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What one fashion accessory was practically ubiquitous on women and men of all classes, status, and across most geographic regions before World War II? A hat! Then why do so many historical costume movies and TV shows, especially ones made recently, forget to give their characters hats? Or give them really weird, shitty hats that bear little or no resemblance to things worn on people’s head throughout history?
I’m here to call for hat justice! I stand with historical millinery and all who do it well! If you want a 5,250 word, 200+ photo overview of hat history and frock flicks that do get headgear right onscreen, check out my Patreon post. Then you can compare the good stuff with the snark contained herein.
Movies & TV Shows That Think Hats Are for Losers
So many frock flicks simply don’t have hats on the main characters or anyone at all. But I’m just going to highlight a few that are egregiously noticeable where the leads just need a goddamn hat.
Like Henry VIII of England. DUDE. It’s not that hard. Whether he’s at court or out riding, he’d wear that typically Tudor upturned beret hat. I think he looks dweeby without it, like these guys:
Over in France around the same time period, fellas wore the same style of hats. Except neither young or adult Henry II of France owns any headgear here:
Then there’s the movie cliche where the background characters might get hats, but not the lead one:
There are only three hats in this movie, when all these guys should be wearing hats:
Outdoors. Riding. In the snow. PEOPLE WOULD WEAR HATS.
Soldiers get helmets, but nothing on Robert Dudley‘s head and the Queen gets a cheesy tiara? Newp.
Maybe this Raleigh left his hat on a boat?
The 17th century doesn’t show up all that much onscreen, and 17th-century hats show up even less. It’s just hair, hair, hair! But Louis XIV would have worn hats and so would Charles II.
Notice that a lot of men in historical costume movies and TV shows don’t wear hats. What the frock is that about? In this whole crowd, I can only spot one hat:
This guy has a lot of problems costume-wise, and not wearing any sort of hat is the cherry on his shit sundae.
Poor Colin Firth only carries a hat here — which was a thing in the 18th century when men’s wigs got big. Yet he has flat, lackluster hair that could nicely be covered up by that hat. sad trombone
Maybe a hat would distract from Danceny’s 1980s haircut?
Some shows are stingy with their hats, like Sanditon, which flip-flopped from scene to scene and character to character. There never seemed to be enough hats to go around for everyone.
There’s also a stupid trope that poor people don’t wear hats (and poor women don’t put up their hair), but hats have always been basic everyday garments. Also, they’re small and don’t cost that much money comparatively. So why do only a couple folks in these crowd scenes have hats?
Only a few of the posh university students wear hats, but lower-class Jude and Sue are bare-headed here.
Just like Leading Character Hair, it’s Leading Character Hatless Syndrome. Even though Phileas Fogg is supposedly a very proper British gentleman, he almost never wears a hat in this series, yet his companions do.
Ditto on the “good” leads in The Nevers — only the more shady characters wear hats with any frequency.
Movies & TV Shows Using the Wrong Hats for the Period
Should I give them credit trying? Nah, this is Snark Week, we DGAF. Let’s start with our first Mickey Mouse ear sighting! This style is supposedly used for the 16th century, except it’s a shitty bastardization of a 16th-century style, so it’s both a wrong hat for the period and a bad hat overall.
Then there’s this sticky-uppy French hood that’s 30 years too early. Plus it’s an ugly, poorly constructed hat.
This balzo on Lucrezia Borgia is much prettier and well-made, but it doesn’t come into fashion until the 1530s.
Not only is a balzo too early, why would Spanish-born Catherine of Aragon be wearing this Italian style when she’s Queen of England? Doesn’t track.
Mary Tudor wears a Victorian flower-pot hat. Cute! And it goes with the leg-of-mutton sleeves she’s rockin’. But that’s not a Tudor aesthetic.
Oh look, more Victorian hats, now in the early 17th century! Yes there were tall crowned hats in this period, but they were shaped differently and had wide brims. That ain’t what this chick’s wearing.
Don’t go mixing eras, even with the extras, because I will notice. Like this fontange-wearing lady who’s a decade fashion-forward of the main characters.
Though it’s worse when a main character randomly wears a hat that’s about 100 years too early.
Colonial America sure was fashion-forward with 19th-century bonnets and here a sort of Victorian ladies’ top hat thing. It’s out of proportion too.
This one’s only about 30 years off, but it’s still not right. That’s a very Regency bonnet.
