What is a Pillbox Hat?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A pillbox hat is a small women's hat in a simple, understated style. These hats were immensely popular from the 1930s through the 1960s, and they continue to be worn today by some women, in addition to styles which have diverged slightly from the traditional pillbox. Many hat stores carry these hats in a variety of colors and styles, and they can also be ordered from companies which specialize in the production of hats.

Woman posing
Woman posing

A classic pillbox hat has a flat crown, and smooth, straight sides. The hat is typically made from a material which is sturdy enough to hold the shape of the hat; felt is a popular choice. The shape of a the hat is sort of reminiscent of a box designed to hold pills, although these hats are obviously larger than pill boxes.

Classically, a pillbox hat is small enough that it must be pinned on the head, because the brim is too narrow to go over the head. During the period when this hat style was fashionable, the bouffant hairdo was very popular among women, and many women topped this bold, large hairstyle with a jauntily pinned pillbox hat, strategically placed so that it would not crush the hairstyle. People can choose to use decorative visible hatpins with this type of hat, or discreet hidden pins to secure it.

One the most notable wearers of this style of hat was American First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, who popularized the style from day one in the White House, when she wore a bone-white pillbox hat to her husband's inauguration. Many Americans also have vivid memories of the coordinating pink suit and pillbox hat she wore on the date of her husband's assassination.

The understated design of the pillbox hat can be dressed up with a veil or pin, or left plain. Some women use it as a church hat, since the simple, flattering style is appropriately somber and respectful for church. Others wear a more updated version, with a cuff in a contrasting color and a soft fabric construction which gives the hat a more casual, rumpled look.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@Pippinwhite -- Hats in general have just gone out of style, except for baseball caps for guys -- for everyday wear. Some people wear hats, but you have to look for attractive women's hats. They just aren't available too many places.

I like fedoras. They actually look halfway decent on me. Pillboxes are cute, but I'd never have anywhere to wear them.


My mom has a pillbox hat she's saved for years. It's crimson velvet with cream velvet insets. It's beautiful and makes me wish these hats were still in style. They could be worn with so many different hairstyles and were flattering to most women.

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