1886 cabinet card photograph of men in beaver hats

A beaver hat is a hat made from felted beaver fur. They were fashionable across much of Europe during the period 1550–1850 because the soft yet resilient material could be easily combed to make a variety of hat shapes (including the familiar top hat).[1] Smaller hats made of beaver were sometimes called beaverkins,[2] as in Thomas Carlyle's description of his wife as a child.[3]

Used winter coats worn by Native Americans were a prized commodity for hat making because their wear helped prepare the skins, separating out the coarser hairs from the pelts.[4]

To make felt, the underhairs were shaved from the beaver pelt and mixed with a vibrating hatter's bow. The matted fabric was pummeled and boiled repeatedly, resulting in a shrunken and thickened felt. Filled over a hat-form block, the felt was pressed and steamed into shape. The hat maker then brushed the outside surface to a sheen.[5]

Evidence of felted beaver hats in western Europe can be found in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, written in the late 14th century: "A Merchant was there with a forked beard / In motley, and high on his horse he sat, / Upon his head a Flandrish [Flemish] beaver hat."[6] Demand for beaver fur led to the near-extinction of the Eurasian beaver and the North American beaver in succession. It seems likely that only a sudden change in style saved the beaver.[7]

Beaver hats were made in various styles as a matter of civil status:

In addition, beaver hats were made in various styles as a matter of military status:

The popularity of the beaver hat declined in the early/mid-19th century as silk hats became more fashionable across Europe.


  1. ^ Wallace-Wells, D. "Puritan Inc." The New Republic, 2010.
  2. ^ Picken, Mary Brooks (1999). A dictionary of costume and fashion : historic and modern : with over 950 illustrations. Courier Dover Publications. p. 160. ISBN 9780486141602.
  3. ^ Carlyle, Thomas (2012) [1881]. Froude, James Anthony (ed.). Reminscences. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781108044790. ...dainty little cap, perhaps little beaverkin (with flap turned up)...
  4. ^ Hämäläinen, Pekka, 1967- (2019-10-22). Lakota America : a new history of indigenous power. New Haven. ISBN 978-0-300-21595-3. OCLC 1089959340.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link) CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  5. ^ Brigham, Walter. "Baltimore Hats".
  6. ^ Chaucer, Geoffrey (1392). The Canterbury Tales and other poems. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. ISBN 978-1499629361.
  7. ^ "The Role of Beaver in the European Fur Trade", accessed 2019.07.26.
  8. ^ Gray, Charlotte (2004). The Museum Called Canada: 25 Rooms of Wonder. Random House.

Media related to Beaver hats at Wikimedia Commons