Saturday, October 2, 2010

Consider This

I Tip My Hat To You!

Hats, glorious hats! I just love them. No, not the baseball caps on the heads of everyone today, especially on men in restaurants, but that’s another column. I simply love hats!

One of my biggest regrets is that for me, an ardent hat lover, wearing them is a cruel joke. I have practically no neck and whatever one inch neck is there is now festooned with wattles anyway and hats accentuate that accursed wattlage, so I don’t wear them.

Ah, but this isn’t about wattles, it’s about hats. When I was growing up in the fifties, women wore crazy hats and rarely for warmth. They wore them to church, shopping, to have tea, to the city, to everywhere. We were all just beginning, back then, to realize it was wrong to slaughter the world’s glorious birds to near extinction just to get their feathers for hat ornamentation the way women did in the days of long skirts and bustles. No. Back in my day, fake flowers were used on milady’s hats, fake fruit, veils, lace, gauze, beads, velvet —everything. I wonder why ladies felt the need to decorate their heads so much. I’ve never been able to figure that out, but it honestly looked ever so cool! And in some cases, rather Carmen Miranda funny. (Look it up.)

But I’m still not answering the question as to why people, women mostly, wanted to adorn the tops of their skulls with gewgaws and stuff and impedimenta. Maybe because they thought it gave them queen like airs?? Some kind of cranial mating ritual? Who knows? But oh, how I used to love staring at lady’s hats. I wish women still wore big, interesting, gaudy hats but I guess they’d be just an annoyance now and an outrageous expense, too.

Are there any milliners left in the country? Coco Channel was a milliner before she made those women’s suits with the four pocket jackets, right? I’ll bet her hats were fabulous. And wasn’t there a milliner in the Alice in Wonderland book? A mad hatter? Yeah. No. He was a haberdasher. They make men’s hats, right? Want me to tell you where the word “milliner” comes from? Way back in ’29, that’d be 1529 Milan, Italy used to be big in the ribbon, gloves and straw business. Haberdashers back then were guys who made guy clothes. Anyway, they imported those great straws to make hats so the straws were called Millaners, from which came, yes, milliners. I love trivia.

Men wore hats all the time too back in the early years of the 1900s, kind of watered down versions of Indiana Jones’s. All men wore them ---were they called fedoras? I think so. Creased in the crowns. No one wore baseball caps back then unless they were playing baseball, and they were always worn bill-forward, unless you were the catcher.

Men’s dark grey fedoras were changed to straw skimmers in the summer months. Look at old photos from the 1930s and you’ll see what I mean. Hats everywhere. And while you’re looking at those old photos, go on back a few more centuries and study the paintings from the dark ages. Those people wore slammin’ hats, funny looking and probably not practical, but unique, weird, decorated, snobby, oddly shaped and impractical. But maybe warm or something. King Henry the VIII’s hats didn’t make much sense but the castles were probably cold and damp, so since much of the body’s heat shoots out of uncovered skulls, Henry’s headgear helped with that, although probably didn’t do much for his gout. And remember those tall pointed hats women wore with veils swaying from them? What was up with them? And what about the gigantic hats women wore at the end of the 1800s and the beginning of the 1900s. Women squished their waists in so tightly their organs were damaged, they wore tight high button shoes, big cages on their backsides, big puffed sleeves, loads of petticoats, and gigantic hairdos on top of which they pinned enormous platters onto which were sewn or glued dead birds and dead other things, ribbons, tulle, strings of pearls, fur, extra feathers, fake flowers and the kitchen sink. So it could be said that women back then suffered horribly for their perception of beauty.

Then in the 1920s, women decided to give up all that non-productive pain, they rolled their stockings down, showed and rouged their knees, shortened their dresses by 2 feet and loosened them, burned their corsets and bobbed their hair so those huge, magnificent hats covered with baubles and dead creatures could not stay in place anymore. Thus the hats became tight cloches which must have done a lot for the shampoo industry.

I once asked a man of the Episcopalian cloth persuasion why women had to wear hats to church and men didn’t. Didn’t seem fair. He told me that it came from the fact that women church-goers many years ago on Sunday mornings wore hats to make it clear that they were not prostitutes. Prostitutes, the good father told me, wore their hatless hair long, enticing men to have unchurchly thoughts in their pews with their heads bowed low. Thus, he told me, morally superior women wore hats back then to separate good wives and good women from the working girls. True? Who knows? Great story, though.

Head covering was invented by our foremothers in caves to keep the ice, snow and rain and maybe even the sun from hammering at their skulls, along with protecting them from falling rocks, parasites, creatures with large teeth, and clubs. The elements and life itself back then was pretty harsh on those early anthropoids, so head coverings helped. I wonder if they began to be decorated back then, maybe with a bit of bone perhaps, a few colorful weeds, maybe a couple of dried newts, several teeth from last night’s dinner, a handful of woven worms, a little fresh dung for leaving lingering memories, and a couple of sinews to keep it all tied in place. I’ll bet those cavers got into competition over their headgear just as women do on Fifth Avenue during the Easter Parade, or at the Royal Ascot horse races in England or the Kentucky Derby right here in the US of A. I’ll wager those people in caves began to adorn their headgear way back before BC was BC and started this whole fancy hat craze.

Plumes on hats, both for men and women, seemed to be some kind of status symbol. You had plumes, you were somebody back in the day, yet another hat mystery, but the plume business was a big one and guess what plume CEOs were called back then? Yep, plumassiers. And back in the Edwardian times, only beggars went bareheaded so I guess if you didn’t want anyone to know you were a beggar, you got yourself a smart hat.

The hat has got such a fascinating history and I wish I had the space here to write about all of it. So many styles; cap, bonnet, cowboy, hood, pillbox, Panama, yarmulke, sombrero, wimple, stovepipe, bowler, derby, beret, fez, toque, pith, dunce, beanie, porkpie, babushka. Hats are uniforms for the head and so tell a lot about a person. Wear one! Do it for me and the rest of the world’s neckless wonders. My hat’s off to you.

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1 comment:

  1. Great article! My Dad always wore a hat, always. (He was bald.) My mother's mother wore the huge hats of 100 years ago, possibly with a kitchen sink.