The pillbox hat, its story & styling tips
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When you think of pillbox hats, what comes to your mind first? For me, it were flight attendants and Jackie Kennedy. This small hat has a much longer and more interesting story, though. So let’s dive into the world of the hat with the funny name, learn about its story, and find out how to style, team, and wear it.
What is a Pillbox Hat?
A pillbox hat, or simply pillbox, is a small oval to round hat with no brim, a flat crown and straight, upright sides that is usually worn by women. The funny name of the hat refers to its shape: It reminds of the small cylindrical cases that pills used to be sold in, especially during the 19th and first half of the 20th century.
This kind of hat usually is single-coloured or has a pattern (leopard pattern was popular in the 1950s, for example) and back in time, were often made out of fabrics like wool, velvet, silk, or even fur. In the 1930s, the modern pillbox found its way into fashion and was worn, depending on the decade, either on top of the head, at a tilt low on the face, or at the back of the head. Antecedents of the pillbox are much older, though.
The Story of the Pillbox Hat
The modern pillbox resembles a so called wimple, an ancient form of a female headdress. This kind of headdreass has its roots in early medieval Europe and was worn to cover the top of the head. Depending on the region, the wimple usually had a veil or cloth that was worn around the neck and chin.
Pillbox similar hats, however, are worn in different regions of the world by both, men and women, as a part of their traditional clothing. Some example for these are ethnics in Greece, Turkey, Albania, Uzbekistan, as well as Nepal. In other regions, a pillbox kind of hat, often worn with a chin strap, was or still is part of the military uniform. This is also how the pillbox hat found its way into civilian work uniforms, like the ones worn by bellboys in luxury hotels, or later in time, female flight attendants.
The Pillbox in Womenswear
In the 1930s, the round hat with no brim found its way back into fashionable womenswear. By now, there can’t be claimed an “inventor”, but what we do know is that the famous costume designer Adrian (Gilbert Adrian) designed a hat with no brim for Greta Garbo, which she wore in the movie The Painted Veil in 1934. During the 1930s, such small, round hats with no brim were usually worn at a tilt and/or low on the face. Often, the pillbox hats back then were also decorated with veils or a cloth. In the 1940s, such decorated pillbox hats were still worn.
But it was in the 1950s, when the pillbox started to get more popular, especially in Northern America. Some of them still had decorations like veils, however, this was also the time when plain pillbox hats became fashionable. The golden age of the pillbox hat were the early 1960s though, when Jackie Kennedy gained more and more attention.
Jackie Kennedy & the Pillbox Hat
Jackie Kennedy, wife of the in 1961 elected president of the United States, John F. Kennedy, was known as one of the best dressed women of her time, and quickly became a style icon. She owned a variety of different pillbox hats in many different colours. Her signature look back then: A shift dress, a matching jacket, white gloves, and a colour-matching, unaccessorized pillbox worn at the back of her head. Most of her pillbox hats were designed by the American fashion designer Halston.
More popular wearers of the pillbox hat:
- Doris Day
- Audrey Hepburn
The Pillbox nowadays
Since about the middle of the 1960s, with a growing youth culture, hats continuously lost became less important as a vital part of a woman’s outfit. Nowadays, pillbox hats can mainly be seen on formal occasions worn by members of the royal families in Europe or (ex-)first ladies. Otherwise, the pillbox is still part of some civilian work uniforms, especially in luxury hotels or some airlines. In fashion, the pillbox has almost no relevance anymore. This is a bit sad, isn’t is?
So in the following, I want to show you how you still can look amazing with a pillbox hat.
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How to wear & style a Pillbox Hat: What you should know
As I already mentioned, hats in general and the pillbox in specific aren’t part of a woman’s basic equipment anymore. Thus, uncertainty prevails sometimes when it comes to questions like when, how, and where to wear a pillbox hat. I’m going to answer some of those questions in the following.
Formal & elegant: When to wear a Pillbox Hat
A pillbox hat is a perfect accessory for formal and/or festive occasions like:
- Weddings, where a fancy fascinator would be too much
- but even for everyday life, in case the rest of your outfit is elegant as well.
From Curls to Updos: These Hairstyles match a Pillbox Hat
Just recently, I published a blogpost where I showed different easy hat hairstyles. As a pillbox only covers a part of the head, the following styles go best with it:
- Small curls look amazing in combination with so many different kind of hats and are also a wonderful hairstyle to wear with a pillbox. A side parting in combination with a backcombed front looks especially chic.
- Also, a voluminous 60s flip a la Jackie Kennedy looks amazing in combination with a pillbox.
- But you don’t necessarily have to war your hair down. Even a low bun or chignon looks wonderful together with this small round hat. But keep in mind that your bun shouldn’t be too big, otherwise your hat won’t fit anymore. 😉
- If you like to wear your pillbox at a tilt low to your face, you can also try a chic 40s inspired victory roll.