The hat's ancestry goes back to medieval times. The word "cappellus" was a diminutive of "cappa" or hood, even if it initially referred only to the hood tied under the chin which continued to be used until the end of the 15th Century. Made of velvet, felt or straw, the hood reflected the social standing of the person wearing it based on the materials used to decorate it: from the simple head covering used only to protect oneself from the rain to a hood decorated with furs, precious stones and embroidery, identifying the social class of the wearer and becoming a real aesthetic and cultural symbol.
In the 14th Century, more elaborate headgear started to be worn alongside the caps and hoods; these were wide-brimmed, made of straw and lined with silk, beaver or cloth and symbolized the prestige and power of the wearer. During this period, accessories also succumbed to a Gothic influence: footwear had very long pointed toes and pointed, wide-brimmed hats were used to protect the wearer from the weather, much like umbrellas.
(In the pictures: The Arnolfini husband and wife, Giovanni Arnolfini by Jan Van Eyck and medieval pilgrims)