Even though they were worn as early as 1910 and well into the 1930s, the cloche hat is usually thought of as the iconic headwear style of the 1920s flapper period. Cloche hats went hand-in-hand with short haircuts of the times, such as the Eton Crop, and symbolized the ‘modernity’ of the wearer.
Wikipedia credits Parisian milliner Caroline Reboux as the creator of the cloche hat. Whether she invented it or not, she certainly helped make it hugely popular in the 1920s. Reboux would create her cloche hats by placing a length of felt on a customer's head and then cutting and folding it to shape.
The basic shape of a cloche hat is a form-fitting bell shape. They hug the head but can have a bulging crown, so as to add height to the wearer. Cloches were worn pulled low over the forehead so the wearer’s eyes ‘peeked out’ from just below the brim.
Angelina Jolie sporting a cloche for her role in
The Changeling, set in the late '20s
Cloche hats are relatively simple in construction and were easily mass produced, commonly made of felt, as this material conforms well to the head-hugging shape.
Decorations on cloche hats were usually minimal and often Art Deco (geometrical) in style. Decorations took the form of surface appliqués or other ‘flat’ items like feathers, ribbons or art deco jeweled clips, that did not alter the distinctive bell shape of the hat. The decorations were usually asymmetrical – that is, appearing on one side of the hat only.
Brimless cloche hats were also fashionable.
The huge popularity of cloche hats in the 1920s is part of the major shift in women's fashion that was occurring as women started to wear more casual, loose clothing rather than formal and physically restrictive clothes. Cloche hats are low-effort, practical yet stylish – part of the statement of the new ‘modern’ flapper of the 1920s.
Cloche hats were initially seen as a ‘shocking’ and even scandalous fashion statement, but once they become more accepted and commonplace they symbolized feminine style and refinement.
Cloche style hats suit just about anyone, and can be purchased today from numerous stores and designers. There's a fancy hat shop in the town where I live and I'd venture to say at least 50% of their women's hats are based on the classic cloche shape. Fashions are fleeting, but style is forever!