A cavalier hat is a distinct type of head piece. This stiff felt hat has a wide brim that is typically pinned up on one side. An adornment of large feather plumes, most commonly ostrich, is affixed to the side and a wide band or ribbon often encircles the hat. The most elaborate cavalier hats even feature jewels affixed to the band.
The cavalier hat was so named for the class of people who commonly wore this distinctive type of headgear. The royalist supporters of King Charles I in the mid 17th century were referred to as cavaliers. This hat was worn by civilians as well as military personnel who supported the king, who himself took to wearing this fashion. This hat was accompanied by other extravagant pieces such as ruffled shirts, silk and velvet fabrics, and lace trimmings.
Historically, cavalier hats were made from beaver felt. This was the only fabric available at the time with the proper stiffness. Beaver felt was able to support the large brim of the hat and its many adornments without bending or drooping. Beaver fur was a rare commodity in seventeenth century England, so these hats were typically very expensive. The showy adornments on the hat were a further sign of affluence.
The brim of this hat can be folded up on any side, including the front or back. It is most common, however, for the brim to be folded back on the left side of the head. This style originated with the soldiers who wore the hat. Placing the ornaments on the left the side of the head kept them out of the way of the wearer’s sword arm.
In some instances, the cavalier hat was decorated with tokens of love. A necklace may have taken the place of a band, and other embellishments could be secured to the side of the hat along with the plume, which was itself secured with a decorative gold clasp. When such tokens were featured on the hat, they would be placed on the left side to align them with the wearer’s heart.
The cavalier hat fell out of style toward the end of the 17th century when it was gradually replaced with the tricorn hat. These hats are rarely worn today outside of historical reenactments or theatrical performances. While traditional recreations of this hat should be made from felt, some new styles of cavalier hats are fashioned from leather instead.