march 18, 2020 - Mercedes-Benz

The ladies’ hat: How to brave the wind and still look good

  • Initially with a broad brim and scarf, and then, from the 1920s on, a tighter fit
  • The lady of today is keen to show off her appearance
  • “33 extras”: Exhibits of #automotive culture at the #mercedesbenz Museum

Stuttgart. What do rear-view mirrors, windscreen wipers and radiator emblems have in common? They are three of among “33 extras” on display in the permanent exhibition at the #mercedesbenz Museum that draw visitors’ focus to fascinating details of the history of mobility and bring #automotive culture to life. But there is another common factor: The story of these three exhibits was inspired by women – just like the ladies’ hat.

5/33: The ladies’ hat

The fact that women in smart outfits were able to assert themselves as drivers in the early 20th century was an important contribution to female emancipation in everyday life. This trend was triggered by Bertha Benz, who was actively involved in paving the way for her husband’s, Carl Benz’s, great invention. She drove the Patent Motor Car from day one and, in the summer of 1888, made the first long-distance journey in a motorcar. Driving that open three-wheeler, she had to protect herself against the elements. Contemporary drawings showed her with a wide-brimmed hat, which was held in place by a scarf.

As top speeds increased, broad-brimmed headgear soon reached its limits: The slipstream caught such wide-brimmed hats and pulled at them violently. But women knew how to cope, remain elegant and, at the same time, define new styles: From the 1920s and 1930s, tight-fitting hats, also known as cloche hats, became all the rage. Those hats, combined with an Eton crop or bob hairstyle, allowed modern ladies to underline their self-confident presence. This is the story told by the ladies’ hat in the #mercedesbenz Museum’s “33 Extras” series of exhibits.

And who supplied this practical and, at the same time, fashionable headgear for such a perfect appearance? There was a separate profession for making ladies’ hats: the milliner. In German, she used to be known as the “Putzmacherin”, or dresser-upper, as women would dress themselves up with hats. One did not simply go and buy a hat – one asked for full-blown professional advice on the design and details, and then it was usually made to order.

As cars were produced more frequently with enclosed passenger compartments, hats lost their functional importance. Today hats are rarely worn in everyday life, but there are occasions when both men and women like to present themselves with suitable headgear – for example, at classic motorcar events. If one strolls across the fine lawn between beautifully maintained motorcars at a Concours d’Elegance, one can indeed wear a wide-brimmed hat. When the cars get under way, the hats are exchanged for closer-fitting alternatives. Just like in the old days.