My hat’s off to you

By Don Hill 

I know you have been wondering why people don’t wear hats like they did 50 or so years ago.

For women, it is fairly well passé. Maybe for the Kentucky Derby or a fancy wedding, but that’s about all. For men, it’s more of a cap than a hat. Why? A big thing is the low design of the American automobile. Unlike the English who make their cars taller, ours makes wearing a hat almost impossible. A big thing for the ladies is the beauty parlors. Why spend money on getting your hair done and then cover it with a hat?

All of this thinking started me thinking about hats that people used to wear and hats that we do wear. For example, nurses wore nice hats, airline stewardess wore cute little ones, nuns had a variety of styles and gas station attendants wore those that they tipped when you drove off. I’m sure you don’t remember the bellboys who wore the little pill box and the airline red caps.

Some of the noticeable ones you will be seeing soon is Santa Claus and his elves. And there is Robin Hood’s and the Smurf’s. How about the tri-cornered ones of the revolution and Napoleon’s horizontal one. If you went to college, you may have worn a beanie during the first weeks of class. Different religions and nationalities have their special headgear, such as the Amish bonnets and black hats, the British are better known for their derbies or bowlers, Scottish their tams, French their berets and chapeaus, the Mexican sombrero, etc.

The feather has played a place in hat wearing. It is a symbol of pride in one’s achievements. “A feather in your cap” could be said to a person who just accomplished something outstanding. Women through the years have adorned their hats with plumes, feathers, that is. The Native American used the feathers for beautiful headgear.

I remember my dad who wore the straw sailor for the Labor Day parade. It was a very stiff straight-edged hat made of straw, of course. It was also known as the boater. Straw was used in making the Panama hats, which were more flimsy. I don’t remember any Easter parades, but there was a wonderful movie about one. Oh, I could write a sonnet about your Easter bonnet and the girl I’m taking to the Easter parade. They just don’t make movies like they used to. What do you mean you don’t remember 1948?

The baseball cap caught on a few years back. It lets others know who your favorite ball team, sports figure, auto, business or political party you prefer. In the real use on the ballfield, the catcher must wear their ball cap backwards in order to wear their face mask. This backward style has been adopted by some of our well-dressed men.

As far as silly hats, I would put the mortarboard (with tassel) that we all wore at graduation. You can check the history of it online, but I think sticking this on your head indicates that even if you think you have become smart, there is still a whole lot yet to learn. Chefs’ tall, fluted ones are rather silly, and the wonderful Shriner’s Fez should only be worn at conventions. How about the royalty and their crowns? And I suppose witches still stick to their typical ones and the devil and his horns, oh my!

Of course, practicality is important to some. The cowboy hat is not just for style, but if you rode the range all day, you would appreciate one. The farmer might wear a large straw hat for the same reason. I’m sure the construction worker would appreciate their hard hats if their co-worker three stories up dropped a wrench. Firemen need their special hats that protect them from falling object and to direct the water down over their backs instead of in their faces. And the helmet is important if you play football or ride a bike.

Some hats I have used during various stages of my life include my military dress hat and flight cap. My veteran’s cap (which I often wear) came later. Then I wore a top hat when I did my James Whitcomb Riley programs. The top hat, usually associated with Abe Lincoln, was stylish in the 1800s, as well.

There was the opera hat, which was a top hat that collapsed so you could store it under your opera seat. I never had use for one. I do wear the printer’s hat when giving tours of the Museum of Antique Printing. I and wife Mary have made hundreds of them to give out to kids. The printer’s hat is made by folding the newspaper. With a special method of folding, it becomes a little squared hat.

So much for hats. Hats off to all you wonderful folks out there.

Don Hill is a resident of Seymour and a longtime volunteer for Southern Indiana Center for the Arts. Send comments to [email protected]