Hats Aren’t Just for Losers – The Research


Before World War II, hats were an essential part of western fashion for both women and men. There are lots of theories about why people stopped wearing hats — many blame the enclosed automobile for making hats unnecessary. Others say men didn’t want to wear hats after they were required to in the war. There are those who think John F. Kennedy not wearing a previously obligatory top hat to his inauguration in 1960 was the death knell for men’s hats. All of these may be true, but the point is that until the 1940s, people wore hats on an everyday basis. So when historical costume movies and TV shows are set before World War II, they better have hats!

And yet, hat-wearing in frock flicks can be spotty at best. Recent productions want to be “relatable” and since hardly anyone wears hats today, how could viewers possibly relate to historical characters wearing hats? UGH. Even when hats are used in a historical movie or TV show, they may bear little resemblance to what was worn in the specified historical period. So in preparation for our next Snark Week, I thought it’d be a good idea to take a look at some of the hats that should be worn in various time periods — and see if any frock flicks get it right! Then, during Snark Week, I’ll share a collection of the ones that get it oh-so-very wrong.

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8 Responses

  1. Daniel Milco

    Aage Thaarup, the UK-based Royal milliner, theorised that the decline in women’s hat wearing after WWII was because many young women grew up only wearing hats as part of an uniform, either for school or in the forces, and that because they hadn’t gotten to enjoy and understand the fun of hat wearing, they grew up to only see hats as an prescribed evil for specific events, but also as an unnecessary expense when a headscarf or hood was much more practical. He did launch a special line of hats called “Teen and Twenty” designed for younger women and to be more affordable, but it was not a commercial success. I just finally tracked one of them down last year for my collection (an adorable little white hat with a huge bunch of red cherries) that I would have featured in my book Fashion in the 1950s had I found it sooner.

    I don’t think I heard the JFK top hat story, I always understood that it was more because he habitually never wore a hat and his friend John Cavanagh (the American hatter, not the UK couturier) reportedly told him that by being so stylish and glamorous and hatless, he was screwing up the hat business, and as a result, JFK began carrying around a Cavanagh hat although he rarely wore it, but there was no miraculous revival of hatter fortunes.

    • Trystan L. Bass

      I’d only heard the WWII ‘no hats’ excuse in relation to men, but it seems just as likely for women. Women still kept wearing hats a little bit longer into the 1950s for fashion, esp. in the U.S., but the ’60s killed hats as a common thing. The JFK inauguration story seems apocryphal, but yeah, in general, he wasn’t a hat guy!

  2. Andrew

    The best recounting of the decline in the wearing of men’s hats in the US is the book, Hatless Jack by Neil Steinberg. Centered around the Kennedy story, it traces the decline of mens’ hat wearing beginning in the 1920s. The hatting industry was very well organized and by the mid-1930s their trade journal, Hat Life, was full of articles on this decline. For myself, I think the primary reason was the population shift from rural to urban, and that most urban work, (and commute), was done indoors. You can see the rapid decline from 1945 to 1960 in the number of hat stores in phone books and in the roof heights of cars.

    • Trystan L. Bass

      Hard to say about the rural/urban shift, since that started in the 19th c., esp. in the UK & esp. for women, yet hats were still a big part of fashion for women & men until much later. But it’s likely that many things contributed over time.

  3. Mona Bayard

    I was so happy to see the drawings from (my mother’s book): “The Mode in Hats and Headresses” at the top of this post! That, and its companion book on costume, inspired my lifelong interest.

  4. M.E. Lawrence

    Thank you, Trystan! This might be my favorite Frockers’ deep-dive ever–and I don’t like wearing hats. (Best quote, too: “Bonnets always look prettier…if you’re Isabelle Huppert.” Her talents are many…) I don’t have time to say more, except that now I must watch “Jefferson in Paris” again.


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