LC Van Savage
Hats! Glorious Hats!
Among the thousands of clothing items out there, my favorites have always been hats. I simply love them. Alas, I look terrible in them and when I wear one, my well-meaning friends and family regard me with expressions of disbelief and horror and I realize I have again disgraced myself. I know their glances are not so well-meaning. But I love hats anyway and have been on a life-long search for one in which I’ll look great and won’t make people recoil. So far, no luck.
Hats have always been one of the ways people used to establish their own persona, and likewise to identify that of acquaintances in a crowd; People could always recognize who were the less wealthy and who were not, by their hats. Down through time and history, hats have marked who were the ones in charge, who were the worker bees, and who were not. It’s not like that today, because even kings and queens are seen sporting baseball caps, but back in the day, hats announced one’s identity and often even one’s occupation.
Were hats always worn for warmth? Frequently, but mostly, I think, they were a status symbol. Here in Maine, most of us care little for High Fashion head gear when the temps dive below zero and our nose hairs freeze into tiny spears. Hats, to those of the cold weather persuasion, are essential for life itself. But when the temps rise a bit, hats can display a bit more message. After all, we humans were not given gigantic boney head crests or colorful apices to flash about like a prehistoric reptile. Now, all we have up there is hair, so we have to put something on top to show we are better, richer, smarter and definitely taller. As time passed, we worked at wearing expensive headpieces, often bejeweled, to tell the world we were upper crust. After all, only the lowly working class wore working class hats so everyone would know their place in the caste system which we pretend we don’t have here in the US. It would have been unseemly if a shabby laborer’s hat were on the head of a big deal business mogul.
And so many hats in the last of the 1800s became large and fancy and were often adorned with feathers, so much so that bird species found themselves on the tottering edge of extinction. Many millions of birds had to die so that milady could have their long, beautiful tail feathers, wobbling and waving on her crazy hat. Sometimes even the entire bird, now taxidermed, would be wired to her chapeau, perched firmly amongst fake flowers and grapes. The more dead animals and birds, fake flowers, real feathers, veils, strings of pearls and other “jewels” and ribbons that a woman could pile onto her hat, the more she hoped it would proclaim she was a wealthy, upper mucky-muck.
And those huge platters-of-everything hats were a status symbol, and they were glorious! The old photos of them are wondrous to see. One wonders how female necks could support all that finery; and how did women anchor those creations to their heads? I’ll tell you—hat pins, a huge business back then, now gone the way of the buggy whip trade.
Regardless of temperature, precipitation and wind velocity, atop their heads were those huge, overly-decorated gaudy, amazing platters covered with anything and everything. Women seemed able to walk the streets in hurricanes, those enormous, gorgeous displays staying in place. They could because of those long, expensive hat pins and also because women back then grew their hair out, and out, and out—and then twisted it up on their heads in what was the Gibson Girl look---and so to that large nest they pinned those huge examples of au courant millinery. Milliners back then were always busy. Not so much anymore.
Today’s women would not think of wearing those gigantic, heavily laden hats as status symbols, but let’s be honest; we do like to flash a little Prada, Gucci, Coach, Chanel, and Versace if we are lucky enough to snag one of those labeled items from Goodwill.
Women back then---well, they were something else! They really did suffer for their beauty. But in those days, and maybe even in these days, grandmothers’ advice for their long-suffering granddaughters is that it “takes pains to have beauty.” Back in the 1800s, it surely did. Today’s women would never endure such idiocy. Beauty can actually be comfortable. So can status symbols.
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