I can wear a hat or take it off, but either way it’s a conversation piece. ~Hedda Hopper
If you work in the history field, and especially with photographs, you will notice many things about the public, about people and how they behave and dress, that have changed drastically over the decades. Whether for good or ill, change is inevitable. Consider photography. Once it was you in your best clothes or a special occasion to treasure a memento of, now, it has evolved to be so common and unspectacular that one can take hundreds of photos of a cloud or a flower.
One thing that has changed, be it for good or ill is up to you, is how people dress in public. There are exceptions where one still dresses up or for the occasion, like for work or a party. However, consider the everyday person going to a school event or going to the store, even to a sporting event. Up until the 1950s to 1960s, no one would be out in public without being properly, what some would say is “formally,” dressed. You would never see clothes with holes in them as fashion, clothes that showed your underclothes, and most importantly, you would never run to the store in your pajamas.
However, in looking at these old photos, another common feature of being “properly” dressed was the addition of a hat. Men dressed in their suits and ties with a hat and often a walking stick. Women, depending on the era, a day dress or nice suit with a hat to suit the clothing style.
If your head was not covered out in public, it was most improper. You were scandalous. You wore your hat to church, to a baseball game, to a picnic, to work and shopping. Once inside a house or venue for an event, hats were politely removed, but remained on if outdoors.
Why? Was it only for the sake of propriety? Of fashion? Of hygiene? Or to protect you from the sun? It was perhaps a mix of all of these. No one reason for the wearing of, or for the cycling out of fashion of, hats have ever been pinpointed. Whatever the reason, you once showed off the latest hat fashion rather than your newest hair style. Less worrying about the perfect haircut and hiding those grays with a stylish hat to wear in public.
The making of hats was an art form, and we have many beautiful pieces in our collection at the ACHS. From bonnets to pillbox to sun hats, a selection can be seen here. Beyond events like the Ascot or the Kentucky Derby, or even things like royal weddings, could, or should, hats make a resurgence? With all the beautiful options at our fingertips, why not? While many wear hats still, a baseball hat or cowboy hat, compare these more generic and functional styles against some of the beauties in these pictures. Let’s bring back hats!
A hat is a flag, a shield, a bit of armor, and the badge of femininity. A hat is the difference between wearing clothes and wearing a costume; it’s the difference between being dressed and being dressed up; it’s the difference between looking adequate and looking your best. A hat is to be stylish in, to glow under, to flirt beneath, to make all others seem jealous over. A piece of magic is a hat. – Martha Sliter
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Heidi Gould is the administrator of the Aitkin County Historical Society.