When Men Wore Hats

Whatever happened to the ubiquitous wearing of hats in western civilization?  There was a time when men in Europe or the Americas would not be seen in public without either a fedora, a wool cap, or a boater in summer (women in hats is a whole nother story).  Fashions obviously change, but what precipitated men retreating to ball caps, if they wear any hat at all?  Was it a comet like the one that took out the dinosaurs?

          In most species the male is more colorful or more dramatic looking than the female.  Check out a male and female cardinal side by side, or a male and female lion.  The guys get the flair. With humans, the female tends to be the fashion plate, though there have always been exceptions like early Elton John or Liberace.  In the sixteen and seventeen hundreds in Europe, upper class men tended to be the peacocks. They wore bright clothing, and more importantly, their broad brimmed hats were a sight to behold. Decked out with feathers and fancy hat bands, these creations not only made a fashion statement, but protected the wearer from human waste dumped from second story windows.

          As the centuries progressed, western men, in public, were still decked out in tricornes, top hats, bowlers, homburgs, Panamas and fedoras. However, by the 1960's all of this began to change.  Going hatless became de rigueur.   Most hats ended up in second hand stores or at swap meets.  The baseball cap was barely in its ascendency.  What caused this seismic change? In a word (or two) John F. Kennedy.  Kennedy made going bareheaded in public "cool." It didn't hurt that he had a head of hair which would cover a small island.  Suddenly, the windblown look, at least for men, became the norm. If you were bald, you'd better invest in sunscreen, because the hat thing was no longer happening.  There would always be holdouts to the "hatless" brigades, but walking around in a deer stalker did not signal "in crowd." There were of course genre exceptions like cowboys and military men, but the mainstream succumbed to the nature boy look. Hat makers were throwing themselves off bridges, just like during the Great Depression.

          On some level the eventual emergence of ball caps kinda saved the day.  Largely as a function of team loyalty (Chicago Cubs, oh my) or advertising (Bobbi Joe’s Tiki Bar), more and more guys wore these hats on a daily basis in public and private.

        "Honey, do you have to wear that hat at the table?"

        "Look, Ma, I don't tell you to take off your makeup first."

Ball caps are so prevalent that I once taught a college class where most of the guys and half the girls were adorned with said headgear.  Never a thought to remove the covering so I could more easily see their bored faces.

          Will more varied and formal headgear ever make a substantial comeback or must we just watch episodes of Madmen and Inside the American Mob to relive the golden era of male sartorial splendor?  Unfortunately the primacy of the hatless look is probably here to stay unless you live in Afghanistan where men without pancake hats and beards are summarily executed. Maybe that’s the way to bring back hats. I’m just gonna go grab my Arizona Feeds cap and pray for rain.