Peru & Bolivia Amused Us With The Most Unique Hats

What really sticks out, particularly in Peru, are the amazingly colourful and strange-looking hats people like to wear. When you look more closely, you will notice that the style of these unique hats often changes from one region to the next. As a matter of fact, until a few years ago, locals were able to tell which village somebody came from just by looking at their head wear.

In this large gallery we have collected photos of the very unique hat styles you will see all through Peru and Bolivia. Many of these hats really amused us.

In this large gallery we have collected photos of the very unique hat styles you will see all through Peru and Bolivia. Many of these hats really amused us.

Many of these rather unique hat designs match the traditional weavings and embroideries, that the locals like to attach to their jackets and skirts, very well. Therefore, you would think that the hats were part of the indigenous costume since pre-Columbian times.

But there you would be wrong: the hat, as worn today, is a European creation and was unknown in Latin America until the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors. Before that some cultures wore knitted or woven head covers, but never shapely hats like they do today.

The Bowler hat is very typical for Bolivia, you don't see many in Peru (except close to the border). They usually have two decorative tassels on one side, sometimes simple wine corks.

The Bowler hat is very typical for Bolivia, you don’t see many in Peru (except close to the border). They usually have two decorative tassels on one side, sometimes simple wine corks.

Why are Women in Peru and Bolivia Often Wearing Men’s Hats?

Depending where you read about it, there are two slightly different stories of how brimmed hats became the fashion for women throughout Peru and Bolivia. At the end of the nineteen-hundreds there were many British in this part of the world. The bowler hat was the trendy item at the time; every man owned one and wore it daily.

So there was also constant demand for new bowler hats. Now this is where the stories drift slightly apart:

  • version 1: a local merchant imported a large order of bowler hats in sizes too small for most Europeans;
  • version 2: a merchant ordered bowler hats in England and the shipment contained too many brown hats – which nobody wanted to buy. A man’s hat had to be black.

Maybe there’s another version: that a merchant received a shipment with too many brown hats, and that he ordered too many small sizes. After all, the locals are usually of smaller build, with smaller heads…

Anyway, the clever salesman went out and convinced some local women that the stiff felt hat was the latest fashion item for women in Europe. Once the first women were seen with these in public, every other woman who wanted to be recognised as fashionable had to have a small brown bowler hat perched on her head.

Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.

But you still see some people, particularly men, wearing knitted woollen caps. In Peru and Bolivia, it seems to be a ‘must’ only for most women to wear something fancier on their head. Their unique hat often expresses their sense of fashion and individuality. And it’s a great way to show off skills and imagination with handicraft, if they decorated the hat themselves, which most seem to do.

You can't be hatless if you join in the celebrations of Ollantaytambo.

You can’t be hatless if you join in the celebrations of Ollantaytambo.

Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.

Did I say red is the favourite color in Ollantaytambo? Another thing I noticed: oversized safety pins make for a cheap and shiny accessory.

Did I say red is the favourite color in Ollantaytambo? Another thing I noticed: oversized safety pins make for a cheap and shiny accessory.

There is the Straw Hat and the Straw Hat!

For many, the hat is the most expensive and luxurious item they possess. In regions where felted hats are all the rage we often heard that ‘poor people’ wear straw hats. This might be true if they have a cheap and coarse straw hat with few adornments. But, in the north of Peru, hats from woven grass are so finely crafted that they can be rolled up (without damage!) to fit through a ring.

The better examples of these straw hats come from the town of Celendin, and can easily cost in excess of $400-500! This is a small fortune in a country as poor as Peru. Straw hats are also much cooler and lighter to wear in warmer climatic zones. That’s why people prefer them in the lowlands of both Peru and Bolivia.

Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.

All photos in this post are street photography, sometimes taken out of the moving vehicle, hence the occasional lower quality. From these pictures you might think that only older women are continuing these hat fashions. No, you see plenty of young women and adolescent girls with similar hats. The only difference is that they often wear a small hat, sitting at a coquettish angle, ready to fall off any minute – if it wasn’t secured by a thin elastic under their chin.

Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.

Finally, you might ask two questions: why a ‘fashion report’ on a travel blog?
Well, we want to encourage you to observe the little things on your journey. The regionally unique hats of Peru and Bolivia are certainly one of these details.

And why was this post written by a man?
Anybody, who knows my past, will know that I used to deal in fashion accessories, mainly custom jewellery parts. During that time I developed a keen eye for fashion and what women around me are actually wearing.


2 recommended articles for further reading

An amusing and well written article in the Sydney Morning Herald
“The country of the hats” blog post on Living in Peru


Are you on Pinterest?
Open your eyes in Peru or Bolivia and you will notice the most unique hat fashions. The hats come in various very local variations, often outrageously decorated and almost impractical to wear. During our travels we have collected numerous photos showing off the styles in different regions of Peru and Bolivia. We have put these together in large gallery to make you smile (just a little)!

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A close-up of an old woman with one of the white embroidered hats so typical for the Colca canyon.

A close-up of an old woman with one of the white embroidered hats so typical for the Colca canyon.

Juergen

webmaster, main photographer & driver, second cook and only husband at dare2go.com. Freelance web designer with nearly 20 years of experience at webbeetle.com.au

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