Historians generally agree that some form of head-covering must have been the first article of apparel put on by primitive man. Heads were certainly covered wherever sun and rain were severe.
The sculptures of Egypt, the drawings of ancient China, and heads on coins of early Greece and Rome indicate the hat has always been a mark of rank.
Felt is believed to have been discovered by the nomadic tribes of Asia, who made tents and garments by felting sheep's wool. One of its early uses in headwear was the Roman'petasus', a narrow-brimmed skull-cap which was the general head covering of the populace. Slaves were not permitted to wear it, and a ceremony in connection with making the slave a free man was the presentation of the citizen's petasus.
By 1600 fur felt was pretty well established as the proper material for a man's hat. The hat-making qualities of beaver from the New World were specially noted. Later the tall beaver came into fashion and crowns reached a height of 7 inches or more.
The derby hat was invented by William Bowler, a London hatter, and originally came as a piece of riding headwear, more practical for active sports than the high beaver hats that dominated for street wear. The bowler was called a derby by a hatter in this country who sponsored it after noting its general use at the English Derby race.
The straw Panama hat broke the spell of the derby. Men who began enjoying the bigger shady summer brim of the panama hat, were reluctant to return to the hard small-shaped derby in the Fall. Bigger brimmed soft felt hats became the fashion of fall and winter, and the derby became a hat for special or formal occasions.
The modern man wears a hat that is at once smart and easy to wear. Never before have hat styles been so varied, colorful and attractive.