The Hat and Telling Details

The Hat and Telling Details

by Steve Hooley

Today is National Hat Day. The topic is the hat, more specifically the type of hat and the telling detail.

So, let’s put on our writer’s hat, take off our hat to the “telling detail,” and hang our hat on the proposition that the hat may be the best telling detail.

I had no idea that hats were so popular. When I looked on Pixaby for an image of a hat, I found 101 pages with 10,012 images. Who knew? People love their hats (their specific hat). Consider a number of idioms that use the word “hat.”

  • Put on your (occupation) hat
  • Take off your hat to (someone you want to give praise)
  • Hang one’s hat on (something you can rely on)
  • Hat’s off to (someone you want to praise)
  • Where do you hang your hat? (live or reside)
  • Tip one’s hat (congratulate)

And then there’s a list of superstitions about hats. which we won’t go into.

The following is some information listed on the National Day Calendar:

NATIONAL HAT DAY HISTORY

Since at least 1983, National Hat Day has been observed in libraries, schools, and museums. They have invited students and patrons to wear their favorite hat or hats of their occupation. People of all ages show up in pirate hats and football helmets. Patrol officers, postal workers, restaurant servicers also wear their hats to various events. That date also commemorates the day in 1797 when the first top hat made its appearance in court. Created by haberdasher John Hetherington, the judge claimed the tall, rather prominent hat disturbed the public.

Hats FAQ

  1. When did hats become less fashionable?
    A. Before the 1950s, men and women wore hats as much for a fashion statement as for protection and warmth. However, several possible reasons that faded the hat fad include:
  • Improved technology – Heating buildings became more efficient and effectively reduced the need for a hat indoors.
  • Freedom – During World War II, hats were part of many uniforms including the military. When service members returned home, they ditched the hat with the uniform.
  • Transportation – Before affordable transportation and smooth roads crossed the country, most people rode public transportation or walked. With the increased popularity of the automobile came decreased headroom for hats.
  • Hairstyles – Especially for women, hats covered big, fancy hairstyles.
  • Hatless public figures – One notable figure who may have started a lasting trend was President John F. Kennedy.

So, why do people wear hats?

Again, according to the National Day Calendar:

We wear hats for numerous reasons. Many hats protect us from elements or harm. Others were worn for ceremonial or religious reasons. Some hats just make us look good or cover up what we think doesn’t. Through the centuries, we’ve given our hats a lot of meaning.

  • In the Middle Ages, hats indicated social status.
  • In the military, hats may denote one’s nationality, branch of service, rank, and/or regiment.
  • A Thebes tomb painting depicts one of the first pictorials of a hat.  The painting shows a man wearing a conical straw hat.
  • Structured hats for women began to be worn in the late 16th century.
  • Millinery is the designing and manufacture of hats.
  • The term “milliner” is derived from the city of Milan, Italy. The best quality hats were made in Milan in the 18th century.
  • Millinery traditionally began as a woman’s occupation, as the milliner created hats and bonnets and chose lace, trim, and accessories to complete any outfit.
  • In the mid-1920s, to replace the bonnets and wide-brimmed hats, women began to wear smaller hats that hugged their heads.

Okay, now to the telling detail. Besides social status and occupation, hats often tell us about attitude or what people think of themselves. I noticed on Pixabay that some people (I’m not mentioning gender) seemed to think “their” hat said it all, or at least “they” didn’t need to wear anything else. (Don’t everyone rush over there at the same time to look.)

This all made me finally realize—okay, I’m a slow learner—that instead of flowery descriptions of characters’ height, weight, eye color, hair color, fit and expense of clothing, etc., etc., what we really need to know is what kind of hat do they wear.

Yes, I’m exaggerating to make a point. A majority of people don’t wear hats. But what better telling detail can you find than the character’s hat? I’m certain that you will find some. That’s the point of today’s exercise.

And, if you don’t wear a hat, and want to know all the different styles, and what would be right for you and your personality, here are links to hat styles for men and women:

Men’s Hats

Women’s Hats

Now that we’ve reviewed hats, it’s your turn:

  • What kind of hat do you wear (or would be appropriate for you)? Any interesting history behind that choice? And what does it say about you?
  • Have you created an interesting character whose hat (or item of clothing they always wear, or something they always carry) tells the reader what they really need to know about that character?
  • Any interesting hat stories about you, your family, or your characters?
This entry was posted in describing characters, Writing by Steve Hooley. Bookmark the permalink.