Movies & TV Shows That Confuse Head Necklaces With Hats
We’ve talked about this plenty before — there are only a few very specific times and places when head necklaces were a real fashion. Otherwise, it’s just a silly creation for the screen.
Movies & TV Shows With Bad Hats
I do not believe that bad hats are better than no hats. I love historical hats and have studied many styles, especially 16th-century headgear fashions. So it pisses me off to see the pathetic junk that’s stuck on top of actors’ heads in no real approximation of period headwear. A good hat accents the face, tops off the outfit, and can tell something about the wearer’s status and place in the world. Bad hats just show that the costume department had no time, no budget, no fucks left to give.
I suspect movies really don’t know what to put on people’s head before the Renaissance. Maybe something like a turban, but oversized and spangled?
A crown circlet thing maybe? Slap a veil on it, and they’re calling it done.
How about some pearls and a veil? Does that work?
Pearls for everyone!
Or some hot-glued plastic gems!
Ooops, they ran out of hot glue sad trombone
We love a good wimple around here, but what the frock happened to this? Did it get smashed in someone’s luggage?
Or this hennin, which Kendra called an “atomic Christmas tree.”
How about some randomly wide-brimmed hats in the Middle Ages? A time not especially known for the style, of course. I will never enjoy A Knight’s Tale, not the least of which is because of its crimes against historical millinery. This hat make zero sense in this movie.
Lucrezia Borgia wearing a chorus-girl hat in velvet, why???
Oh, but that’s better than Lucrezia Borgia wearing a square of cardboard as a hat!
Oh dear, Queen Claude of France is wearing a placemat on her head.
Let’s move on to the deep weirdness that is the padded roll type headdresses movies and TV shows loooooove to concoct…
Here’s an unholy combination of a cap, a snood, and a padded roll. Any one of those would have been bad enough.
When you go to the trouble of weaving a velvet padded roll through your bouffant, but daddy doesn’t care:
The Spanish Princess leaned hard into this padded roll / not really a balzo / who knows WTfrock it’s supposed to be. Several characters wear them. Catherine’s has a big knot at the top because she’s sassy that way.
This one looks like a safety device in case she falls down.
Oh goodie, another padded roll. So she doesn’t bump her head, I guess.
Here they just slapped a piece of fabric over this gal’s head and called it good.
Did The White Princess copy the style? It’s not even a hat, it’s like a glorified headband.
What about a skinny headband and a napkin? Because fascinators are always period, sure…
The back of that white hat is particularly hideous, but take note of the guy’s dopey, but fine-for-a-peasant-boy hat.
Because this chick wears the same hat later. The hell?!?
This one is very Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Is it a halo or a French hood? We’ll never know.
But nothing beats these wild headdresses on Anne of Cleves! There was her silver “I get better cell reception” hat:
And then the pearl “someone had fun with a glue gun” hat, so beloved that she gets two versions, one with matching pearl danglies, one without:
Hoods — French, gable, or otherwise — were worn throughout the 16th century. They didn’t look like these. Make sure to check out my full post about what French hoods should actually look like (which includes even more shitty versions).
Ah yes, the classic “cobra head” French hood!
Once you see it, you won’t unsee it everywhere.
But that’s hardly the only crime against French hoods committed onscreen…
We joke, but there’s no reason for traditional kokoshniks to show up on ladies of the Tudor court.
And a rookie mistake is to leave off the actual “hood” part of the French hood. There should be a piece of fabric covering the back of these ladies’ hair.
Just throw it all on, why don’t you.
Someone over-complicated the idea of a 16th-century flat cap. This looks like she’s wearing a big flat flower on her head.
Here’s a poorly made flat cap on François I of France. It’s waaaaay too big overall and the brim is too wide. He looks super dorky in it. This is mind-boggling to me because this is literally one of the easiest types of hat to make! I can crank one out in an hour, and I’m a slow seamstress. I used to make them for everyone in my guild in my early renfaire days.
OK, I think Anne is wearing a flat cap that’s constructed with a weirdly too-tall band, plus the whole thing is pulled down over her face. Who thought this was attractive and allowed it to be filmed?
Somewhere back in the mists of movie-making time, someone got the idea that pre-17th-century headgear had a point in the front. And they ran that idea into the ground. Fast.
Dear Hollywood and related frock flick makers: Stop putting Catherine of Aragon in shitty hats.
Bigger is not better.
Pointy bit and padded roll, huzzah!
