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What is a Petasos?

By James Franklin
Updated May 21, 2024
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A petasos is a type of floppy, wide-brimmed hat that dates to ancient Greece. Frequently worn by farmers, the petasos’ broad brim made it well suited for outdoor work, protecting the wearer’s head from sun and rain. The hat could be made of a variety of materials, including felt, straw, leather and wool. Petasoi worn by Greek men usually featured low crowns, and those worn by women typically had much higher crowns.

“Petasos” is both the Greek and Latin word for "hat." However, the word also has come to refer specifically to that broad-brimmed hat long worn by Greeks and other people in the region. The petasos might have appeared as long ago as 1200 B.C. Depictions of the Greek god Hermes — known later to the Romans as Mercury — show the swift-footed deity wearing a version of the hat with small wings on its sides. Many contemporary artists depicted Greek men and women wearing the distinctive hats.

Because the petasos was often worn by Greek farmers, the hat became associated with rural working people. The protective brim eventually helped the style find favor with travelers, making the hat part of the traditional Greek traveling garb, along with the black cloak known as the chlamys. The petasos’ brim distinguished it from the pilos, a brimless hat that often had a high, conical crown and resembled a fez.

The earliest petasoi are believed to have been made in either Thessaly or Crete. Crete is a plausible place of origin because the art of making felt from wool developed on the island. The petasos was also given different names in many Greek regions, a factor that may have contributed to confusion about the hat’s origins. Different styles of the hat featured brims that curved either up or down. Chin straps eventually were added, allowing the hat to hang freely from the wearer’s neck when not needed.

The simplicity and functionality of the petasos helped the hat style survive into later cultures. Pop culture depictions of ancient Greece and Rome show the hat as it would have been worn by people of the day. In the 1966 film “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” a petasos continually shades the glum face of hapless Roman citizen Erronius, played by Buster Keaton. The features of the petasos survive in sun hats worn by people in the 21st century; indeed, many of sun hats favored by modern gardeners are simply petasoi known by other names.

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Discussion Comments
By JimmyT — On Jan 21, 2012

I have always wondered what this type of hat was called and now to think that this hat has a very unique history adds to the appeal a lot of people have for the hat.

I find it very interesting that this type of hat has a multi thousand year history and goes all the way back to a time in history that was more simplistic and also the basis of Western Civilization.

I bet the Greeks would be surprised to see that their hat, which was used for working in the sun, has now become a bit of a fashion symbol and sometimes even a status symbol that is very sought after by some people.

I would imagine that peasants used these hats during the times of the Greeks int he fields and that only adds to the history and evolution of the use of the hat.

By jcraig — On Jan 20, 2012

@kentuckycat - I absolutely agree with you. I find a Petasos to be rather stylish and be a bit of a fashion statement as opposed to the Rice Hat which is specifically designed for work.

The Petasos has a very simple design and is reminiscent of a floppy hat, which has a certain charm to it and helps to keep the sun off of a person.

I find the modern versions of the Petasos to have shifted away from what the Greeks originally constructed the hat for, but in reality they serve the exact same service, which is the effectively keep the sun out of people's eyes and provide adequate shade for their head and upper body.

By kentuckycat — On Jan 19, 2012

@Izzy78 - Both hats are very effective to wear in the sun, but out of the two I would much rather choose a Petasos as opposed to a Rice Hat.

A Rice Hat is designed for people that are working and picking rice and are more seen in that area of the world. The Petasos on the other hand is actually seen all over the world as it does not have a gaudy look to it and actually can be used about anywhere.

The pointed Rice Hat is good for someone that is working in the rice fields, but bad for just regular things just to keep the sun out of your eyes. Go look at a beach and see how many Petasos are there being worn by people.

By Izzy78 — On Jan 19, 2012

I have always thought that a Petasos was the same thing as a Rice Hat which is used by people in East Asia who pick rice for a living.

They are both similarly constructed hats and have a look fairly the same, but there are some very distinct differences.

The Rice Hat is a much more well known hat as it is circular and pointed at the top. People automatically associate this hat with Asia and every knows where it comes from.

A Petasos is similar in size and shape, but is more loose in its construction and is not near as stiff as a Rice Hat.

Both these hats accomplish their purpose which is to block out the sun with their wide brims and that makes these rather popular and very effective hats to wear in the sun.

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