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.
- 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:
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?