Worst to me are all the terrible, no good, very bad interpretations of 16th-century heart-shaped caps. I hate this so very, very much. I thought they’d stopped in the 1970s until The Serpent Queen brought them back with a vengeance to taunt me.
Worse, they’re usually this double-topped monstrosity:
Oh Starz, you can’t quit can you! As time goes by, the stupid hats continue … the weird big-ear caps got bigger …
Just because they’re in old movies doesn’t make it right!
Is it a pot-holder? A placemat? Da fuq is on her head?
It’s so flat!
Those hats might be a radical misconstruction of this style of cap:
Except that cap is later. It’s made of delicate lace, it’s sheer, and it’s not a flat pancake. It’s a piece of lace that covers the back of the head and then dips forward.
I could deconstruct exactly what’s wrong with these next few hats on film versions of Mary, Queen of Scots, or I could just drink heavily. Either way, I’m pissed.
Here are the only two hats worn by the main character in this movie — note that they have nothing to do with Mary, Queen of Scots or the 16th century. Unless you’re on drugs.
It’s only a jaunty Scots beret if they were actually made out of pleather in the 16th century.
Proof that movies and TV shows just run out of time for an accurately researched and designed hat: just throw a pillbox hat on the actress. Maybe bedazzle it or pin on a feather. Done! Except, not.
This makes me sad because there are some nice 16th-century costumes in The Princess of Montpensier. But they’re topped by modern hats — modern pillbox hats!
Also in a light version:
Shitty headgear doesn’t get better when flicks go for the 17th century. It’s just that fewer flicks are set in the 17th century at all. How about a lace-trimmed hoodie?
There’s no excuse for this one, especially not in bright green with a pom-pom:
Sarah, in her review of the film, said, “This hat is just weird enough for me to buy that it’s based on something from the 17th century.” I’ve scoured every resource I can imagine and there’s nothing that resembles this. Of course, I can’t really tell what shape it really is; it kind of looks like a mutant over-decorated duckbill!
In the follow-up flick, they stuck with a blinged-up pillbox hat, which also, no.
I hate this red hat so much! It’s oversized, it looks cheap, and it doesn’t go with her outfit. I’m not convinced it belongs in the period at all — I think a felt hat like this should have a wider brim and go with a more jacket-like bodice. This hat totally ruins her look.
While this is a more obvious riff on the wide-brimmed hats of the 17th century, whoa, that side tilt is pure Hollywood, and the cherries as trim are wild.
Let’s round out the 17th century with some fontanges. Except these look like stacks of tissue paper on a headband. Which is a pity because the ones worn by the adult women in the same movie look far more accurate. Maybe they ran out of time or money?
Perhaps the most iconic hat for the 18th century is the tricorn, and it was first and most commonly worn by men. You’d think that’s not too difficult for movies and TV to do, but … These are just cheap-ass dime-store tricorns from when the dime-stores had American Bicentennial junk. 1970s kids remember, amirite?
And this one is enormous:
Making a tricorn from the exact same fabric as your suit is pretty cheezy too.
Time for a nitpick (and Snark Week is always the right time for being nitpicky) — I’m not convinced that straw tricorns were a thing in this period, these ones are too flat, and honestly they’re too small. Women’s tricorns in the 18th century were closer to the same size as men’s and were primarily worn for travel, riding, and outdoor activities (so for hunting, they got that right).
Looks like only two sides of the “tricorn” are even shaped!
Too small of tricorns are a problem, so are too big (and still straw):
I think this was supposed to be a tricorn, but they literally ran out of steam.
In my Patreon post about hats, I go into detail about women’s caps, particularly for the 16th through 18th centuries. These shitty mob caps do not qualify. A circle of fabric with an elastic band does not an actual cap make.
In case you want to see a shitty mob cap from all sides:
Nor does a gathered doily thing qualify.
Still not good, and that the guy’s wearing a goofy hat is no excuse.
The 18th century has tons of fabulous hats, especially for women. These are not any of them.
More hats that just don’t make sense. What is this?
Cute, but only allegedly 18th century.
It’s a look, just not an 18th-century look:
Ahh, the 18th-century movie trend of wearing placemats on your head. Note: Not an actual 18th-century historical trend.
Lady on the left, wearing a placemat. Lady on the right, wearing a too-small straw tricorn and with the wrong type of outfit.
