Back from Basel

The exciting return of 70 hats to Worthing Museum and Art Gallery’s Collection

Our team are currently working hard to repack and store 70 hats that have recently returned to Worthing Museum and Art Gallery from the Spielzeug Welten Museum in Basel, Switzerland, where they have been on loan as part of the exhibition Hats off to hats!

The hat is currently experiencing a small renaissance. An ever-increasing number of fashion designers are expanding their collections with hat creations, and artists from around the world are breathing new life into hat design. The Hats off to hats! exhibition looked to take visitors on a journey through the history of the hat, with over 100 historical hats representing the trends of the past 200 years, while also displaying hats from famous modern-day hat designers and artists.

If an outfit’s accessories are the icing on the cake, then the hat is like the cherry on top. It is an extravagant accessory consciously deployed by men and women alike. Wearing a hat is a conscious decision made for the purpose of standing out from the crowd. They are worn for practical reasons, but also used as manifestations of certain political stances or indicators of power and affiliation. So a hat is more than just a head covering – it is a message.

Throughout history, great significance has been assigned to whose head was uncovered by whom, thus exposing them as vulnerable and powerless. Taking off your hat when greeting someone was originally a sign of respect only afforded to people of higher social standing by those lower in the social order. Members of male dominated professional groups wore the hats associated with their professions, for example top hats, bowler Hats or caps.

For women head coverings had a different function. They indicated, for example, whether a woman was married or single, married women wore bonnets, denoting their status. Not just decorative hats had a function as Women were expected to keep their hair covered in public. The wide variety of women’s hats through history is a result of changing shapes of fashion – for example, the small style of hats in the 1860/70 were simply perched atop increasingly larger piles of hair made up of curls and plaits, which eventually gave way to truly monster hats at the beginning of the 20th century.

We are excited that the 70 hats have returned to our exceptional costume collection, which ranks amongst the leading resources for dress history in the UK. Amongst the 30,000 or so objects are garments made for men, women and children; accessories, such as fans, gloves and hats; and tools of the trade like paper patterns and miniature garments made by tailors to show their wares.

The Collection was begun when the Museum opened in 1908. Acquisition gathered pace in the 1950s and 1960s and since then, we have worked to maintain its status by continuing to add items that broaden its range and increase its depth. Eighteenth and nineteenth century clothes are a particular strength with a fascination collection of home-made and shop bough clothes from the twentieth century, but the Collection reaches back to the seventeenth century and forward to the present day. Our oldest item of clothing is a Jacobean jacket dated around 1610.

Gerry Connolly, Senior Curator said: The Hats of to Hats exhibition in Basil gave us the opportunity to showcase the museums amazing Hat collection and the museum on the international stage.  Now that the hats are back in the museum staff and volunteers are repacking and storing them but we will showcase a selection in the Collection and Conserved exhibition later in the summer.’

Learn more about how the museum curates and cares for our collections, with our exhibition Collected and Conserved on display until Saturday 3 August 2019. There will also be talks by Curatorial Assistant Sarah Hobson (6 July 2019) and Curator Emma Walder (3rd August 2019), offering a glimpse behind the scenes into the process of collection management.

You can also see selected items from our costume collection all year round within our permanent displays situated on the ground floor. Due to the volume of our collections not all items will be on display at one time. To view something in particular please contact us in advance and we will do our best to make it available to view.

For more information  visit or call Worthing Museum on 01903 221 448.