About Steve Hooley

Steve Hooley is the author of seven short stories published in four anthologies, a Vella serial fiction, and is currently working on the Mad River Magic series – a fantasy adventure series for advanced middle-grade to adults. More details available at: https://stevehooleywriter.com/mad-river-magic/

64 thoughts on “The Hat and Telling Details

  1. JFK may not have worn hats, but Jackie Kennedy did–her signature pillboxes.

    I wear woolen berets all winter to keep from getting colds. A beret is the only hat that neither slips off my head nor gives me a headache.

    • Thanks for your comments, Truant. I read about JFK not wearing hats, but had forgotten that Jackie wore her pillboxes, always elegant.

      I like your practicality. “A beret is the only hat that neither slips off my head nor gives me a headache.”

      I wear wool sock hats in the late fall and winter when working in the woods, an old worn ugly brown one most of the time (that’s the one that is my telling detail), and a bright orange one during hunting season (that’s the cautious me).

      Stay warm, and have a good day!

        • I think they’re called both stocking caps and sock hats in our area (western Ohio).

          Google said:
          “Other names for knitted caps include: woolly hat (British English) or wool hat (American English); sock hat, knit hat, poof ball hat, bonnet, sock cap, stocking cap, skullcap, ski hat, sugan, or chook.”

          Who knew. They’re warm. That’s what counts.

          • Speaking of hat names–while watching a promo video for The Chosen, they were talking about merch, and showed a picture of what I always knew as a knitted cap or wool cap, but they called it a beanie. I thought a beanie was a basecall with a propeller on top.

            Hat names are confusing!

  2. Until we moved to Colorado, I never wore hats. They felt like a ‘costume.’ I did buy a Bush hat when we toured Australia. Now I have added at least 4 cowboy hats and another handful of warm knit caps. Oh, and one floppy-brimmed hat I bought for our trip to the Galapagos. I bought a faux fur expedition hat for our upcoming trip to Antarctica. Hooray for ear flaps.
    The Hubster, who suffers from a hair shortage on top, always wears a hat of some type–usually a ball cap if it’s warm, and a knit cap if it’s not, both for skin cancer prevention, shading his eyes, and keeping warm.
    The only time any of my hats is a fashion statement is if I’m at a conference or other book-related event. I was advised it was my brand by someone who knows a lot more about this than I do. And it means I don’t have to fuss with making sure my hair looks ok.

    • Thanks, Terry. You are a woman (person) of many hats. I like the expedition hat with ear flaps. I would wear one of those in the winter for really cold weather, but my wife thinks it’s funny. I guess I’m old enough to quit caring what I look like.

      Thanks for bringing up the subject of branding at conferences and writing events. What kind of hat do you wear for that? And do you wear other “accessories” along with the hat?

      Have a great weekend!

          • Thanks, Deb, for telling us about your character’s hat. Do archeologists wear bucket hats? Somehow, when I think of an archeologist, I see a safari style hat with a tail hanging down the back to protect the neck from the sun.

            Thanks for stopping by! Have a great weekend!

            • I think every archeologist has a favorite type of hat. I chose my bucket hat because of the bright colors (something my character would choose) and because it fits my small head. I’m not an archeologist so perhaps the safari-style is better for all-day in the sun and heat.

              In my second book, my main character is learning to ride horses. She and her “instructor” always wear helmets, but they have a conversation about cowboy hats. My fashionista MC chooses a pink hat, and her 12-year-old farm-raised “instructor” picks a plain, worn-looking hat so she looks like she knows what she’s doing.

              • Sounds like a colorful duo, Deb, and an interesting series. I like the home page of your website, especially the top picture of the shoes. I’m writing a middle-grade fantasy series that has morphed into “clean” teen and YA. My characters “wear” magic flying barrel carts and magic wands.

                • Flying barrel carts sound fun! Those MG characters grow up so fast, don’t they? I think I have only one, maybe two, more stories for Gwen before she ages out of MG. I love your mission to write books for your grandkids!

