THE SOCIAL MEANINGS OF HATS.

I realize it’s been too long (as usual) since I’ve posted anything to justify the “hat” portion of the blog’s title, but this should make up for it: Diana Crane’s The Social Meanings of Hats and T-shirts (excerpted from her book Fashion and Its Social Agendas: Class, Gender, and Identity in Clothing). I’ve long wanted this kind of succinct description of the history of various kinds of hats:

The top hat, which appeared in England at the beginning of the nineteenth century, was worn first by the middle and upper classes. During the century, it spread downward, possibly because it was adopted by coachmen in the 1820s and for policemen’s uniforms in the same period…. In the 1840s and 1850s, unskilled laborers and fishermen were photographed wearing these hats …. At mid-century, they were being worn by all social classes…
The bowler was invented in England in 1850 as an occupational hat for gamekeepers and hunters but was rapidly adopted by the upper class for sports…. Within a decade it had spread to the city, where it was widely adopted by the middle and lower-middle classes … and by members of the working class, particularly in cities. … The working-class man’s attempt to blur class boundaries by wearing the bowler was satirized in the early films of Charlie Chaplin. Eventually, the bowler became an icon of the bourgeoisie, as immortalized in Magritte’s famous painting of a middle-class man wearing a bowler … and, after the Second World War, was worn mainly by middle-class businessmen.
The cap with visor, which, like the top hat, appeared at the beginning of the nineteenth century, was first worn by military officers …. By mid-century, the peaked cap was identified with the working class; it was “the most usual head covering for the working man” …. At the beginning of the twentieth century, cloth caps, without visors, were mainly worn by the working class and particularly by younger workers …, while members of the middle and upper classes wore peaked or cloth caps only for sports or in the countryside …. When worn by politicians, cloth caps were thought to indicate “radical tendencies”….

I love this stuff, and there’s much more of it at the link (including comparisons between France and the U.S.). Oh, and there’s a section on T-shirts, too.
Addendum. The Growling Wolf was inspired by this post to put up a whole gallery of photos of people lookin’ good in hats. Don’t miss it.

Comments

  1. One of my heroes in life, Alex “Rice” Miller, Sonny Boy Williamson #2, was a great “hat man”–wearing derbies through most of his life and then later after he went to England wearing a bowler and carrying a gold-tipped cane.
    Sonny Boy Williamson #1, John Lee Williamson, was also a great “hat man,” though wearing the stylish man’s hat of the 30s, a blocked beaver–I’m not up on my hats so I’m lame in the hat lingo department.
    And, of course, my greatest of all idols, Lester Young, the Prez, is the man who put the porkpie hat on the hatrack map.
    I don’t remember a day when my father was still kicking the gong around that he didn’t wear a man’s hat–and also a shirt and tie–to work every day. My dad loved Dobbs and Adams hats–by the time my brother and I were old enough to worry about clothing styles, the man’s hat was long gone. For years my generation went hatless–until the baseball cap came along in the baseball-winning years here in New York City. Now I wear a baseball cap every day (with a tee shirt and jeans).
    I was one of the early Kangol hat fanatics for a brief while in my college days when I mail-ordered my clothes out of the back pages of the New Yorker–my favorite clothing store was Milton’s Clothing Cupboard in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I bought my first Kangol hat from Milton.
    I had an uncle who wore hats all his life but who swore wearing a hat had made him bald. He believed wearing a hat kept men’s heads from getting required sunlight, which he said made a man’s hair grow–without sunlight the hairroots died and the hair fell out. I never saw my uncle without a hat except one time–and man did he look strange without that hat–I mean, he was bald as a billiard cueball (the cueball’s associated with baldness because it’s solid white)–looked like a different person.
    The only time in my life I wore a hat every day was during my stint in the US Army. They shaved my head bald my first day at basic training. That’s the only time in my life my hair hasn’t hung down to my a__ (excuse my Syriac).
    Hats off to you, Hat Man,
    Ur fiend,
    thegrowlingwolf
    PS: And may your book explicatively insult its way to the top of the cursed world bestseller lists–and may the comedic demons of hell chortle with glee as they stir the cauldron of the double-troubled and filthiest life and chant the best of THOU curses and insults as they do. “Stir it up!” as Bob Marley, a heavy wool-cap-wearing man, sung.

  2. Grumble.
    I’m with Isaac Asimov, who said that there were only two kinds of hats worth wearing: the Russian fur hat with ear flaps to keep out the cold, and the Chinese/Vietnamese woven hat with the wide brim to keep off the rain. All other hats are nothing but perverse follies.

  3. Wrong, Mr. Cowan. The Australian Akubra (“Manufacturer of the original Australian slouch hat”) is the king of hats…
    http://www.akubra.com.au/
    Besides, it’s the only hat I don’t look stupid in (since I left school, where I wore a straw boater with aplomb).

  4. PS: I wear a Snowy River Akubra these days …

  5. marie-lucie says:

    There is also the Canadian Tilley hat, which is supposed to have passed through an elephant three times without damage. The washing instructions are “Give ‘em hell!”

  6. The sou’wester used to be worn by all small Brits, or at least those in the wetter half of the country – an admirable device.

  7. The Northwest Coast hat, once worn by every indigenous person on the Northwest Coast, has lately turned into a ceremonial device although I have seen it worn for everyday purposes occasionally. It’s woven of spruce root, or in the south of cedar bark. A good hat can be woven well enough to be waterproof, something necessary in that land of perpetual rain. On the occasional sunny days it provides good eye shade, useful since the light is at low northern angles. And of course it can be decorated with clan emblems in the traditional Northwest Coast styles. Even an undecorated hat is a work of art, and can fetch upwards of $5000. That’s a hat I’d like to see come back into style.

  8. Terry Collmann says:

    “a blocked beaver”
    Please insert own joke to suit here.

  9. There’s a hat to fit every personality, every kind of weather and every social situation.
    Get a hat on!

  10. The only time in my life I wore a hat every day was during my stint in the US Army. They shaved my head bald my first day at basic training. That’s the only time in my life my hair hasn’t hung down to my a__ (excuse my Syriac).
    The armed forces are the last bastion of hattedness. Your hat, and how you wear it, is rich in significance.
    Obviously, it marks which unit you belong to (at least in the army – the navy and RAF wear uniform hats) and thus places you in the social hierarchy of regiments. The Paras wear their maroon berets at all times, unlike other units, who wear berets with combat dress and forage caps with formal dress (and are thus, to the Para, condemned as inferior ‘crap hats’). Not only that, but the true Para wears his beret pulled down over his eyes, not over one ear as other berets are worn – a Para who wears his beret wrong is not a real Para…
    Of course, the highest degree of hattedness is SF, who tend to go around bareheaded; the implicit message is “I am so scary that I don’t need to worry about people shouting at me for not wearing a hat”.

  11. May I offer you George Orwell vs Max Beerbohm on the subject of the top hat as a symbol of pre-Second World War England?

  12. You may indeed, and I thank you!

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