Until the early 1960s formal hats were a wardrobe essential for grownup men and women. However, by the end of that decade we ditched all headgear as hair (and must-have haircuts) took over the style spotlight. Now driven by our sporty dress-down lives, a more diligent approach to sun protection and our ongoing need for bad hair day solutions, hats are back on top with a fashion meets function attitude. Here are the top 11 to own.
- 1 of
PHOTO BY: Mango; Uniqlo; Walmart; San Diego Hat Company; Old Navy; Gap
1. The baseball cap
There's no cutoff point for wearing a baseball cap. Almost everyone regardless of age or gender has at least one in their closet. It's as part of our national “uniform” as ubiquitous as jeans and tees. Women 50-plus wear a baseball cap to go incognito at the grocery with dirty hair, while guys don one to hide hair loss and look cooler (but, please, just skip wearing one backward over age 50). Team spirit is great but opt for no logo denim versions now like the Gap Baseball Hat in Denim ($20, gap.com) and Uniqlo UV Protection Denim Cap in 68 Blue ($20, uniqlo.com/us) for a contemporary look, and styles with mesh panels or moisture-wicking technology like the Old Navy Nylon Tech Baseball Cap for Men in Olive Green ($15, oldnavy.com), Mango Embroidered Mesh Cap ($20, mango.com/us) or San Diego Hat Company Lightweight Cap style # OCM4656 ($23, sandiegohat.com) for comfort. For women who wear their hair up in summer, try a cap with a high back opening like the C.C. Ponytail Messy Buns Baseball Cap ($17, walmart.com) that lets a ponytail or topknot stay visible.
- 2 of
PHOTO BY: Mango; Wallaroo Hat Company; LOFT; Zappos; Old Navy
2. The straw fedora
This former menswear hat (a favorite of Frank Sinatra and Humphrey Bogart) has become a seasonal staple in neutral straw like the Old Navy Straw Ribbon-Trim Fedora for Men in Natural Straw/Black Grosgrain ($20, oldnavy.com), Wallaroo Sedona ($50, wallaroohats.com) and Mango Straw Fedora ($20, mango.com/us). With its pinched, indented crown and flexible brim (two or three inches wide) and ribbon band the jaunty fedora adds instant polish to any kind of pants look from jeans and a blazer to a simple button-down shirt and cropped or ankle pants. Don't get hung up on styles labeled for men or women — any fedora is wearable by all. Women can opt for a fedora with a pop of color like the Loft Bow Straw Fedora in Cayenne Pepper ($45, loft.com) or Brixton Joanna Hat in Blue ($55, zappos.com) as an unexpected accent for any neutral outfit.
- 3 of
PHOTO BY: Gap; Tenth Street Hats; J. Crew; Hats Unlimited; Cuyana
3. The Panama hat
This straw hat is similar to the fedora; it has the same structured crown but the brim is wider and is usually straight and flat rather than flexible or flippy. Often stores and sites blur the boundaries between the two and refer to a panama as a fedora or vice versa so let the brim be your guide. Straw Panamas like the Cuyana Panama Hat ($85, cuyana.com), J. Crew Panama Hat ($80, jcrew.com) and Gap Panama Hat ($27, gap.com) for women and Bigalli Grade 3 Australian Outback Panama Hat ($90, hatsunlimited.com) or Tommy Bahama Men's Remy ($155, tenthstreethats.com) for men have an adventurous world-traveler appeal somewhere between Indiana Jones from Raiders of the Lost Ark and a riverboat gambler. They're elegant, showy in a good way and provide more sun coverage than a fedora. The Panama hat makes a nice mate for anything from cargo shorts to breezy linen pants.
- 4 of
PHOTO BY: Dick's Sporting Goods (2); Uniqlo; San Diego Hat Company; Target (2)
4. The bucket hat
This Nineties-inspired hat is superstylish this year. Be sure you choose one with a deep enough crown and brim that actually throws shade. Also known as a “crusher,” some soft buckets run too small and can look skimpy on adult heads. Your bucket hat should really enclose your head like an overturned water bucket and never feel tight or perch on top of your hair. No-frills basics like the Nike Men's Sportswear Bucket Hat ($32, dickssportinggoods.com), Uniqlo UV Protection Sports Hat in 09 Black ($20, uniqlo.com/us) or Field & Stream Men's Pigment Dyed Bucket Hat ($17, dickssportinggoods.com) are sporty and very casual (wear instead of a baseball cap anytime). More fashion forward styles like the Universal Thread Women's Canvas Bucket with Fringe Hats in Brown ($17, target.com), San Diego Hat Company CTH8264-Bucket Hat with Ric Rac Trim and Fray Edge ($45, zappos.com) or A New Day Women's Bucket Hat in Black ($17, target.com) have a deeper crown and brim.
- 5 of
PHOTO BY: Mango; San Diego Hat Company; Target; Zappos
5. The big floppy beach hat
For serious sun at the beach or pool, or lounging around on your deck a glam sun hat with a super-wide brim is every woman's best bet. Oversized straw styles like the San Diego Hat Company UBX2535 Ultrabraid XL Brim Sun Hat in Citron ($44, zappos.com), A New Day Women's Floppy Hat in Black/White ($15, target.com) and Mango Straw Hat ($50, mango.com/us) work like a portable umbrella to provide extra shade for face and neck while the light weave adds ventilation for a sweaty scalp. Another option is a wide brim fabric beach hat with UPF50 like the San Diego Hat Company Women's Adjustable Tie Floppy style # RBL47700SBLK ($42, sandiegohat.com) … but please don't ditch the sunscreen! Whether you choose a UPF hat or a plain straw, the double protection is essential. And yes, a statement sun hat takes some charisma to pull off. At 50, we all have that!
