Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The rise and fall of hats: Stetson Whippet advertisement

In 2009 I wrote about hatwearing and four reasons why men wear hats today. I decided to write about hats because it seemed to me that hatwearing (brimmed hats) among men has picked up in the past five years.

So when did hatwearing supposedly die off before making this recent comeback? Some say after World War I, others after World War II and still others say in the 1960s. Here's a Life Magazine ad from the classic American hatmaker Stetson advertising its Whippet fedora. The date of the issue is March 8, 1948.

Stetson Whippet

It's been an elusive question - what decade marked the end of hatwearing and why? It's a question I will address more comprehensively in my book.

9 comments:

seitelman said...

I would say that hat wearing died a slow death starting with President Kennedy.

Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower were often photographed in hats. President Roosevelt often wore a jaunty, well worn fedora. In comparison, I can think of only one photograph President Kennedy wearing a hat, i.e., a top hat on his inauguration day. I can think of no subsequent presidents wearing city hats, such as fedoras or homburgs.

The popular myth is that President Kennedy killed the hat. However, this is disputed in the book, "Hatless Jack". The book states that hat sales started to decline after World War II as fewer returning veterans wanted to wear hats. They thought that that fedoras were the look of their fathers and an older generation.

However, I believe that there is some validity to the thesis that President Kennedy helped accelerate the death of the hat city hat, i.e., the fedora. He was almost never photographed in a hat. President Johnson was only photographed wearing a cowboy hat on his ranch. Every president since Nixon did not wear city hats. I think that even President Reagan, who wore a stroller to one of his inaugurations, went hatless.

It is slightly amusing to see the Commander in Chief go hatless on a freezing inauguration day in January.

sleevehead said...

I think an individual's decision to wear a hat is actually a fairly complex one, reflecting a set of incentives and disincentives. Even presidents aren't immune from the social calculation that occurred at some point last century against hatwearing. More to come in my book!

Anonymous said...

The answer is probably different periods for different countries. In Britain younger men were choosing not to wear hats by the late 1930s, and hats had largely disappeared from the heads of young men by the middle 1950s.

sleevehead said...

Interesting comment and idea to focus on younger men and their decision - yea/nay - to wear a hat.

In an ideal world, we would have survey/questionnaire data tracking age and hat wearing preferences over time. The emergence of a noticeable delta between the two would presumably mark the beginning of the disappearance of hatwearing in the 20th century.

This would be a great little research project I may have to spend some time tracking down. Alternatively, if you are a scholar, researcher or student with knowledge of such survey data, please contact me!

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with the President Kennedy theory. As a boy, I wore straw hats and colorful Tyrolian hats. In my mid teens, my teenage contemporaries made fun of me, so I stopped wearing hats altogether. When I served in the military, I was forced to wear a hat every day for my six year hitch. After that, I refrained from hat wearing until last year. Now, I am a fully committed hat wearing American male. I love Homburgs and Fedoras (must have a minimum of 2 3/8" brim). I like the thirty and forties look. When I meet a fellow hat wearer, I always strike up a conversation. Just to pass the time and get their particular views on hat wearing. Younger guys like the stingy brim type hats, while we seniors go for the more traditional, wider brim hats.

Colors are good, but I have found that you can't go wrong with a light gray and black ribbon. It goes well with most outfits. The hat completes the look of a well-dressed man. I think a good hat makes one walk straighter and taller. They make you feel better all-around.

Anonymous said...

No matter what anyone says, a classic fedora can look bloody cool. Not one of those cheap wool or straw hats one sees those rappers and trendy types wearing, but a Don Draper kind of image will always be cool, even if it's sometimes impractical for the modern age.

Then again, that loss of style is reflected in almost every aspect of modern western civilization.
I suspect that if we placed more value on appearance, perhaps western civilization wouldn't have become so quite so cheap as it is now.

Very sad.

Anonymous said...

If we go back to the original query, about the disappearance of the hat-wearing male, many factors come to mind. The end of WW II certainly played a part. But if you view movies of the late forties and fifties, everyone still wore hats. Automobiles started to have lower roof lines, cutting down head room. I had to look long and hard for a car that had an adjustable drivers seat (one that could be lowered), so I could wear my hat in my car. As hats disappeared from prominent Americans on view, from movies, and from TV, they became less fashionable. Heck, fashion eventually disappeared during the sixties. Blue jeans, tie dyed shirts, no socks and flip-flops became the American choice for everyday street garb.

Sure, hip-hop, and rappers may wear outlandish hats and clothes, but they are DRESSED. And DRESSED UP if I may say so. They take time to coordinate their respective outfits, and I respect them for that. I think every male citizen of the world could take a lesson from them.

Start with a great pair of shoes, nice, well fitting pants (up around the waist - where they belong), a nice shirt and tie, sport jacket, blazer or suit coat, and topped off with your choice of matching or contrasting hat. It can be anything with a full brim. BASEBALL HATS are not acceptable,with this outfit.

If summer, you can wear a nice straw hat, but get a good one, not a cheap $10 version woven from your neighbors zebra grass. Spring, fall or winter, and you can get into a nice wool or fur felt, brimmed hat.
Entry level wool felt hats can usually be purchased for under fifty bucks, while a nice fur-felt hat usually runs a minimum of $125 to $150 and up.

I'm rather a novice at hat-wearing, and do not claim to be an expert, but I do have my likes and dislikes.
Give me a nice Fedora like Bogart used to wear, or a Homburg (remember Michael Corleone, in Godfather I), and I'm happy.

Anonymous said...

Right up to the 1950's hats were a commonplace, even essential, item for men. Every male had a hat - usually one for work, one for play (and sometimes one for "best"). This code of manner virtually vanished by the mid 60's as attitudes became less conservative, and far more liberal. Particularly in regards to fashion.

I find it interesting that, as our attitudes are again becomming more cautious and moderate (in light of the gfc, terrorism, global warming etc), men are starting to wear hats again....

Anonymous said...

My dad, a WW2 veteran, only wore hats occasionally. I probably have worn hats longer, and more frequently than he ever did. But, that's my choice. I love wearing hats.

Fr the most part, the majority of toppers I see are baseball caps. They have their place, but I believe they need to be removed indoors, something most baseball cap wearers seem not to be aware of.

This is just another unfortunate consequence of today's liberal acceptance of everything goes. Just look at the entertainment industry. A meat dress? Are you kidding me? Fashion fopahs on television. I think, for the most part they are a deliberate attempt to gain more ratings.

Men of the world - start wearing real hats again. Help bring back fashion sense to today's society!