                  Thanks for checking out my website. Footwear, as well as headwear, illustrate my characters’ personalities.

                  I want to say thanks to you and all the contributors to TKZ! Even though I write friendship stories for MG girls, I find that much of the writing education on this site has been invaluable for me. I do include a touch of mystery in my books. But I’ve also noticed that there are some big similarities to young readers and adult readers of thrillers and suspense. They want interesting characters, action, and tightly-writing and fast-pacing.

  3. If I might add, what one does with one’s hat can be equally telling…
    how it’s worn – askance, backwards, on the back of one’s head, down low over the eyes…
    does it get tossed aside, carefully hung up, scrunched up and stuffed into a pocket…
    or, as in the military traditions (in the US, at least), removed when indoors (if you’re in the Navy – but not “under arms”)…

    I usually wear something when the weather cools to protect the thinning follicles atop the dome… and like most of us here in the south-land prefer the ubiquitous baseball cap logotyped with the college(s) of my (kids’) choosing (and matriculation)…

    • Great points, George. What one does with the hat, and how it is worn is as important as the hat. Thanks for reminding us of that.

      The baseball cap with the logo of your kids’ choosing: When I looked at the different types of hats, I saw that a similar hat is now called a “Dad hat.” I looked for one with “Carpe typum,” but couldn’t find one. They are great, combined with a mask, when you don’t want to be recognized.

      Have a great weekend!

  4. Good morning, Steve.

    I know a little something about this topic.

    I started wearing hats in 2005. The drummer of one of the New Orleans bands that I was representing at the time always wore a hat. I liked the look.

    I favor stingy-brimmed fedoras. I wear a Santana Fedora in the summer and a Dobbs leather Fedora in Ohio’s cold winters, but occasionally change them out with their less-used brothers.

    I will occasionally be approached by folks who say, “Hey! Old school! Where’d you get that lid?” My answer is (usually) “Meyer the Hatter.” The business has occupied the same block on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans and been owned by the same family for over 100 years. The grandfather Sam Meyer Jr., turned 92 last year and still comes in the store to work. He sold me my first hat. Sam can look at you and tell you your hatsize. He is always right.

    Thanks for a great topic, Steve. Have a great weekend!

    • Thanks, Joe. I knew you would educate us on this topic. Do you think there is a specific personality or attitude associated with the fedora, or do most people who wear it just like the way it looks? I believe I saw fedoras listed under the hats for women. I’m guessing they go for looks.

      Thanks for telling us where to buy a fedora.

      Stay warm, and have a great weekend!

  5. Good morning, Steve! Fascinating post on a topic near and dear to my heart, and my head 🙂 I have a several caps purchased in Ireland on two different trips which I wear often when out and about in cooler weather.

    However, my signature hat is a tailored fez. I have a large number of them, all designed by Jason Rodgers of Fez O’Rama, including two that bear the F for Freedonia symbol from the Marx Brother’s classic, “Duck Soup.” I wear these often when writing, and also at various conventions. I even wore a few for “hat days” during my story times at the library. I have several mystery themed ones, including two with crossed keys and a lock and another “13” with a small skull below the the numeral. I’m wearing a Phoenix fez in my current Twitter pic (@daleivan). Another favorite is a tall fez with an interocitor, a sci-fi view screen from the 1950s film, “This Island Earth.” I even own a Christmas wreath fez. Most of mine are “short fezzes,” but I have several tall ones. Not quite Elmelda Marcos level of a collection, but sizable 🙂

    Yes, I’m crazing for fezzes. Thanks for a very fun and informative Saturday morning post!

    • Thanks, Dale. Very interesting. That’s quite a collection of fezzes. And it sounds like they are worn more for a specific theme than for attitude.

      My dad brought one back from Egypt after WWII. I never did ask him what the hat symbolized in that time and place.

      I had to look up Irish caps. I like the style of the paddy caps. It brings to mind someone playing golf or driving a little sports car convertible. That’s not me, but I like the style.

      Thanks for the information on the fezzes. Have a great weekend!

