The Hat, A Measuring Tool For Society


The hat, for more than half of the 20th century the fedora was an essential part of an outfit, but something interesting happened in the early nineteen sixties, fedoras were removed from most parts of society. Speculation has been made about many reasons for the disappearance of the fedora and hats of the like. What we are going to examine is the history of the hat, its emergence and abrupt disappearance from popular culture, and ask the question what happened to the hat?

It would be nearly impossible to chronicle every type of hat and their contributions to popular culture, so we will start in the year 1882. A woman named Gemma Bellincioni was a soprano and the first woman to play Princess Fedora Romazova in the Victorien Sardou opera Fedora. It was in this opera that the Princess wore a hat similar a fedora, hence its name. There is an interesting connection to be made between the Italian opera and the stereotyped Italian prohibition era gangsters in the movies and popular culture, often seen wearing fedoras. Perhaps the very fact that the fedora was introduced to the public through an Italian medium made it more popular among Italian culture in the early 20th century. Or perhaps they are merely wearing a hat as did most everyone.

Practicality is one of many pluses of the fedora. You can fold the hat and store it with out compromising it, so wearing the fedora to business meetings and removing the hat in doors is very practical. Also the hats are fairly warm and could help out in rainy weather due to the felt and the large brim. This might explain the popularity among business men in Chicago or New York City in the early 1900’s. This begs these questions; are we less practical or more practical today? And does the production of other more practical objects that make the practicality of the previously practical object obsolete?

Today, social status along with quality and quantity do not necessarily go hand and hand with practicality, although at times we are far more practical. Here are three examples: The sports car, it gets bad gas mileage and is more expensive, yet it is fast and stylish. This is a contrast to the fedora that was both stylish and practical. On the other hand a cheaper car that gets better gas mileage, is less stylish and more practical. This too contrasts the fedora which still occupies both attributes. A fairly good example is the mp3 player. Having a lot of your favorite songs anywhere you go is very practical. However there is a problem, when a wave is converted to an mp3 you loose almost half of the audio file. So you are taking a fairly good quality file and making it worse essentially so you can have a larger quantity of worse quality files, granted you rarely can notice the difference. Sometimes practicality comes at a small price. Nonetheless this is a good example of how we are practical and stylish. Stylish? The iPod made the mp3 player stylish. The white headphones associated with the iPod made it popular to wear headphones and made the iPod a status symbol. And like the fedora, it was in the beginning an item that was reserved for wealthier people but crossed over into the lower classes of society with time.

One of the reasons for the end of the fedora sited on the Wikipedia fedora site was the “shrinking automobiles of the mid-50s, which often made it difficult to wear a hat while driving”. This might answer the question as to whether or not practicality is simply based on production of more practical products thereby possibly making another product obsolete. But in this case I don’t think that argument holds water or explains the nearly complete vanishing of the fedora. One thing to site would be the fact that the popularity of the hat was just as popular (if not more) in big cities where public transportation and walking to destinations would be more the norm. The practicality of the car is not inferior to the hat because the hat has not lost its ability to fold up once inside the car. Even if it was a stiffer hat, placing the hat somewhere else in the vehicle is not that hard to do. Also, being inside the car might qualify for being indoors which means the hat would come off anyway. So while this argument might work in the case of some products, in this one it does not.

To understand the disappearance of the fedora and hats of the like you have to look at what this item in particular represents. The fedora represents the first half of the 20th century, it represents an older generation, an old way of life, a way of living that people (kids) in the 1960’s thought was the wrong way to live. They saw the past fifty years as being marred by wars, the depression, and prohibition, which in reality were the growing pains of a modern society and the way of the world. But the counterculture wanted nothing to do with the culture of their parents. They were not so much looking for their own identity as much as they were looking for a way to shed themselves of the identity of their parents’ generation. And in shedding the identity of that generation they also shed what was thought to be an essential article of clothing, the hat.

During the time of the counterculture not everything was bad. There were some good things that came about, like equal rights for all races, some good music, and other good things. The goal of this is not to diminish that good. But I do think it is fair to say that a lot of bad things came about in the way of drugs, sex, and rejection of God.

And so the hats came off. This could be a greater metaphor for the sixties and all the years up until today. They literally took the protective gear away from the head of America, and opened the inside of the country socially to other problems. To a degree deep within this movement (maybe not evident to all of its participants) was a collectivist mentality. A desire for everyone to agree and to get along. The fact that within all humanity is the possibility of good or evil negates all of those ideas. It was also a desire for less responsibility, and a want for the government take care of a lot of your life economically, while you enjoy the good parts of life, the parts that are on an emotional level. Only now are we feeling the repercussions, or the rain storms and cold weather that come along with not wearing our hat outside. The hat could be equivalent to the morals that we uphold, and that could be viewed as a gift form God. Just as the hat protects us from the storms so to do our morals that we hold so dear. Our morals protect us from messing up and in time hurting ourselves and the people around us. What the counterculture did was reject the morals that got us those 186 years as a nation and demolished the hat. By opening ourselves up to a very large amount of promiscuous sex and drugs, both problems that are still plaguing our society today. These actions opened up the head of America, leaving us a vulnerable state where a few blows to the head and a few storms could greatly hurt us.

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One Response to “The Hat, A Measuring Tool For Society”

  1. That was…extensive.

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