Hold on to your hats

What’s the real name for a chef’s hat? How about Sherlock Holmes’s hat or those iconic furry hats worn by British soldiers? Don’t know? Well, hold on to your hat: we’ve got enough hat etymologies here to make a milliner proud!

The Fedora: A Star is Born

The fedora—a soft felt hat with a brim—has quite a dramatic history. For starters, “Fedora” is the Russian form of the Greek name Theodōra, meaning “gift of God.” The name was popularized by Fédora, an 1882 play by French dramatist Victorien Sardou about a fictional Russian princess named Fédora Romanoff. There is no evidence that anyone in the original production wore a hat like a fedora, but the play was apparently so popular that several women’s clothing items from that time ended up having names related to the play.

The Toque: A Name That Wears Many Hats

Confusingly enough, four different hats go by the name "toque," which comes from the Old Spanish word toca, meaning “headdress.”
A "toque" can be:
  • A tall white hat worn by a chef!
  • A small brimless hat worn by a woman!
  • A velvet hat with a narrow brim and, often, a feather!
  • A close-fitting knitted winter hat! (This usage is most common in Canada, where the word "tuque,” a French-Canadian variant of "toque,” is also used.)
Talk about a hat trick! (Well, plus one.)

The Sombrero: Throwing Shade

The name “sombrero” comes from the longer phrase sombrero de sol, meaning “shade from the sun.” Very fitting for this wide-brimmed hat! (You just want to avoid the golden kind.)
You may notice that “sombrero” is quite similar to the word “somber" (meaning “gloomily dark” or “dismal or melancholy”), and that’s not a coincidence. Both “sombrero” and “somber” have the same shady Latin root, subumbrāre, meaning “to cast a shadow.”

The Pith Helmet: A Pithy Aside

You could also protect yourself from the sun by wearing one of those tan, domed hats commonly associated with safari-goers. They are called “pith helmets,” as they were traditionally made from dried pith—the soft tissue that lines the inside of some fruits’ rinds—and covered in cloth.
They are also called “topis” (or “topees”), from the Hindi word for “hat.”

The Stetson and the 10-Gallon Hat: The Wild West of Wearables

The Stetson, a broad-brimmed, felt hat, is most commonly associated with the cowboy—and that’s by design. U.S. hat maker John Stetson began making his namesake hats with the cowboy’s needs in mind after a trip to the Western U.S.
Of course, we can’t forget about the oddly tall type of cowboy hat known as the 10-gallon hat. It might indeed be named for its height, but that’s just the tall and the short of it. It’s also possible that “gallon” here comes from the Spanish word galón, meaning “galloon”—a thin braid or band used as a decorative trim. Just because it’s the Wild West doesn’t mean you can’t take pride in your appearance!

The Bearskin, the Beret, and the Fez: Eye-catching Icons from around the World

Speaking of tall hats, what about those furry ones worn by the British guards at Buckingham Palace (as well as members of certain other military groups)? They bear a resemblance to the coats of bears, don’t they (har har)? Indeed, they are made from the fur of North American black bears, hence the simple name “bearskins.”
Another iconic European hat, the beret, likely gets its name from a different type of head covering altogether. “Beret” comes from the Late Latin word birrus, meaning “hooded cloak.” A strange description for such a diminutive cap, non? Ah well, c’est la vie!
Moving on to the African continent, we come to the Moroccan city of Fez (or Fès). The city’s name has become synonymous with the tasseled, flat-topped felt caps it supplied to the Ottoman Empire and other Muslim areas of the Middle East.

The Derby or the Bowler: An Identity Crisis

A stiff felt hat with a curved brim commonly goes by two different names: “derby” and “bowler.” Both names refer to real people from England.
The “Derby” designation, used most commonly in North America, comes courtesy of Edward Stanley, 12th Earl of Derby, who founded the annual horse race known as the English Derby.
Yet in the United Kingdom (and regions that predominantly use British English), “bowler” is the preferred term for this hat. But it has nothing to do with sports, surprisingly enough. It refers instead to an English hatter with the surname Bowler, who first created the hat (though there seems to be disagreement over which exact Bowler it was).

The Deerstalker: A Hat for a Different Kind of Hunter

The plaid hat with visors in the front and back that is most commonly associated with Sherlock Holmes is actually called a “deerstalker,” referring to its original use by hunters. The famous Holmes headgear has since become the stereotypical apparel of detectives, representing those in pursuit of criminals as opposed to prey.

To cap it all off...

Our hats off to you for reading all the way to the end. Now, we’re coming to you with hat in hand to ask that you share these etymologies with your nearest and dearest. Go on, don’t keep it under your hat! (Seriously, go now while you can—we could do this all day!)
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