- 6 of
PHOTO BY: Hats Unlimited (2); Loft; Hat Attack New York; Kohl's; JCPenney
6. The dressy summer hat
Not that big summer weddings or social engagements are what they used to be this year, but sometimes a very beach/casual hat won't cut it. Guys can always add a jaunty fedora or panama to tailored clothes but women have other options too. A fancier fabric or straw sun hat in a broad brim lampshade shape like the Hat Attack New York Easy Sunhat in Navy ($78, hatattack.com), Women's Scala Cotton Big Brim Hat in Coral ($36, kohls.com) or Hats Unlimited Boardwalk Style Straw Lampshade Sunhat with Ribbon ($32, hatsunlimited.com) makes outdoorsy or urban events worry-free even on bright humid days. Elegant cloche style straws that feature a bow or floral trimmed band like the Loft Straw Cloche Hat in Sunwashed Clay ($45, loft.com), Jeanne Simmons Paper Braid Cloche Hat ($25, hatsunlimited.com) or August Hat Co. Inc. Cloche Hat ($12, jcpenney.com) are even dressier and partner well with tailored dresses or linen/silk pantsuits.
- 7 of
PHOTO BY: L.L. Bean (2); Wallaroo Hat Company; Walmart; Kohl's; San Diego Hat Company
7. The very active hat
If your summer includes long days of sun intensive activities like gardening, boating, kayaking or hiking, you need a broad brim UPF 50 sun hat with a chin strap. Think of a UPF rating on hats like an extra layer of sunscreen to protect scalp, face and even your precious hair color and highlights. Since skin cancer often shows up on the face, scalp, ears and neck why not get all the protection you can? Sometimes this style of hat is called an “Aussie,” “Safari” or “Outback” hat to indicate its toughness and durability. Full-brimmed, lightweight and fast-drying sports hats like the L.L. Bean Women's Pistil Ginnie Sun Hat ($56, llbean.com) or DPC Solarweave Mesh Safari Hat-Men ($33, kohls.com), Wallaroo Explorer ($42, wallaroohats.com) or San Diego Hat Company Women's Mesh Sun Hat style # OCW47090SKHK ($42, sandiegohat.com) solve a multitude of concerns. For even more protection try a hat like the L.L. Bean Adults’ Tropicwear Outback Hat ($45, llbean.com) or Tirrinia Safari Sun Hats for Women Fishing Hiking Cap with Neck Flap ($16, walmart.com) with built in back protection panel or flap that completely covers your nape.
- 8 of
PHOTO BY: Kohl's; Hats Unlimited; Old Navy
8. The lifeguard hat
You've been seeing this hat on beach patrol since you were a kid. The straw/raffia weave is a little more rugged looking than other straws and the down-turned brim works like a 360-degree visor to cut glare and keep you safely shaded. Plus, there's a toggle chin strap to keep it from sliding around on your head. Styles like the Peter Grimm Hasselhoff Lifeguard Panama Hat ($20, kohls.com) and Dorfman Pacific Palm Lifeguard Straw Sun Hat ($17, hatsunlimited.com) for women have enough fashion chops to pair with your one-shoulder one-piece while the Straw Lifeguard Hat for Men in Tan ($23, oldnavy.com) works with grit and guts for all.
- 9 of
PHOTO BY: Hats Unlimited (2); Target; Kohl's
9. The visor
Yup, this is considered a hat. A golf and tennis fave, the visor at its most simplistic is pure function. It's not high on my list for protection since your crown, sides of face and back or neck are usually exposed but lots of men and women 50-plus who play sports prefer them. Try the new hybrid styles like the California Hat Company Ladies Sewn Braid Visor Hat ($24, hatsunlimited.com) and A New Day Women's Crochet Visor Hat in Red ($13, target.com) that do include crown coverage, headband-like visors like the No Headache Midsize Polka Dot Visor Hat ($15, hatsunlimited.com) with soft arms to hold the rim in place and fashion-worthy updates with longer wavier brims like the Women's Sonoma Goods for Life Colorblock Roll-Up Visor ($8, kohls.com). They really do look chic!
- 10 of
PHOTO BY: Hats Unlimited (2); Hat Attack New York
10. The packable soft fabric hat
While a lot of structured and large summer hats now claim to be “packable,” in my experience as a fashion editor the most likely to survive being rolled, folded in a tote, weekend bag or suitcase are those made of fabric. Soft packable fabric hats like the Dorfman Pacific Rollup Bucket Hat ($16, hatsunlimited.com) for men and the Hat Attack New York Canvas Packable Hat in Navy Stripe ($65, hatattack.com) for women look as good on day five as they did before packing. Some dressy softies like the Jeanne Simmons Slanted 4.5” Brim Hat ($36, hatsunlimited.com) even work for destination weddings and events.
- 11 of
PHOTO BY: San Diego Hat Company; Kohl's; Wallaroo Hat Company
11. The straw cowboy hat
This always trendy summer version of the classic range and rodeo hat adds an edge-worthy, boho vibe to anything from frayed jeans to a midi dress. Airy open weaves like the San Diego Hat Company Women's Raffia Cowboy style # RHC1076 ($44, sandiegohat.com), Women's Scala Raffia Western Cowboy Hat with Chin Cord ($48, kohls.com) or Wallaroo Tahiti Cowboy in Tahiti Cowboy-Turquoise ($54, wallaroohats.com) make a great alternative to floppy brim beach hats and baseball caps. If you're looking for something a little out of the ordinary, search no further.