  6. I’ve always loved hats. My dad, an L.A. lawyer, had a nice collection of fedoras. I used to sneak in his closet and try them on from time to time…I had a long way to go to grow into them. I now have three fedoras, Sam Spade style, that I will wear on proper occasions. Last year my wife got me a stylish Panama for the summer months.

    During baseball season, I have my fitted (no hole in back!) Dodger hat.

    My go-to lids, however, are my two flat caps from Ireland. Herringbone tweed, 100% wool. I can speak fluent blarney when I wear them.

    • Thanks for telling us about your hats, Jim. I think I saw a picture of you here at TKZ wearing one of your Irish flat caps.

      In my limited knowledge of movies, when I think about a character wearing an Irish flat cap, I see a young man who is not afraid to be different, not afraid to be genuine. Set me straight if the personality of such a character is something else.

      Now, I know you have Scottish ancestry, too. I just looked up popular Scottish caps, and one of those Scottish Tartan Golf Caps would look great. All you would need then is a set of bag pipes.

      Have a great weekend!

  7. Where you are makes a difference, as Terry wrote. When we lived in Wyoming, my husband bought an expensive Stetson. Hasn’t worn it since we moved decades ago. A nice black miner’s hat bought in Alaska, and a Riverman’s hat from Colorado also reside unworn in hatboxes. In South Africa, he bought a wide-brimmed straw hat with a light canvas “tail” to protect his neck from the intense winter sun there. Hasn’t worn it again, but I see that style in stores and on road crews here now. Raylan Givens wears his Stetson no matter where he is, and that’s what makes it his signature hat. It even became almost a character of its own on Justified. Where we live now, the only hats I see are stocking caps in winter and baseball caps in summer, so if I wanted to give a character a signature hat, I’d have to carefully research the area and choose a style not common there.

    • Great points, Becky. It’s not only the hat, but also the location. And to make a real statement, the hat would need to stand out or be different from the norm.

      That collection of hats in your husband’s closet could make some great characters for a series, “Hats.”

      Thanks for adding some good points to the discussion.

      Have a great weekend!

  8. Hats are the first line of weather defense for those of us who wear glasses as well as those of us sensitive to bright light. Go, hats!

    One of my pictures of my late father has him wearing a Fifties fedora at a jaunty angle. That was so Dad. Just the hat and his smile are enough for anyone to tell what his personality was.

    Sadly, fedoras have become a major statement piece for neckbeards, the human detritus of the science fiction and Anime community.

    • Thanks, Marilyn, for sharing about your dad’s hat, his smile, and his personality. That was what I was trying to get at with today’s discussion. Wouldn’t it be nice to start a new popularity trend with the fedora, and take away the “ownership” from the neckbeards?

      You mentioned your brother’s safari hat. I bought one (mail order) once for the strap (to keep it from blowing off my head when I was doing tractor work). Like so many other things, it was set aside in my hurry to get things done. Tucked away somewhere in my tractor shed, it’s probably now home to a mouse nest.

      Have a great weekend!

  9. We had a dear friend, “Hattie,” who was a milliner. She made hats to support her husband, who eventually owned a chain of newspapers.
    I’ve rarely worn hats. Blessed at my age with hair up top (as well as a memory like one of those big grey animals), I don’t wear a hat every day. I own only ball caps from ships I’ve been aboard: the New Jersey, the Missouri, and the Iowa, The New Jersey cap is red. Perhaps someone here knows why it’s red? (No, not related to “Catcher.”) In cold weather, I sometimes wear a knitted cap, but try not to be seen in public with it on.

    • Thanks for your comments, J. I’m glad you still have your hair and your memory. Most of us, as we become “experienced,” begin to lose both. Maybe that’s why we like hats. Hide the bald spot, and hide our identity so we don’t need to admit we can’t remember someone’s name.

      Please tell us why the New Jersey’s cap is red.

      Have a great weekend!

      • Okay, Steve! Yes, I’m grateful for having hair and . . . you know, that thing.

        The red hat is a MARDET cap worn by members of Marine Detachments on board Navy ships.

        I read on a hat site that part of the reason for fewer hats was that MPG drops by the square of vehicle height, so car mfrs lowered the roofs, eventually eliminating any allowance for hats. People stopped wearing them while driving, and it sort of spread to other occasions.