Poor old Madame de Rosemonde gets allllll the shitty headgear in this movie! Like a 1980s bridal cap…
And a weirdly-shaped, too-small hat with a clunky bow (the other lady shouldn’t be wearing a tricorn either and Valmont is unfortunately hatless).
Here’s a real clunker in what has to be a no-budget indie flick that should never have been made, IMO:
Let’s look at some sorry excuses for 19th-century headgear. For starters, yes, turbans were a Regency-era fashion. But not like this:
Nope, not this either:
And definitely not like this:
The Regency period has tons of hat styles, but everyone focuses on bonnets, which leads to bonnet hate. Which sure, I am totally part of the Anti-Bonnet Brigade! But take the tiniest peek at a few fashion plates (and in my research post), and you’ll see plenty of non-bonnet hats from around 1800 to the 1820s to choose from. Yet all hats have been tainted by the bonnet as evil, and nowhere was that most apparent than with Bridgerton. Doing press for season one, everyone involved was adamant about NO BONNETS. In the LA Times, costume designer Ellen Mirojnick said:
“The one thing we understood at the beginning was how this was going to be a bonnet-less universe, so that’s the biggest clue you can have that it’s a fantasy on a time period. It was meant to be aspirational and available to a modern audience.”
UGH. Here are the results…
Ellen Mirojnick told Vogue:
“There were no bonnets, but we do nod to them with our hair accessories. We took that half-moon shape and created these straw [pieces] accented with flowers or feathers that sit on top of the head.”
Pathetic. The season two costume designer continued that terrible trend since show-runner Chris Van Dusen had a hang-up about headgear.
Another Regency-period Netflix production got the no-accurate-headgear memo. Persuasion‘s costume designer Marianne Agertoft told Harper’s Bazaar:
“We decided to lose the period accuracy when it was necessary — bonnets and hats can stifle an actor’s movement, and we felt the permission to use them when we wanted to, but we didn’t have to be as strict with them as was dictated at the time.”
Sorry, but if an actor is stifled by a hat, then maybe they’re a shitty actor. Helena Bonham Carter and Kate Winslet are brilliant actors while wearing giant 1910s hats in Wings of the Dove and Titanic, respectively. Harrison Ford made a career as an action hero fighting Nazis while wearing a hat as Indiana Jones. It’s not rocket science.
Nor is wearing a Regency hat instead of this modern thing:
Here’s another weaksauce attempt at a Regency cap … I like Yosa’s description of the thing: “It doesn’t cover her hair. It has strange darts, um, what? It looks like someone had to very quickly turn a handkerchief or a discarded ruffle into a cap while the entire production screeched to a halt waiting for it. I imagine that totally happens.”
Sanditon had plenty of hat problems, from not wearing them to wearing dumpy ones like that. Even an otherwise reasonable bonnet is ruined by flopping around in the wind here and not flattering the character:
At least those bonnets weren’t missing the back…
I suppose it could have been fur-covered…
And I guess that’s better than this hot-glued nightmare, but this telenovela probably had a pretty low budget.
Is it a taco? Or another placemat?
OK, yeah, bonnets suck. They always make us think of this:
And bonnets can look cheezoid, like this:
That heart shape can go to Mickey Mouse ear territory fast:
Or the bonnets are just depressing AF.
But other hat styles exist. Go read my full article on hat research for plenty of historically accurate alternatives to bonnets that movies and TV shows have done for the 19th century (and even a few bonnets that don’t suck!).
Just don’t cop-out with a modern floppy hat and some stray lace. Sure, the character is a little witchy but it’s still the 1860s, not a Stevie Nicks concert.
And don’t cop out with a curtain or whatever the hell this is:
At least this hat isn’t as hideous even if it just looks overly modern:
You’d think men’s 19th-century hats would be easy, since top hats cover a lot of the range. But, um, not everyone got that memo … some guys get no hats and in the same scene, another guy gets a too-small, too-modern hat.
Meanwhile, these guys are escapees from Wonderland:
Bigger isn’t always better!
Maybe his head’s really small?
Harkening back to Indiana Jones, why does she have Indy’s hat?
Omg, then there’s this craft project.
I said it before, and I’ll say it again:
Head necklaces are moderately accurate for the 1920s, but using a strip of upholstery trim is not recommended.
What’s your least favorite attempt at a historical hat onscreen?
Hats were commonly worn by all men after WWII through the early 60s. Even contemporary movies and TV showed this. WOmen hat wearing did drop off leading into WWII though they were still obligatory for formal occasions.
