After Monday’s post on how royal pillbox hats have been worn over the past 17 years, I thought it would be interesting to look back further at this famous hat shape to see how it was treated in the past. Here is a look at five decades of royal pillbox wearing in the last century.
1950s: The decade before pillboxes surged in popularity, the few that reached royal heads were low versions, mostly worn high on the head. You can see references (the cutouts on Princess Marina’s hat in the middle, for example) to the calots and other close fitting cocktail hats which were popular at the time.
1960s: The era of the pillbox arrives! The height and scale of these pillboxes noticeably grows, the edges grow rounder and placement moves back on the head. While some royals place their pillboxes close to their hairline, most wear them further back, firmly centred over the crown of the head. The only pillbox tilted at an angle that I’ve been able to find during this era is the one worn by Queen Sirikit during a 1961 visit to London (hat #7 below).
As there have been multiple comments how the pillboxes worn by Jacqueline Kennedy during the early 1960s heavily influence how we remember hats from this era, it feels important to bend our usual ‘royal hats only’ rule for the sake of this discussion. At far left below is the hat worn January 21, 1961 for the inauguration and in the center, is the pale yellow one worn for the infamous 1961 presidential visit to Paris. All of Mrs. Kennedy’s pillboxes are placed well behind her hairline in a very similar way to how royal pillboxes were worn during the same time period above.
1970s: Pillboxes are further inflated, textured and lavishly embellished with ruched scarves, net tulle, woven ribbons, feathers, and a myriad of gigantic bows, trailing ribbons and floral explosions out the back. Placement is ever so slightly forward from the previous decade- either at the hairline or just behind.
1980s: Pillboxes decrease considerably in size although textured materials and large embellishments remain, often on the side of the hat. Placement moves noticeably forward and the hats are worn snug up to the hairline or up onto the forehead. You’ll notice that many pillboxes during this time are also worn tilted to the side.
1990s: There’s a little bit of everything- bold colour, pattern, texture, veils, bows, feathers. The forward placement and diagonal tilt of the 1980s continues through the early nineties but as the decade progresses, there is a return to the classic placement of the 1960s- straight on the head and off the face with the front rim of the hat a few inches behind the hairline. There is also a return to classic styling- the large bows, blooms and baubles of the previous two decades disappear and hats become more streamlined as the century draws to a close.
There you have it- more than 70 years of royal pillbox hats!
I’m struck by a few things- first, how similar pillbox placement today is to that in the 1960s (off the face with the front rim placed between the hairline and the top of the head). It’s also interesting that while Jackie Kennedy is widely credited for the popularity of the pillbox, her royal contemporaries were wearing similar hats in a very similar fashion at the very same time (making me wonder who was following who… or if they were all following current fashion of the time?). Finally, Queen Elizabeth’s pillbox placement does not change much over the decades- they all sit fairly far forward on her hairline or forehead (I suspect, a position that works well with her unchanging hairstyle) although she does take part in the 1980s tilt to the side!
I’m curious- what do you notice here? How do you think past trends influence how royals wear pillbox hats today? Do the 1960s designs and how they were worn match the image of the “classic” pillbox you have in your mind? Do you think the 1980s trend of tilting these hats to the side might become popular again sometime in the future?