For such simple garments, and throughout their long history, hats have had a devastating impact on wildlife. Made of wild-caught mammal furs, decorated with feathers or whole stuffed birds, historically they have driven many species to near extinction. By the turn of the twentieth century, egrets, shot for their exuberant white neck plumes, had been decimated; the wild ostrich, killed for its feathers until the early 1900s, was all but extirpated; and vast numbers of birds of paradise from New Guinea and hummingbirds from the Americas were just some of the other birds killed to decorate ladies’ hats. At its peak, the hat trade was estimated to be killing 200 million birds a year. At the end of the nineteenth century, it was a trade valued at £20 million (over $25 million) a year at the London feather auctions. Weight for weight, exotic feathers were more valuable than gold. Sea otters and North American and Eurasian beavers were all decimated to make hatting felt. Today, while no wild birds are captured for feather decoration, some wild animals are still trapped and killed for hatmaking. A fascinating read, Hats will have you questioning the history of your headwear.
Malcolm Smith is a biologist, a former chief scientist and deputy chief executive at the Countryside Council for Wales, and a former
board member of the Environment Agency, Europe’s largest environmental regulator, for England and Wales. He has been published
widely over several decades including articles in The Daily Telegraph, The Economist, The Independent, and CNN Traveller. He also is
the author of four previous books, including Ploughing a New Furrow: A Blueprint for Wildlife Friendly Farming. He is a member of the
National Lottery Heritage Fund’s Committee for Wales, the largest dedicated funder of heritage in the United Kingdom. He lives in North
Wales in a seventeenth-century ex-farmhouse overlooking woodland he planted with his family and with views over the Irish Sea.
"[...] I had little concept of how hideous this slaughter was until I read this book. [...] Malcolm Smith demonstrates here how wealth and vanity led to destruction and cruelty on an unimagined scale. [...]"
– Barry Gray, Ibis, August 2021
"A meticulously researched account of an industry that, in the name of fashion, led to the slaughter of millions of innocent creatures, bringing many to the brink of extinction. Thank goodness for those indomitable women who helped turn the tide at the end of the nineteenth century. A truly fascinating read."
– Hilary Macmillan, Consultant Head of Communications, Vincent Wildlife Trust
"What have we accomplished by slaughtering millions of wild animals in order to satisfy our lust for elegance and status? With a historian's careful eye and a biologist's deep understanding, Smith tracks fads for feather and fur hats. Lately, he tells us, conspicuous consumption has shifted to domesticated and farmed animals. Feather and fur headgear remain cultural icons, he argues, though more people eschew hats so that birds and mammals our great-grandparents slaughtered live on in companionable roles."
– Robin W. Doughty, Professor Emeritus, Department of Geography and the Environment, College of Liberal Arts, University of Texas at Austin, and author of Feather Fashions and Bird Preservation