14th July 2020 I’m very fond of hats. The old adage ‘if you want to get ahead, get a hat’ really gels with me. Nowadays, hats are not considered essential everyday wear, and yet not all that long ago to be seen in public without a hat was just not the done thing. Even in my youth, during the 60s and 70s, my mother would put at least a headscarf on before she went out, although admittedly that was mostly to keep her intricately piled-on ‘up-do’ in place, especially if she was riding pillion on my dad’s motor-bike. I don’t think that happened an awful lot, and it was a sight I admit I never witnessed. I can’t imagine my mum being so unladylike as to sit astride a motorcycle, somehow! Her mother, my nana, would never have left the house without a hat, even if it was just coming to meet me and my brother from school. In fact, one of my favourite photos of Nana is when she was a young woman, looking like she’s in her Sunday best, in a pleated skirt and summer coat, with white gloves, bag and a lovely cloche hat – very fashionable in the 1920s.
Of course, hats go back much further than the last century. For centuries, head coverings were an indication of position in society, from the lowliest peasant to the highest in the land. A hat would reveal your status, especially for women. An aristocratic lady in medieval times would wear a wimple and a veil covering all of her hair, her neck and the sides of her face, similar to the wimple worn today by nuns in traditional orders. The lady might also wear a Hennin, on top of the wimple. A Hennin was a long, conical hat, often with strips of gauze or silk trailing from the point, with a band under the chin to hold it on. Think of all the drawings in fairy tales of princesses kept in towers and you’ll know what I mean. The highest ladies in the land might wear over their wimples an Escoffion, which was worn across the top of the head and rose into two points, one each side, often covered by a veil.
A young girl might leave her head uncovered, or at least just wear a small cap or hood, but once married, a woman’s hair – considered her crowning glory and a very erotic part of her body – would only ever been seen by her husband and her maid(s). Loose hair denoted purity and virginity. After her wedding, a woman would wear a coif, that is, a simple close-fitting cap that covered the sides, top and back of the head, often with strings to tie under the chin. Coifs were worn in the Middle Ages by both men and women of all stations and made of all sorts of materials including, in the men’s case, leather and chain-mail. A lady’s indoor coif would be of white linen, possibly intricately embroidered, and then would be covered by a gable or French hood in Tudor times. Of course, as the ‘Virgin Queen’, Elizabeth I never wore her hair covered, instead, wearing intricate hairstyles (and later wigs), threaded with pearls and gemstones topped with a coronet.
But perhaps I’m going back too far in history with these headwear fashions. Keeping it a little more modern, even in Victorian times a woman would wear a lace cap in the house and would be considered improperly dressed outside the home if she didn’t wear a hat – and some of those hats were phenomenal in design. Think of the film ‘My Fair Lady’, in the scenes at the races and you’ll get some idea. And even the poorest in those days would wear a hat or a cap of some description or in the case of a woman, cover her head with a shawl. Even whilst campaigning for women’s rights, the suffragettes had rules that they must always look feminine and elegant as a way of attracting other women to ‘the Cause’, and also to refute the opinions of their critics that they were just mannish and hysterical women. So, the hats were on, and the bigger the better, until in 1908 a law was brought in to say that hatpins were not allowed to be more than 9 inches long so they could not be used as weapons!
Of course, in our multicultural society, some cultures still demand their women keep their heads covered with hijabs or even the whole body under a burka. Not forgetting that visiting certain Christian places of worship insist on the hair being covered. But for the most part, wearing a hat is a personal choice, not a requirement.
I didn’t mean for this to be a history lesson – so wake up at the back! I think wearing a hat these days takes a lot of confidence. You have to be prepared for people to notice you, and the attention isn’t always welcome! When I say ‘hat’ I don’t mean the slouchy beanies or pom-pom hats so beloved by millennials, or the ubiquitous baseball caps worn by anyone and everyone doing anything remotely sporty – though the fashion for wearing those back to front like rappers and ‘gangstas’ does my head in. No, I mean proper hats, and I don’t mean just for weddings!
