on display.
Several cloche hat styles were made from various materials like fabric, straw, or traditional felt material throughout the twenties. It was similarly trendy for Milliners to create bespoke clothe hats with matching scarves.
In 1928 the wooden cloche hat briefly made its appearance, although it was prohibitively expensive at the time – no wonder it did not make a lasting appearance.
Wearing A Cloche Hat: What You Should Know
The Art Deco aesthetic had an enormous impact on everything in the 1920s, and the cloche hat was no exception. Stylish cloche hats worn as evening attire were crafted with luxurious silks or delicate lace material to up the glamour stakes.
The cloche hat’s brim was so small that the New York Times famously called the cloche hat brim ridiculous. From 1924 cloche brims reduced in size to such an extent that they were merely 2 inches long.
Cloche hat brims were also worn in different ways. Some hat brims were angled downwards like small visors, and others were curled up or down. However, they disappeared by the end of the twenties, and the cloche became a helmet hat of sorts.
Most women wore their clothe hats slanted down to just above their eyes, with their foreheads covered. The back section of the hat would traditionally be placed close to their collars.
Some women preferred creating a mysterious, alluring look by slanting their cloche hats over their right eyes. However, as you can imagine, this alluring hat style was not without its problems as women could hardly see where they were walking.
Women created a new female posture to mitigate the risk of falling by reclining their heads back when out and about.
Additionally, the cloche hat was also an effective communication tool with men at the time as women’s hat ribbons were symbolic of their marital status. It was a secret language between prospective couples long before dating apps first made their appearance.
Single women who were dating at the time would decorate their clothe hats with arrow-shaped ribbons. A secure hat knot would indicate that a lady was happily married.
At the same time, a flashy bow would inform prospective suiters that a woman was single and interested in dating.
Why Did the Clothe Hat Go Out of Fashion?
Like all fashion trends, the cloche hat’s reign was relatively short-lived.
In a fashion article from 1927, the writer expressed their sheer boredom with the pervasive cloche hat. While they were omnipresent during the roaring twenties, they were not embraced by all from an aesthetic point of view.
Moreover, a leading fashion magazine writer decried that the cloche hat was still in vogue in a 1931 article. He described the cloche hat as an unflattering and impractical clothing accessory due to its brimless design, which did not protect women from the scolding sun.
In 1935 there was a significant backlash against cloche hats which was made evident by an excerpt of a fashion magazine article at the time that urged their readers to avoid cloches and rather to wear hats that showed their hairlines.
While the clothe hat heydays were well and truly over by the mid-thirties, it remained popular, albeit in different styles, throughout the twentieth century as it was well suited to contemporary hairstyles and windy conditions.
The Contemporary Cloche Hat’s Brief Revival
The cloche hat disappeared from the fashion scene during the forties and the fifties until it had a short-lived revival in the swinging 60s’.
The cloche was perfectly suited to the sleek lines of sixties fashion. It soon became a pivotal accessory to the classic 60’s look sported by Aubrey Hepburn and Twiggy, who were both photographed wearing them. Although the new version of the cloche hat had a wider brim, it was not as closefitting as its classic predecessor.
In the late 80s,’ Patrick Kelly’s cloche hat version made a brief appearance featuring a brim decorated with various buttons. A cloche hat revival followed the eighties version in the 2000s when Elle magazine named the contemporary cloche hat the 2007 “must-have” accessory.
The cloche hat is not merely an iconic fashion accessory that should be relegated to dusty historical archives. It symbolizes the hopes and dreams of courageous young women to transform their lives from the stifling late Victorian age, which denied them fundamental freedoms, to the liberties we women often take for granted today.
The Dreamstress: What is a Cloche
Encyclopedia: Cloche Hat
Hatalk: Classic Hat Styles the Cloche
Bellatory: Victorian Costume and Design Trends