Photography by Alassie
It’s as essential—as elementary really—to the vintage witch as a broom or flowing skirts. No, even more so. Much more than pointy shoes or a black cat familiar, the tall, peaked hat with the big brim has come to represent magical and mysterious women, women of immense strength and a certain undeniable wisdom who connect deeply to the earth below and the stars above, harnessing the infinite energy (with cauldron or without) in the service of what we lesser mortals cannot guess. In pop culture, the witch hat is everywhere, from television’s Bewitched to Terry Prachett’s Discworld novels and, of course, beloved films like The Wizard of Oz and Practical Magic, not to mention all over Instagram. Gandalf wears one in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, proving that, yes, other humans, nonbinary or not, top their heads with them, too. But they seem much more typical of women witches.
Witches long ago may have donned hats as a way of concentrating their sacred power or simply to denote their otherness. Perhaps in some times and places, they were imposed on them by a backward and foolish society, fearful of female ferocity. The hat’s long history, tangled and wild as a spellcaster’s curls, provides no verifiable answers to its bygone use (or if it was actually used at all), but of this we can be certain: If its takeover of popular culture is any indication, the pointed witch’s hat is here to stay.
For Alassie, the Barcelona-based designer whose handmade hats grace these pages, witch hats represent an “iconic element in the classic witch’s fairy tales that inspire us.” Alassie and her team of fifteen create and market her hats, along with, as she says, “all kinds of garments and accessories that can be combined to build a lot of witchy outfits: capes, dresses, skirts, bags, headdresses, belts, and even jewelry.”
Currently, Alassie’s brand, Costurero Real (roughly translated as Royal Sewing Box), produces about a dozen different witch hats made of 100 percent wool felt. Many feature whimsical touches such as mushrooms, constellations, lights, snails, leather, little bottles, spells, and even squirrels that are crafted from materials like leather, resin, foam, and fabric.
Alassie’s creations are the latest in a long line of conical caps. The earliest known evidence of humans wearing them are the witches of Subeshi, three female mummies unearthed in China that date back to between the 4th and 2nd centuries BCE. They are wearing tall, pointed hats, though there seems to be no proof they practiced enchantment. Later, Jews and Quakers, both persecuted groups, came to be associated with similar hats, as did “alewives”—women who served beer in medieval Europe. Whether any of this actually somehow led to the enduring image of witches wearing the famed headgear, who knows—the answer has been lost to the ages.
Perhaps actual witches of old simply had been wearing them all along. In any case, it’s believed that the first artistic representation of a witch in her now emblematic pointed hat comes courtesy of a woodcut from the early 18th century. The scene depicts a hat-wearing witch riding a broom, followed by a horned, winged devil and what appears to be a wizard, also atop a broom but missing the peak on his hat. Through the centuries, the stereotype of the evil old necromancer in the tall, pointy hat would be passed down from generation to generation, culminating in Margaret Hamilton’s memorable, green-skinned Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz.
Today, hat or no hat, witches are more often acknowledged to be agents of good rather than evil, thanks in part to the efforts of people like Alassie. It is clearly through the tender eyes of sisterhood that she sees witches.
“From the beginning, witches were usually represented as women who live apart, who are independent and powerful, and are distanced from the traditional family role, fertility or home care,” she says. “They are always related to something wild, unknown, and uncivilized. They are also capable of breaking the rules of nature and at the same time live in harmony with it … The history of witches can be understood as one of those women who did not conform to the systems created by the men who wrote history. And I feel that they represent us, that their struggle is still our struggle in other contextual conditions. But we continue to fight, and we continue to burn.”