  10. What a great Haturday post, Steve!

    I think I’ll have to work in a few hatted characters. Probably no pillboxes, though. 🙂

    I have a favorite hat I wear, especially on weekends when I can’t stand another hair-fussing event.

    It’s a pink camo ball cap with an NRA logo on the front, and a tag that says Made In America on the back.

    Says all it needs to say about me, I think. And I’ll remain mum on the subject of packing heat, if you please.

  11. At the risk of being forever banished by the overwhelming majority of hat lovers at TKZ, I confess I HATE hats. When I was a little girl, hats were mandatory for church. They were either painfully scratchy straw or had a too-tight elastic string under the chin that felt as if I were being garroted. Those traumas marked me forever. The only hat I ever wear is a stocking cap and it’s gotta be zero or below before I force it on my head.

    But I do have a fashion trend question related to hats. I notice a lot of guys wearing a baseball cap with a hoodie pulled up over the cap. Is that a Montana exclusive style or a more widely accepted trend?

    • Hi, Debbie. Thanks for sharing your pain from the past and why you don’t like hats. I can understand why that experience would mark you. I actually have worn hats very little in the past. With thin oily hair, a hat could do a number on me. I would only wear a hat when I was working out in the woods, and I didn’t care if my hair was plastered on my head. Now that I’m “retired,” I like how a Dad hat can provide a good disguise when I’m out in the public.

      As to the fashion question about a hat and a hoodie, here’s what quora.com said:
      “Because it is practical. A hood over your cap keeps your neck warm on cold sunny days, and it also keeps your hat from flying off on windy yet sunny days. When it’s raining, the hat’s brim keeps the rain out of your eyes while the hood keeps the rain off your neck.” And I see the trend here in the Midwest, as well.

      Stay warm (without the hat), and have a great weekend!

  12. Great post!

    This is a topic that’s close to my heart, because I’ve worn a hat all my life. I’ve written about hats to excess, where to wear them, and where not to. Hat etiquette is a much discussed topic around me. You can tell a lot about a person by the way they wear and treat their hat. Here in the Lone Star State, you don’t lay them down flat, you don’t touch another man’s hat whether its on his head or not, and you never put them on if they don’t belong to you.

    I’ve been asked about wearing them in the house, in public buildings (where I had a little discussion with a waitress in New York City about the one I wore), or at the table…except when you’re in certain parts of the state. Cowboys in West Texas eat with them on in some pu6lbic cafes, but they dassent wear them at a table anywhere else. The best advice, watch those around you, but that can also come with hidden dangers.

    Many of my characters wear hats, and they help define those imaginary people. I can’t imagine going anywhere without mine. A tip of the hat to you for this post.

    • Thanks, Rev. The cowboy hat carries a mystique that is part of the fiber of the American West.

      “The hat is possibly the most defining staple of the cowboy’s iconic image.” National Cowboy Museum

      You have a wealth of information, and not enough space or time to share it here. I would love to read an expanded coverage of the topic here at TKZ, for one of your future posts.

      Thanks for your comments. Have a great weekend!

  13. My favorite hat is a cowboy hat that is a replica of the awesome hat Adam Cartwright (Pernell Roberts) wore in Bonanza–black with silver-colored studs around it. Cowboy hats may be common, but I had a heck of a time finding a hat that matched his and I will treasure it forever. I also have a cowboy hat made of leather that matches a cool brown duster that I have packed away. I’ll never stop wishing I’d been a cowboy in the 1800’s. 😎 😎 😎

    And I have a few baseball caps that I’ve collected from a couple favorite hiking spots around Arizona. Out here where the sun shines about 350 days a year, it’s a good idea to wear a hat. Problem for me is I wear glasses. So if its a windy day, I can’t pull my hat down low enough to keep it from blowing off, so I don’t wear them as often as I should.

    • Thanks, BK, for your comments. Great story about your cowboy hats. Wonderful collection.

      The issue with glasses is a problem for many. Too bad someone couldn’t invent a strap that would work with any hat style to secure the hat. Or, I guess, all of us who wear glasses are going to have to start wearing styles with chin straps. I’ll leave that invention to you.