This post was gold. It made me lol so hard.
I’ve seen the awful Anne of Cleves headpieces from the Tudors before but in reviewing them again, I’m reminded of nothing but the crown/headdresses worn by Angela Bassett in both Black Panther films – only in those films they at least make sense because 1) contemporary setting and 2) Ruth Carter based them on a very specific style of traditional African headdress but aligned them with Wakanda’s more technologically advanced style by 3D printing them instead of the traditional weaving method that they would normally be constructed from.
I love hats. I have Etsy alerts set for 1940s tilt hats to drool over, even if I can’t actually buy them. I did have a question (not a snark, honestly). Specifically the picture of Bette Davis in Juarez. It looks like she’s wearing what’s supposed to be a Eugenie style hat. Is it just the wrong time period (I know they made a later comeback in the 20th century)? I’m not trying to be pedantic. I honestly don’t know. Thanks.
Yeah, it’s just a very 1930s hat. There were toque styles & a Glengarry cap in the 1860s, but they were shaped differently & worn differently. I have some period examples in my Patreon research post on hats :)
That get-up in The Knight’s Tale is spot on 50’s couture. NINETEEN fifties.
And let’s not forget the Historically Accurate makeup. :)
Honestly, I know a lot of people love The Knight’s Tale, but the costumes make it really hard for me to feel immersed in the time period. They are just too out there for me.
Thank you! I can’t stand Knight’s Tale – I wrote about it during our very first Snark Week & so many ppl complained that they loved it. Yuck.
I have several reasons for loving A Knight’s Tale; Heath Ledger, Rufus Sewell, James Purfoy, Paul Bettany, Alan Tudyk, even Mark Addy. Pure eye candy.
No candy in that dreck! Total waste of their supposed talents (I’m not a fan of all the ones you named either).
Well there you are then! No wonder you see no redeeming qualities in The film!
A Knight’s Tale is a sports movie that takes place at Medieval Times. I love it, but it helps not to think of it as “historical” in any meaningful way.
“it helps not to think of it as “historical” in any meaningful way” — but then Frock Flicks wouldn’t exist, now would it?
I simply accept that we are not in the actual fourteenth century but some weird alternate universe, the same way I manage to enjoy The Mummy.
BTW that straw hate Jocelyn is wearing resembles a picture I once saw of a truncated Henin with an eye veil in a costume book.
I am so so impressed by the sheer devotion to detail of how shitty all these hats are!
Maybe no hat is better than some of the hideous hat substitutes the costume departments made up. Or a scarf? [It’s what I use when I can’t find a decent yarmulka at services.]
What an epic beast of a post. Thank you for taking the time to write this. This is a very entertaining read!
In fairness to the hardworking costumers on the 1974 Three Musketeers, Milady’s odd cap is based on the Spanish “montero” style, which, according to commenter mmcquown, is “a Spanish mountaineer’s cap often worn by soldiers during the period. At the time, we had many written references, but no pictures. Today, you can get one from any number of English Civil Wars suppliers.” Here’s a link for more about the style.
But that’s not a women’s hat! And definitely not satin, beaded, & jazzed up.
A lot of 17th century womens’ hats were modeled on mens’ hats. That might have been Yvonne Blake’s rationale for the design. Also, Lester’s Musketeers movies did lean into the weird and wacky aspects of the era, so that might have been another reason she chose something so odd.
I’m not saying I like the hat design or anything– whenever I watched the scene, which is supposed to be very tense and dramatic, I would always be distracted by the silly hat. But at least the style has some historical basis– it wasn’t completely invented out of whole cloth.
Regarding the hats and acting comment, I took some acting lessons as a kid. One of my teachers specifically told me not to wear hats anymore to class, as they interfered with acting. Same with dresses and skirts. No I don’t know what she was smoking.
Um, were some of those just buckram bases with a few things glued on? And people get paid to make these things? Geez!
That lace cap from Sanditon … At first I thought it might be upside down on her head. But then the crown would be too small, more the size of a baby’s head. Was some baby bonnet pulled from the depths of a costume stash and some super wide lace tacked on at the last minute?
I’m sorry to say that hot glue guns didn’t come in until the last 1980s, so it’s historically inaccurate to say that they were used in a 1972 production :D
In fact, hats in a movie set are a nightmare for lights (lot of shadows on actors’ faces) and the director and productors want that watchers recognize actors they paid for….