Hats from Zagreb

a sepia studio picture of a woman in fine clothing with a decorated hat, putting on a delicate white glove

Over a century of Croatian fashion history

Andrea Klobučar (Museum of Arts and Crafts, Zagreb)

Rising in popularity throughout the 19th Century and falling from grace in the 20th, the history of hats in Europe is a turbulent and fascinating one. Hatmaking and hat-wearing went largely in and out of fashion over the span of a little over a century.

One city that many see as sitting on the periphery of Europe was actually one of the most important centres of headgear fashion over the past 200 years. This is the story of how Zagreb became one of the hat capitals of Europe.

Zagreb, a city on the edge of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, wasn't far behind the imperial capital Vienna in terms of fashion around the end of the 19th Century.

The magazine Parižka moda, the only fashion magazine in the Croatian language at the time, played a major role in the transmission of fashion information. Austrian fashion magazines were also available, of which Wiener Mode was the most popular.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, Zagreb profiled itself as a fashion centre, with numerous fashion salons setting up shop in the city. Josip Pesta, Gjuro Matić and Ivan Božićević were some of the famous names in fashion that settled in the city.

Female dressmakers and milliners were often adept at designing hats according to the latest Parisian fashion. One of them was Dragica Šmid, whose salon was located in the centre of Zagreb.

a straw hat with silk and lace flowery embellishments on top

In Dragica's salon, she offered a large selection of hats for ladies, girls and children. Like all other fashionistas, she made hats from felt, straw, fur and fabric. The salon also offered ready-made mourning hats - from the simplest to the finest models.

Her clients were women from prominent and well-to-do Zagreb families, such as Jelka Winkler, the wife of the Zagreb doctor Eugen Winkler. Dragica Šmid ran the salon until 1928; then her daughter took over. The salon existed until 1945.

a black soft hat with a large black fabric bot tied on to it
a straw hat in a warm reddish-brown colour, decorated with vibrant red florals in tuile

With the establishment of Yugoslavia after World War I, Zagreb became the main commercial and banking centre of the country. Fashion trends still came from Vienna and Paris via fashion and women's magazines, such as Ženski list, Svijet and Hrvatica. Local milliner salons were able to copy and adapt to European fashion novelties through a high level of craftsmanship, style and creativity.

Starting in the 1930s, Zagreb's downtown would become the centre of multiple craft fairs, where one could also find milliners exhibiting their products.

a sober dark gray hat with lighter gray brim

After World War II, Zagreb became the capital of the Federal Republic of Croatia, one of the six federal republics in the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia.

Under the new regime, artisans were seen as remnants of capitalist society and were expected to put their labour and goods to the service of the state. They were forced to join various cooperatives, like the Hat and Cap Makers Cooperative.

The first post-war women's magazine Modni list, later renamed Naša moda, and the magazine Svijet, relaunched in 1953, brought Parisian fashion news straight from French magazines such as Vogue, L'Officiel and Modes & Travaux into the Yugoslavian world. Artisan fashion shows continued to exist, becoming the gathering place of the new socialist elite led by politicians' wives.

The hat, as a symbol of urban elegance, was the most desirable fashion accessory of the new privileged social class, which had a favourable effect on the re-blooming of the milliner craft.

The 1960s in Croatia were marked by a wave of liberalisation of the regime, which was most evident in opening up free travel abroad. This led to the popularisation of one-day shopping trips to Graz in Austria and Trieste in Italy. Western European products were very desirable, partly as symbols of freedom, fashion awareness and belonging to the Western European fashion and cultural circle.

After the 1960s, the hat lost its leading role as the most important fashion accessory. Despite this trend, the interest in hats has not stopped in Zagreb, as evidenced by the successful business of the Kobali Hat Salon, as well as the work of milliner and hat artist Staša Čimbur.

This blog was written as part of the CRAFTED project, which aimed to enrich and promote traditional and contemporary crafts.