What Happened to Hats?!

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!


About sweatyknitter

Fiber art devotee, author, and amateur artisan bread baker.
This entry was posted in Crocheting, Knitting, Miscellany, Other Fiber Arts and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to What Happened to Hats?!

  1. Deanne says:

    This sounds like a plan. Now to find the cloche, and then maybe even the hat pin could be worn! 🙂


  2. Yes, clothing full stop is an amazing invention for the protection against the element. I’m surprised at his questioning it! Ah, modern youth. Here’s it more rain than cold but they wander around soak through, purple and shivering because wearing a coat isn’t ‘cool’. I’ve never got fashion over comfort myself. 🙂


  3. I chuckle and shake my head when during the winter’s early morning freezing temperatures, I see teenagers huddled over for warmth – wearing only a thin cotton t-shirt, cotton “hoody,” worn out blue jeans, and tennis shoes with no socks. One boy (about 15) turned at me and said, “Ma’am, how do you manage to look as though you’re not cold?” Poor kid … I said that magic word: Wool. 🙂


  4. Um, English English for sure, although most sources have it down for Scottish. I didn’t realise that it wasn’t used overseas! I’ll use random words and you can educate me about the fashions of hats. Funny how something so practical can be out of fashion. Like coats and hats and boots until we had those harsh winters again. 🙂


  5. New word for me: “numpty.” Is it a regional slang? 🙂 Hats seem to weave in and out of fashion, don’t they?!


  6. I had a friend with very curly hair and she said humidity made it frizz. However, if you wear a fairly tight-fitting cloche and let your curls peek out of the bottom of the hat, I bet it would look great. I have stick straight hair. 😦


  7. Deanne says:

    Great photographs! I wear hats in the summer. But my hair is so curly and frizzy it’s hard to feel chic in them.


  8. Thanks for sharing the JM story – never before heard it!


  9. I just knit a couple of lace hats as gifts – yarn was a combo of cotton, merino, silk & seaweed! Worked up like silk and is a tussah color. I hope they fit the recipients – I was kind of guessing!


  10. I nominated you for One Lovely Blog Award! 🙂 Thank you for your posts! See for details: http://artlovermommy.wordpress.com/2012/07/04/one-lovely-blog-award-3/


  11. Most people are clueless about hat etiquette, I wear a Western hat and always remove it in smaller shops, in religious buildings and when eating. I look a numpty in any other kind of hat so wear it in and out of season. It’s always out of fashion in my area. People forget that there was time when no one went out without a hat. Times changes. Hats don’t. 😉


  12. ethgran says:

    When I entered college back in 1964, I wore a beret to inform people that I was an art student. I don’t recall any other students in art wearing one but to me that and dark clothing set me apart from the average general studies student. Once I got married and became a mother, I put the beret away but at some point I knit myself one out of angora which I wore more for warmth than a symbol of being artistic. Having retired to the sunny state of Florida, I have hung up the beret in favor of a wide brimmed straw hat for obvious reasons. I too have a melon head (a Norwegian trait?) so fashion hats haven’t really been part of my attire – functional hats have been hard enough to find which is why my hand knit beret has been my favorite down the years. (at one point I noticed that moths had eaten a number holes in it but being so fuzzy – it made no difference!)


  13. Curls & Q says:

    Ah, hats! As I’ve mentioned I love them! Wonderful post! Hat etiquette is interesting! in the book 1776, there is a story about a shy and reticent James Madison whose hat was stolen while sitting in a pub dining. He didn’t leave the establishment until a replacement hat was brought to him. It was not proper to be seen in public without a hat. 😎


  14. jenyjenny says:

    I love this post and the prior one with the mantilla! Fascinating because my husband and I have recently been watching a lot of old movies on the Turner channel, and therefore gawking at the hats. I can barely remember having to wear a hat to church, or in a pinch, Mom would grab handkerchiefs out of her purse and plop them on our heads. Wonderful things to ponder.


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