Hat Types: The Pillbox

Pillbox | Royal Hats

Debate erupted here on the Royal Hats Blog earlier this year over Queen Máxima’s new hat style (a turban pillbox combo). We recently looked at turbans and today, we explore the pillbox.

History: Pillbox hats have long been associated with military uniforms, often worn with a chin strap in this capacity. They date back as late as the Roman Empire, when they were known as the pilleus or “Pannonian cap” and were worn by Roman soldiers.The pillbox was thrust into fashion spotlight in 1960 when US First Lady Jackie Kennedy chose one to wear to her husband’s presidential inauguration. They have been consistently worn by royals since then.

Characteristics: No brim, a flat crown and straight, upright sides.

Royals Associated with this Hat Style: Everyone!

Classic Royal Pillboxes:

Duchess of Kent, 1960s  Princess Diana, May 1, 1986 Queen Paola, Oct. 22, 1996 Princess Caroline, Nov. 19, 2003

Sep 16, 2003 | Royal Hats Princess Kiko, April 26, 2007 Empress Farah Diba, 1960 Queen Silvia, Sep. 9, 2013

Duchess of Kent, 1960s; Princess Diana, May 1, 1986, Queen Paola, Oct. 22, 1996; Princess Caroline, Nov. 19, 2003
Princess Máxima, Sep.18, 2003; Princess Kiko, April 26, 2007;  Empress Farah, 1960s; Queen Silvia, Sep. 9, 2013 

Textured Pillboxes:

Princess Aimee, Oct 20, 2005  Queen Paola, April 5, 2000  Princess Máxima, April 30, 2008

Princess Aimee, Oct 20, 2005; Queen Paola, April 5, 2000 and July 21, 2013; Princess Máxima, April 30, 2008 

Fur and Faux Fur Pillboxes:

Princess Astrid, Nov. 15, 2008  Archduchess Kathleen, Dec 29, 2012  Grand Duchess Maria Teresa, April 15, 2008  Princess Anne, March 13, 2013

Princess Astrid, Nov. 15, 2008;  Archduchess Kathleen, Dec. 29, 2012;
Grand Duchess Maria Teresa, April 15, 2008; Princess Anne, March 13, 2013 

Bow-Trimmed Pillbox

Princess Diana, May 20, 1995  Princess Mary, May 6, 2009 Queen Anne-Marie, Jan. 14, 2012  Queen Beatrix, April 19, 2012

Princess Diana, May 20, 1995; Princess Mary, May 6, 2009; 
Queen Anne-Marie, Jan. 14, 2012; Queen Beatrix, April 19, 2012 

Embellished Pillboxes: 

Princess Anne, 1982 Princess Astrid, Oct. 27, 2005  Queen Anne-Marie, 1963 Princess Beatrice, June 2, 2012

Queen Elizabeth, July 9, 1996  Oct 6, 2009 | Royal Hats Queen Elizabeth, March 2, 2002  Empress Michiko, July 14, 2009

Princess Anne, 1982; Princess Astrid, Oct. 27, 2005; Queen Anne-Marie, 1963; Princess Beatrice, June 2, 2012 
Queen Elizabeth, July 9, 1996 and March 2, 2002; Princess Marie, Oct. 6, 2009, Empress Michiko, July 14, 2009 

I have always loved pillbox hats and probably always will. I love the simplicity of their design and the slightly retro vibe they carry. It seems to me, however, that the success of the pillbox is often found in the angle it is worn on the head- neither too far forward, nor too far back. I think the pink and green pillboxes worn by Princess Máxima and Princess Kiko at the top of this post are worn at the perfect spot.

What do you think of the pillbox hat?

Photos from: Viva Maxima Blog;  Tim Graham via The Royal Forums; Noburu Hashimoto via Corbis; Pascal La Segretain via Getty; Mark Cuthbert via Getty; Toshiyuki Aizawa via Corbis; Nick Verreos Blog; Ragnar Singsaas via ZimbioVan Parys Media via Corbis; The Royal Forums; Dean Mouhtaropoulos via Zimbio; Mark Cuthbert and Mark Renders/Stringer via Getty; PurePeople.com; Dan Kitwood and Samir Hussein via Getty; The Royal Forums; My Royal Blog; Albert Nieboer via Corbis; Dutch Photo PressFriends Reunited; Julian Parker,  Hulton Archive and Max Mumby/Indigo via Getty; Andrew Murray via Corbis; Hanne Juul/Image Magazine via BilledBladetGetty Images and AFP/Stringer via Getty

26 thoughts on “Hat Types: The Pillbox

  1. Thanks for this great overview. Your definition is just what I would go for myself. And being a purist (!) therefore, I’m not sure that I see all of the examples you give as pillboxes. The furry ones, for example – the fur blurs the shape so much that I wouldn’t think of them as pillboxes. To me, pillboxes need to have some sharpness of profile. And that’s why I wouldn’t think of Anne-Marie’s covered in flowers as a pillbox – much too fuzzy in profile! (and even Beatrix’s gently curving straw is a bit iffy on the same grounds of lack of sharpness, although I think it’s an excellent hat). As to angle, I’m not sure there’s a a single ideal that can be prescribed. I do like the ones you mention, but on the other hand, Mary’s one with the flourish at the back (which I love) would look silly if worn any further back, and, if I try to remove the air hostess association from my mind, I think Marie’s tilted forward angle is really flattering and chic of itself.

    • I agree, Bristol, that a “true” pillbox has very straight sides and top which gives them a sharp, 90 degree top edge. However, here are three hats that I would still consider a pillbox: Hat 1, Hat 2, Hat 3 Even without crisp, sharp edges, these pillboxes are still a pillbox (or rather, a variation on a pillbox!)

  2. Classic and looks good on almost everyone! Of these shown my favorites are Beatrice of York (one of her best, I think!), Diana’s pink one, Princess Aimee’s & Archduchess Kathleen’s. The ones I don’t care for at all are QEII’s (I think she looks better in hats with brims), and Empress Michiko’s.

  3. I love them all. My favorites are the ones worn by Princess Kiko of Japan, Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, Princess Beatrice of the United Kingdom, and Princess Astrid of Norway. Princess Astrid is rocking that while pillbox (you go girl). I think Princess Beatrice was my favorite though. Her pillbox was age appropriate and youthful and it looked very nice on her.

  4. It seems that what makes a pillbox a pillbox is the straight sides. Maxima’s hats are definately turbans because the sides are rounded around her head.
    I like a pillbox much better. I think the plain ones or onces with a little pattern are best.

  5. Thanks for this illustrated definition! And what is the difference between some of these pillboxes and a toque?

  6. I’ve loved it ever since Jackie Kennedy wore them, but only if placed right and I certainly agree with your assessment of who wore it correctly. It seems to me the worst is Queen Elizabeth. Looks so severe on her. I think that is the only style that I could picture on myself.

    • Jackie Kennedy was a real classy dame. These pillbox hats are real classy too. I like them better plain with a nice suit.

  7. I love it – I am from the USA, and I always picture Jackie Kennedy Onassis when I think of this type of hat. These royal ladies surely give her a run for her money though!! Excellent 🙂

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