Sunday, April 09, 2006

Ah, those mad hatters...

What is it about hats that have caused people at various times in history to completely loose all sense of proportion? I’m not talking about esthetics here…I know that fashion changes and outfits that Liberace would have found tacky were considered everyday wear in another time.

I’m just talking about the size of the hat relative to the size of the head on which it sits. For example, from about the last decade of the nineteenth century to the first decade of the twentieth century, women’s hats grew to a size only slightly smaller than an ottoman (the foot stool…not the empire). These creations were so large they had to be held in place with oversized, dangerous looking hatpins, presumably stuck through the hair and not the scalp.

Men have not been exempt from this phenomenon. Consider the famous stovepipe hat that not even Lincoln, as tall as he was, could pull it off (the look that is…I’m pretty sure the hat came off). Then there’s the sombrero, the design of which probably had it’s roots in providing protection from the sun, but it still ended up with way more brim than is needed for the job.

Of course, it’s not always a case of the hat being too big, sometimes it went wrong the other way. The pillbox hat immediately springs to mind, though how women were convinced to wear a fashion item that was clearly inspired by an organ grinder’s monkey is a mystery to me. In previous centuries Asia has also produced some variants on the tiny hat, so these mysterious lapses in millinery proportions transcend borders.

Historically speaking the world’s military forces have also produced the occasional doozy, but I don’t include them because the general public didn’t wear them and the men who did had no choice.

Oddly enough, no other fashion accessory that I know of has ever been affected by this tendency. I’ve never heard of people wearing gloves or shoes that are three sizes too big or too small. "What about those boots with the eight inch heels from the early seventies?" I hear you ask. Well, they don’t count either because again, other than Glam rockers and Frankenstein’s monster, most people never wore them.

All in all, hat sizes seem to have settled down, but I have this dreadful feeling that it would only take one really popular celebrity wearing an absurdly proportioned hat to start it all up again. Let us hope that the fashion police stay vigilant and long live the baseball cap!


puppytoes said...

i hate to disagree with you, but there was a time when men wore stupid looking shoes that extended well beyond normal lengths. well beyond.

(for the record, i am not making this up!)

the shoe was known as the poulaine and came into popularity around the 11th century. and, as i'm sure you've guessed, it was shaped like a phallus. the toe extended anywhere from 4 to 14 inches (the longer the toe, the more abundant the corresponding body part allegedly was) in order to keep the toe "erect", it was stuffed with something "stiff", like moss or wool. ouch!) and neither king (edward IV) nor pope could stop the fashion craze, which lasted around 300 years!

i'm guessing the stove pipe hat served the same purpose... tho' i base that on nothing but the fact that it was a stove pipe hat for crying out loud! (you men and your phallic symbolism)

why did women wear such stupid hats? i'm thinking it was because...they could. i believe your theory regarding the inspiration for the pillbox hat is right on the money. i see it happening like this: one day oleg cassini was strolling through a park, thinking to himself "what different/completely stupid thing can i put on jackie's head this week" suddenly, he looks up, sees the organ grinder w/ his monkey and voila! a fad was born and fashion sense flew out the window like monkey shit at the zoo!

like you, i'm a fan of baseball caps... so i echo your sentiment! let's pray these things stay in style for a good long while (otherwise, i don't know what i'd do on my bad hair days!) my husband would be lost without his cap, as well!

another fun/thought provoking post, TDB, thanks! : D

The Drive-by Blogger said...

I had to laugh at the image of that 14 inch toe extension and the idea of a king and a pope trying to do away with it!

I wonder what these vain (not to mention dishonest)men would have said if someone had told them that centuries later the only people still wearing really big shoes would be circus clowns.