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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.