I love when the summer comes and sunhats of all shapes and sizes pop-up from everywhere – for men and women. My late beloved, Glyn, used to wear most often a ‘bucket hat’, especially when out on his long walks every day. A hat was essential for him, since he was bald and the skin on his head was sensitive. I remember when we went on holiday to Lanzarote one year and somehow, he managed to forget his hat when we went to visit the house of Cesar Manrique – the island’s most famous artist who is responsible for all those beautiful wind sculptures found on most of the roundabouts. Anyway, there didn’t seem to be anywhere to buy a replacement hat, so I went to the gift shop and bought a souvenir silk scarf with a striking red, black, blue and white Manrique design, and showed Glyn how to wear it, bandana style. He spent the rest of the day looking remarkably like country music icon Willie Nelson, and thoroughly enjoying himself! It was not a fashion that he adopted though, I think he felt like a Hell’s Angel missing his Harley! I didn’t mind the bucket hat, but I much preferred him wearing a very smart straw Panama that he had – it was kind of open weave and light brown with a leather trim, and he looked very debonair in that. For his last milestone birthday, in May 2010, we threw a 1930s themed party at our house in Mill Bank. It was a wonderful day, and most people made a huge effort to dress the part – including Glyn dressed like one of the rich old gentlemen you used to see in sophisticated holiday resorts, in a pair of white flannel trousers, a pale-blue and white striped shirt, a navy-blue blazer and a cravat (actually, the same scarf from Lanzarote!) and topped it off with the aforementioned Panama hat. He looked wonderful and had a fantastic day – as did we all.
I’m a sucker for a man in a nice hat. Think Cary Grant and Humphrey Bogart in their Fedoras and you’ll see what I mean. Frank Sinatra was another devotee, as well as Paul Newman and Robert Redford in The Sting. And of course, Harrison Ford playing Indiana Jones has brought the style back into fashion giving rise to sightings of Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp sporting them in style. I just spent ten minutes in heaven after Googling for examples and came across ‘Famous Men Wearing Hats’ on Pinterest, where I was surprised to find so many movie stars wearing flat caps! This was another favourite style that Glyn used to wear – but I wasn’t aware that it seems to be a huge fashion statement over in Hollywood today – Leonardo di Caprio appears to be a big fan! The recent TV series Peaky Blinders has done a lot for the flat cap too, although in my opinion it’s not as stylish as a Fedora, but maybe it’s easier to wear. Likewise, I don’t think anyone these days wears a Top Hat unless its for a wedding or the races – but I can understand that I guess. I can’t imagine the response to a bloke rocking up to a nightclub in a Top Hat and tails nowadays, like old Fred Astaire used to. The world was a much more stylish place in those days.
I guess movies have always had an influence on fashion – and throughout the forties even though clothing was rationed, they still looked wonderful, with a hat for every occasion, though somewhat smaller and neater due to the utilitarian restrictions. And then the fifties arrived with the ‘New Look’ – everything bigger and brighter and more elaborate than ever! Although I should also give mention to Jackie Kennedy favouring the ‘Pillbox’ style that became her signature – very simple and sweet.
Back to the men – I’m very fond of a Stetson too – thinking of Newman/Redford as Butch and Sundance, and anything starring Clint Eastwood! I love to spend time watching the New Country videos available on You Tube where I can satisfy both of my longings – great music and men in hats!
At my second wedding, we had a 1920s themed celebration, my groom Trevor and his best-man brother John wore black tuxedos with bow ties and white straw boater hats and resembled the image of FBI agents back in the day! I had hunted high and low at the time to find those lovely cloche hats much beloved of my Nana, but there were none to be had. I ended up just making rings of flowers and pearls for my bridesmaids copied from a photo I found which sufficed, with something a little more elaborate for myself to top off my newly ‘bobbed’ hair.
It’s a bit sad really that we ladies only tend to wear lovely hats for weddings and the races – apart from breaking out the old straw hat when the sun shows its face. My current favourite hat is a straw fedora style, quite open weave and bendy, to which I’ve attached a large silk flower with various leaves and such – it fulfils my bohemian sensibilities and I love to wear it. But I own lots of hats, even though these days I rarely go anywhere. I have a marvellous black felt Fedora which I wear in the winter with a long black wool coat with a fur collar, and black leather gloves. I like to think it makes me look mysterious and interesting á la Garbo, but I think possibly I just look like old Uncle Fester from the Addams Family on an evening out! I also have a black furry Russian style hat, and a wide-brimmed purple felt hat for when I’m feeling particularly flamboyant. It’s my nod to the Jenny Joseph poem ‘Warning’, the first couple of lines of which are: ‘When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple/With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.’ It’s a poem which sums up exactly how I feel about my age – only I combine it into wearing a purple hat – and it’s now for me, and not in the future!
Do you like hats? Do you have a favourite style, or just wear what you feel comfortable in? Drop me a line and tell me your opinion – or better still – let’s have a little competition this week. Email me your photo of you in your favourite hat, no matter what the occasion, and I’ll choose the best (in my humble opinion). The winner will receive a copy of ‘Charlie’s Story’ the limited-edition companion novella to my Monday is Washing Day Trilogy. Entries by next Thursday (21st July) and I’ll announce the winner in my blog. The email address to send to is firstname.lastname@example.org
I look forward to hearing from you.
Until next week,
I remember my Grannie by buying her hats at Miss Robbs in Barrow.