Saturday, March 05, 2011

Rambling on about hats

Look at photos from the early twentieth century, and everyone - men, women and children - is wearing a hat. Everyone.

Even up until the fifties, when I was a child, most people wore hats. We wore caps to school, caps that had a little brim out the front made of hard card which was good for flicking someone else with.

And then suddenly this all stopped. It was as if overnight a switch had been reset and hats became invisible. You have to wonder what happened to them all.

We've never quite gone back to the total hat scene, although hats of various sorts are much more visible now than they were a decade ago. A few weeks ago, for a few days in a row, there was a man in a suit, on the bus, wearing a hat that looked like the one on the right - it's the sort of hat very few people wear these days.

Which reminds me that a couple of decades ago some brave soul started up a hat shop here in Dunedin, at a time when hats were practically invisible. A friend of mine bought one that was even more stylish than the one pictured, and wore it briefly - until he realised that just no one was wearing anything like that. And the shop closed within months of opening, as I recall, which was hardly surprising.

Women's hats, of the kind that used to be worn by every woman (with exceedingly extravagant versions available to those in 'society'), appear at weddings, but not much anywhere else. (My wife wore one to my son's wedding.) We seem to have moved on from the age when the hat was a symbol (more than something to protect your head) and when people spent a good deal of time on windy days holding onto their hats - or chasing them along the street. And we've certainly moved on from the time when it was normal to wear a hat,whatever the weather, and whatever the occasion.

In the hotel room we stayed at in Heidelberg four years ago, the only other item in the room was a hatstand - which seemed a bit optimistic.

However, having said that hats are well nigh invisible, that's not quite the truth. Hats of the more formal kind, with a brim all round seem to have gone into hiding, but hats in general (covering a wide range of styles) still appear - if you keep your eyes open.

Men and boys wear the baseball type cap (thankfully the right way round for the most part) and these are particularly useful for wearing as a kind of shade to keep the sun out of your eyes. Consequently I wear one through the summer when I'm walking to work, and even well into the winter - both to keep my head warm and also to act as a shade against the very low winter sun. I even wore a cloth (or flat) cap for a time - someone had given it to me and it just suited the purpose.

And talking of winter, that's when a vast array of hats appear: beanies that fit all around the bonce, (by beanie I mean the NZ version, not the one in the picture) and the occasional balaclava, and those peculiar knitted things full of colour that hang around down the ears and would loop around under the chin if it was stylish to do them up (I've just discovered they're called a 'chullo'). Knitted hats, in fact, are very common in the winter, and certainly in our climate they're great for keeping the heat in (although I've read somewhere recently that we don't actually lose a large percentage of our heat from our heads after all - wish scientists would get their facts right and stick with them).

Wikipedia, of course, has articles on the hat - this one has a great list of them with photos attached - it surprising just what a wide variety there are around the world. You can even buy Wikipedia trucker hats with various sayings on them...rather like the slogans on t-shirts.

Well, there you go. How to ramble about the hat when I could possibly, and probably should be, doing something else. What the heck, I'm nearly retired!
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