by Byron Whitcraft
On an extremely cold winter day a rather curious incident took place. The temperature was in the frigid teens and made all the more unbearable by a stiff wind. So, I was very anxious to get inside the store that was not far off in the distance.
As I entered the vitamin shop that cold Saturday afternoon, I was greeted by a kind gentlemen from behind the counter with some surprising words, “That is a nice Fedora you are wearing.” I do not normally hear comments like that to my rather traditional practice of wearing a hat.
A Man of Many Fedoras
I thanked him for the compliment and then he asked to see my hat. I informed him that I had purchased it in Ecuador. He liked the gray wool Fedora and mentioned that he owned around ten of different styles and sizes.
He had Fedoras for winter as well as lightweight ones for summer. The gentleman proceeded to tell me that he never went out of his house without a hat except when doing manual labor for which he donned a baseball cap.
Needless to say, there was a strong temperamental consonance between us. I mentioned how it was not common for people to use hats like this anymore to which he added, “They are not used at all!”
Indeed in past times, to be properly dressed one had to have a hat as well as a coat and tie. The man commented on how as a child he never saw a man go to town without a hat. Though I did not ask his age, he impressed me as being around sixty years. His childhood probably spanned the last few years of standard hat usage.
The Uses of Hats in History and How It Designated Rank and Profession
Actually, the hat has been used as normal attire since ancient times. The use of straw hats can be seen illustrated on Egyptian tombs dating from 3000 BC. Only in our modern era have people been more reluctant to don a hat with the exceptions being baseball caps, hair nets for cooks, surgeon’s scrub caps and stocking caps for the cold.
Throughout history, the hat has been used for a number of reasons. Sun and rain are both good reasons to don a hat. Ceremonies such as graduations and inaugurations are another.
The military and police have always used hats according to rank. Workers of all sorts use hats that reflect their occupations. Traditionally, a head cook wore a chef’s hat while a farmer used a wide brim hat to protect him from the harsh sun.
Religious ceremonies merit the use of different types of head coverings such as the hood, or zucchetto and miter used by Bishops. Nuns like the Sisters of Charity used to wear veils and head coverings. Royalty have used crowns and diadems suitable to their high calling.
Indeed, the hat has an impressive history and its use has enhanced the personality of each individual who donned one. The hat has played a major role as a sign of respect. Louis XIV, for example, used to tip his hat to his servants when strolling in the Gardens of Versailles. What a shame so much of this has been thrown by the wayside!
Who Was Responsible for the Hat’s Demise?
As I proceeded to pick out the lozenges that I had come to purchase, I thought about the gentleman’s comments and expected he would want to continue our conversation at the checkout counter.
Sure enough, when I approached the counter, he asked me a question, “Do you know who is responsible for the demise of the hat in this country?”
Yes I do. It was John Kennedy,” I replied.
He was a bit surprised that I knew the answer. “You are right. He was the first President not to use a hat. In fact, he didn’t even use a hat at his inauguration.”
He then lamented, “He didn’t like hats, and he put a lot of people out of business.”
After paying for my items, I proceeded to the door and heard one last comment from my new friend. “I am really glad to know there is someone else who has the same feelings and tastes for hats that I do.” I nodded cordially and left.
Food for Thought
This little incident gave me much food for thought. I pondered our conversation and became more convinced of how society today has been impoverished by things like the decline of the hat!
How much has been lost in the modern concrete jungles we have constructed where buildings all look the same and people wear the same clothing that fads dictate. Personality and individuality are gone in a world where torn jeans, shorts, flip flops, tee shirts and sweat suits have become suitable for all occasions whether a birthday party, funeral, wedding, or Mass on Sunday.
What role does the hat play in a society? It plays an essential role. It enhances the identity of each individual and shows the vast variety of vocations, occupations, and roles God called each one to follow.
So, if someone were to ask me if using a hat matters, my answer would be, “Imagine a world with no hats at all. Imagine a Winston Churchill without his Top Hat. Imagine a Queen Elizabeth without her diadem. Imagine a Lord Nelson without his bicorn, or imagine a modest Mexican farmer without his sombrero.”
For a true return to order, all good and wholesome aspects of Christian civilization need to be reintegrated into society. And, yes even something as simple as wearing a hat has an important role in restoring values now long abandoned.