The circumstances which led to the emergence of hats in the Aude Valley have never been formally established, all that we can know is based on a tenacious oral tradition, perpetuated up to the present day, and endorsed by the various researchers who have studied the glorious past of Esperaza.
As early as 1765, some hat makers of Bugarach headed for the towns of the Aude’s Upper Valley and in particular, Esperaza.
Thus, from 1830 and especially in 1878, with the arrival of the railway, the hat industry experienced a major expansion in Esperaza. The mid-nineteenth century marks the end of the artisanal period and the small Workshops. The industrial era and the mechanization of certain stages of manufacture spread to the hat making.
In 1929, the hat activity employed nearly 3,000 workers in the 14 local factories which made the glory of Esperaza on all the continents; The hat-making city reached the second-largest worldwide production of the wool felt hat after Monza in Italy with a production of 1,400,000 hats in 1949.
Unfortunately, a factor unknown until then: Fashion, will lead the Hats of the Valley of the Aude towards an inexorable decline: the hat is less and less worn, then not at all.
Without a substitute solution despite several attempts, it is a real economic catastrophe that falls on the hat industry of Espéraza, undermined by closures and bankruptcy filings.
From this period, only a small manufacturing plant "Chapeaux de France" remains in the neighboring village of Montazels.
Fortunately, this traditional know-how is preserved thanks to the Hat Museum created in 1992.