In the “Lucy Gets a Paris Gown” episode of the I Love Lucy series, Ethel and Lucy were determined to get “Jacques Marcel” designer outfits. They were delighted when Ricky and Fred surprised them with the trendy ensembles, and Lucy and Ethel proudly wore them to lunch at a sidewalk cafe.
Before their lunch arrived, Lucy and Ethel learned that Ricky had their dresses made out of burlap by a local tailor. Lucy’s hat was made from a horse’s feed bag, and Ethel’s hat was an upside down ice bucket.
Until the ladies discovered Fred and Ethel’s cruel joke, they reveled in the feeling of haute couture.
Now, about hats. Hats have always told the observer something about the wearer. They signal an array of information marital status, religious affiliation, socio-economic status, interest in a particular sport – the list goes on. Lucy and Ethel, for example, wanted to appear stylish and sophisticated. Wearing their new outfits, they felt that way – until Ricky and Fred confessed. At that point, the ladies draped tablecloths over themselves and scurried away. (By the way, Ricky and Fred, if you recall, always wore broad-brimmed fedoras when they went out.)
In the late 19th and early 20th century in places such as the U.S. and U.K., it was a disgrace for a “lady” to go outside without a hat. According to Fashion Era,
One record tells of a young lady venturing out to post a letter without her hat and gloves and being severely reprimanded for not being appropriately dressed. The post box was situated a few yards from her front garden gate.
In the Edwardian age it did not matter if you were poor or rich, old or a child, whatever the status a person wore a hat, only beggars went bareheaded. Even militant suffragettes did not campaign without a hat. The hat would be fairly functional in style and form, but a hat was still worn.
But in many countries hats have declined in popularity for several reasons.
- Practicality. Keeping in mind that women (especially the poor who worked out of necessity), have always worked for wages, the world wars allowed women to change sectors – from domestic and farm labor to the war industry. Daily wearing “nice” hats as part of an ensembles less important, less practical, and, given scarcity of materials, less affordable. Going to work dressed in a hat meant you had to store the hat somewhere while you worked. Also, many working women began to wear snoods at work, which transferred to wearing them outside as well.
- Post-War Transportation. As more and more people drove automobiles and then the ceiling of the automobile started to lower, getting in and out of cars while wearing hats with high crowns such as the (men’s) Fedora, Bowler, Trilby and Derby or (women’s) wide brimmed hats with long feathers was cumbersome. Further, as more people drove instead of walked, hats were not as necessary for protecting the head from sun, cold and rain.
- Hygiene. As people increased the frequency of hair washing (e.g., from weekly to biweekly, alternate days or even daily), a hat wasn’t needed to cover the not-so-clean hair.
- Fashion. At the end of the 1960s, natural, flowing hair for both women and men became a sign of modernity and refusal to adhere to fashion considered constraining and outmoded.
I am thrilled that hats are regaining popularity. Granted, older people could always wear hats. No one expects us to be stylish. 🙂 But young people have started sporting fedoras, cloches, caps and an array of hats. According to the fashion folks, the early 21st century is a time of rebirth for hats. (Pic source)
And of course there’s Australia’s practical approach to hat wearing. Due to having the highest rate of skin cancer per capita, in the 1980s Australia began its Slip-Slop-Slap campaign to prod Australians to protect their skin: slip on a shirt, slop on the sunscreen, slap on a hat. Two more were soon added: seek shade and slide on some sunnies (sunglasses). (Click here to view its 2009 campaign on YouTube.) Soon New Zealand adopted the public campaign.
For many years I wore only outdoorsy floppy hats (pic at left) solely for sun protection (e.g., while camping, hiking, and the like). I am tall and always felt that plopping a “nice” hat (like Audrey Hepburn’s hat) made me look like some sort of walking umbrella – you know, providing shade for smaller women. So I wore hats only when absolutely necessary.
Ahh, but aging is a nasty reality. Skin gets thinner, odd spots show up, more wrinkles appear …
A few years ago I ended up living in an area with warm, dry, sunny summers with little natural shade. As I come from a family of blondes and redheads and the darkest we get is freckling, I began wearing hats in earnest. I collected a range of hats for different seasons and for different styles of dress (i.e., business versus casual).
My favorite hat store is Goorin Bros. in San Francisco. (Ask for Jacques!) One of the reasons I frequent Goorin Bros. is that their women’s hats (not just their men’s hats!) come in sizes! I have a large melon-like head, and the one-size-fits all hats stopped fitting when I was about 14. Goorin’s women’s hats go from extra small to extra large.
The odd and totally unexpected part was the attention I have received wearing the “nice” hats (the kind you would not wear camping, sailing, or hiking) in a business environment. On any given day when I am downtown with a nice hat topping off my business attire, I am stopped by at least three strange people who compliment me on wearing the hat. Curiously, two out of those three people are men over 45. (As I’ve often told my single women friends who are “of a certain age,” if you want to meet a man, wear a nice hat with your business attire!)
Over the last couple of years I’ve learned a lot about hats. For instance, have you ever noticed how men’s hats such as fedoras have what are called pinched brims but women’s hats do not (women’s cowboy hats and fedoras are the exceptions)? Pinched brims allow the wearer to easily remove his hat which – traditionally – men were expected to do once entering a room or in the presence of a lady. Ladies did not have to remove their hats.
Of course with hats came an array of etiquette rules. As hats are making a comeback, wearers (unless devotee of old movies), are confused – or clueless – about etiquette. Check out Village Hat Shop’s hat etiquette!)
If you get a chance to visit Lacis Museum of Lace and Textiles in Berkeley, California, you can see its exhibit That Hat: 100 Years of Hats in Fashion. If you can’t visit in person, take a peek at the slide show!