      Have a great weekend!

  14. I miss seeing Fedoras on men…I think it makes them look dashing. As for me, the last hat I wore was when I was 8 and it was Easter. I still have a photo of my sister and me with our Easter dresses, Mary Janes, and frilly hat…and yes, it did itch!

    • Hi, Patricia. Thanks for stopping by. I’m certain that some of the TKZ community who wear fedoras will like your comment about looking dashing. And those who don’t will go out and buy a fedora.

      Easter hats, I can’t identify with that, but I remember every Sunday in the winter, my wool dress pants itched. I shake my head, as I think, wow, now we can go to church in jeans.

      Have a great weekend (with no itchy hats)!

  15. Great post, Steve. I’ve enjoyed reading everyone’s comments.

    I wear a visor every time I’m outside. It’s sort of become a brand for me. I love it (and it covers a lot of hairstyle issues 🙂

    One of my characters wears a Stetson and a friend who beta-read the book informed me that cowboys never put their hats brim-down on a table. Always brim up so they can pick it up quickly. I guess Rev knows about that.

    My father always wore a fedora. I hope they come back in style.

    Wonderful discussion!

    • Thanks for stopping by, Kay. I can see you wearing a visor, and out for a run. Great branding.

      Funny, how many people have commented that they like fedoras. I think I saw them listed in the hats for women. And I remember my dad wearing a hat in the early 1960s. I didn’t know what type of hat it was then, but it looked like a fedora. Yeah, I’d like to see them make a resurgence. I’ll have to check out that store in New Orleans that Joe mentioned. I wonder if they do mail order.

      Have a great weekend!

  16. I’m late to today’s TKZ, as usual, Steve, but I read this with interest, including the comments. It’s timely. I’m getting back into hats, and I think there’s a resurgence in hat-wearing men. I see a revitalization of the 1920s happening in the 2020s, and back in the roaring days, no self-respecting man would be caught without a hat accessory. What’s old again is new again, right? So watch for the hat craze rocketing off.

    My kids got me two fedoras for Christmas. Both are high-quality felt – band name Brixton – one brown and one black. They don’t suit my usual, west coast jeans and rain jacket look, but put them with dress pants and a leather jacket/trench coat and they come alive.

    True Confession time on the Kill Zone: For 30+ years, I wore a tie to work as a detective and coroner. I’m more comfortable in a tie than a tee-shirt. In fact, I’m a tie collector and have well over 200, probably closer to 300, and I think a tie makes a statement – like a hat does. I only have two fedoras to make a statement, but if my hat interest becomes a fetish like ties, I might have to add-on to the house.

    • Thanks for your comments, Garry. You’re never late. We’ll keep the lights on for you.

      I don’t keep up with fashion. I’m kind of proud of that. But I found it interesting to read your prediction of a hat resurgence. Goodness knows we need a resurgence of style. We’ve hit rock bottom when all the young men are overweight, and come in to the grocery store with their pajama pants and T-shirts and flip flops. Time for the baby boomers to lead the charge. I told Kay (above) that it’s time for me to check out the fedoras.

      So, good luck with the blue prints and the hat room. And have a great weekend!

  17. In case anyone wonders why it’s fairly common for knit “stocking” caps to have what seems to be a purely ornamental knit ball on top, I read somewhere that the original purpose of the ball was practical, not ornamental. In the days of sail, sailors often wore such caps for warmth, and the ball on top was meant to provide additional cushioning against the perpetual hazard of hitting one’s head on the heavy beams which supported the deck above. This hazard seems likely to have been particularly pronounced on warships of the time, where more decks meant increased capacity for cannons. At the same time, there was an advantage to keeping the height of the ship’s broadside short for practical reasons, including the fact that doing so made it a smaller target for the enemy’s guns. Therefore, the vertical distance between decks was kept to a minimum and was in many cases scarcely enough for a man of average height (roughly 5″6″ in the 17th and 18th centuries) to stand fully erect between decks.

    • Thanks, Russ, for the history lesson. Every time I wear a knit cap, I’ll think of keeping my head down so I don’t hit a support beam.

      Thanks for stopping by and enlightening us.

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