Where the tradition of party hats comes from isn’t exactly clear.
During Roman Saturnalia, cheeky slaves wore freedmen’s hats, pointy hats made of red felt, as a reversal of social position. This type of hat became a symbol of liberty that evolved to become the more commonly worn Phrygian hat (think of a floppy red Santa cap). This type of pointy cap spread far and wide as a “liberty cap,” a revolutionary icon during the past two hundred years or so.
As a party hat, though, the turnabout hat-wearing tradition of Saturnalia and the paper crowns that we pop out of Christmas crackers seem closer to the celebratory hat wearing of birthday parties.
Hats can be practical, as in keeping one’s head warm, or they can be symbolic, often sending a social message through their shape or color. Wearing a birthday hat, in addition to the joy of dress up, sets the birthday girl or boy apart, showing that this hat wearer is the special person at this party.
Now, it’s common for all guests to wear party hats at birthdays, New Year, and Christmas. Everyone steps out of the ordinary into the special space a party creates for all.
Make Your Own Party Hats
You can buy adorable, reusable party hats made of felt, our you can make your own reusable hats. Many families have a collection of reusable hats for parties.
For a very simple party hat pattern, see Martha Stewart’s Party Hats. A plate becomes the pattern for a hat that takes just minutes to make. Rather than making your hats out of paper, you can use a couple of layers of wool felt or any stiffened fabric, sewing the overlapping edge. Add ribbon ties or a piece of elastic from ear to ear, and you have a reusable birthday party hat.