For centuries, hats were part of every wardrobe, for both men and women. Even the poor had some kind of head covering to wear. Popular men’s hat styles from recent history that have been killed off include the fedora, flat cap, homburg, panama, pork pie, straw boater, top hat, and trilby. Women had far more styles to choose from, and hat fashions for ladies changed far more frequently than men’s styles. Today, unless they work outdoors most people don’t wear hats anymore, especially in western nations. We’ve all pondered why society has nixed the noggin-gear in recent decades. The most common explanation that I bet we’ve all heard is that John F. Kennedy didn’t wear one to his inauguration and everyone went wild over the new president’s fashion statement. Well, that’s a myth, at least in part. (I’ve seen pictures!) JFK did wear a top hat to his inauguration, although apparently he had taken it off prior to giving his speech. And during his time in office he rarely wore one. So that myth may be partially true. But, there has to be more to the mystery than that. So really, whodiddit?
Let’s investigate to see if we can figure out whodunnit. The Gentleman’s Gazette has rounded up a few suspects for interrogation. The first of the suspects is central heating and air conditioning, alias: climate control. In an age hardly anyone living today can remember, buildings were cold and drafty or hot and humid, depending on the weather. Same for automobiles, and trains, or horse-drawn carriages. Hats helped keep the wearer warm in the cold months and kept the sun off the head and out of the eyes in the hot months. As technology made it possible to reliably control temperatures of buildings and automobiles, it gradually became unnecessary to dress warm in the winter or sweat in the summer. People acclimated to being indoors all the time where it was always comfortably “room temperature”. When Elvis had to leave the building he travelled in a heated or air conditioned car. Hats just weren’t needed anymore when their was always a roof overhead and a climate controlled space.
The next possibility is the disappearance of social classes. Prior to the world wars, hats often indicated to which class the wearer belonged. Im the nineteenth century, working class men often wore flat caps, while the wealthy wore top hats, to state an obvious example. In the twentieth century, the entire concept of classes became unpopular. Hats became unpopular by extension, as they were associated with the class structure. Or so says one hunch.
The third defendant is transportation. Whereas in an earlier age, carriages, trains, trolleys, and steamships had ample, even excessive, headroom, cars and planes of the modern age just don’t. So while wearing a baseball cap in an airliner or a sports car is no problem, a top hat is going to be awkward.
Suspect number four goes by several aliases: the internet, social media, and memes. We’ve all seen how merciless memes can be, and they have been ruthless to classic hats. Internet influencers have made hats uncool.
Lastly, I’ve got my own hunch whodunnit: Baby Boomers. We are the original counter-culture, the rebels without a clue. My generation rejected just about everything that prior generations embraced. Well, at least until we grew up and accepted alot of things. But most of us never quite got the class and charm of hats.
Question Of The Night: Which fashions would you like most to come back into style?