“A hat is a flag, a shield, a bit of armor, and the badge of femininity. A hat is the difference between wearing clothes and wearing a costume; it’s the difference between being dressed and being dressed up; it’s the difference between looking adequate and looking your best. A hat is to be stylish in, to glow under, to flirt beneath, to make all others seem jealous over, and to make all men feel masculine about. A piece of magic is a hat.”
Just about any accessory can seem just that: an addition, an extra fleeting thought, or a complement to the overall idea. It’s only seen as a small piece in a larger puzzle. Such attitudes make accessories appear to be a second thought, but there is a great amount of thinking and deciding in these details. Some accessories are deemed “essential,” but the one I regrettably find to disappear from society is the hat. In recent decades hats have left the mainstream fashion scene, with excuses like “Hats don’t look good on me” and “I’m not really a hat person.” Decades ago you would have never heard this response since hats were an indicator of the time period, of status and of personality. Does this still hold true in modern times?
Hats are more than decoration. Materials and styles for hats could indicate wealth and status. During the Tudor reign, for example, hats were made of velvet and adorned with jewels and gold ornaments to indicate the wearer’s wealth. When I think of the numerous crowns and jeweled caps worn by Kings and Queens versus the simple caps worn by servants in Shakespeare shows I’ve worked on, it’s hard to imagine Richard III wearing a plain cap and veil that Juliet’s Nurse would have donned. Seeing current photographs of attendees at the Sydney Cup for horse racing, I can hardly imagine anything but the elaborately decorated and brightly colored fascinators filling the stadium. Would Queen Elizabeth II be caught wearing a plain cotton bucket hat? Absolutely not.
Hats can tell us a great deal about the wearer. Not only can we infer about wealth and status, but hats can tell us what people think of themselves. Hats illustrate character and a person’s current state of mind. Cloches from the 1920s are a stark contrast to their large-brimmed and elaborate Edwardian predecessors from the 1910s. As short hairstyles like the bob cut became more prominent it seems these were all a response of rebellion to the strict and proper lifestyles of the previous decade. It seems people of the 1920s were making a statement about their psyche–they were seeking to rebel and reject the commonly accepted expectations of earlier years. Growing up as a child in the mountains I knew the importance of fleece caps to keep in the warmth as I skied down the uncertain terrain of snowy hillsides. Now that I’m older I recognize that same importance, but created my own Viking hats to add personality and character. Working in southern California, I also realized the necessity of a hat to provide protection from the San Diego sun, but I made sure to pick a hat that had a style and decoration I approved of. Thus, I saw hats beyond functionality as they also became an expression of personal style.
Hats indicate a certain lifestyle. A mob cap from centuries ago shows a pioneer woman or poor woman in London protecting herself from the elements and the hardships of her life. Modern fleece hats indicate a life of snowboarding or skiing, a wide-brimmed hat tells us someone is headed to the beach or a sunny climate, and a bonnet is reserved for a parent ready to cover and protect their newborn. Ready to have a night out on the town? Then a fascinator or cocktail hat will illustrate someone who enjoys life and has a great deal of creativity and imagination.
Hats are a symbol of identity. During World War II, women in W.R.A.F. (Women’s Royal Air Force) wore uniform caps with badges to identify their rank and role in the organization. Even nurses during World War I were distinguished in hierarchy by their cap styles. In my own life one of my earliest memories of wearing hats was a baseball cap for the Los Angeles Dodgers. A fitting choice since I was named after the original team “Brooklyn Dodgers,” my dad’s favorite team. The blue and white baseball cape became a hat to express his team loyalty and identity.
To my delight, my interest for hats grew beyond experiencing it as an additional accessory as I experimented with covering and construction in college and then began workshops with a local milliner in Fort Collins, Colorado. As I began to shape straw, felt, and buckram around hat blocks I began to learn more about the beauty of this accessory and the process of making it. At times I wondered if this is how Michelangelo felt carving his statue “David” or if Monet had the same energy and fascination I had while painting the water lilies in his Giverny garden. This was no longer a commodity I placed on my head, it was a work of art, a masterpiece of my self-expression. Others today may not feel or understand this enthusiasm, but they still think of hats as a form of identity, style, and character, whether they realize it or not. Just go to Louisville, Kentucky for the Kentucky Derby or a baseball stadium and you’ll see what I mean.
Want to see some hats I’ve made? Visit Passport Couture’s Tumblr page in the next few days to see some of my work!
Want to learn more about hats? Then check out these incredible books:
Women’s Hats, Headdresses, and Hairstyles, Georgine De Courtais, Dover Publications, Inc. 1973.
From the Neck Up: An Illustrated Guide to Hatmaking, Denise, Dreher, Madhatter Press, 1981.