Monday, November 25, 2019

Mad Hatters and the Not So Mad

Watching an episode of "Inspector Morse" last night, one of the characters popped up on-screen wearing a (very) floppy beret.  He didn't look French (but he did look silly) and he did have an English accent.  And I wondered to myself (Richie would not have been particularly interested in the subject of mens' hats)  whether the well-dressed Englishman would be wearing one?  And didn't berets begin with French artists?

Which started me wondering about specialized hats and their beginnings.

Beret - French Chasseurs Alpine began wearing them in 1889.  They drifted into use by the British Royal Tank Regiment  during WW1 when it was discovered that they stayed on when the wearer entered or exited small-doored tanks.

Bowler hat - As famous as a beret in France, the bowler hat is synonymous with fleets of British businessmen charging around The City.   Brothers Thomas and William Bowler created them for the 2nd Earl of Leicester in 1849.  Reason?  The top hat, more normally worn until then was too easily knocked off. And yet I believe that scholars at Eton? Oxford? wear robes and top hats to class every day.  Trying to toughen the lads up by fighting over their hats every day?  Is this how the University teaches "The Art of War"?

Cowboy Hat - Surely any American can tell you why cowboy hats were invented.  Wearable shde trees!  But wait!  in the 13th century, Mongolian horsemen wore them or a very near substitute.  But in nearer times, one John B. Stetson adapted it for American use in 1865.  They've been uni-sexy ever since.

Baseball cap - The first ones were made of straw (!) and the first team to use these then caps, was the New York Knickerbockers on April 24, 1849.  Later circa 1851, they were made of fine merino wool and the visor/bill emerged.

Yellow Sou'wester rain gear hats. - First used in England by fishermen and presumably named for the Southwest prevailing winds around the United Kingdom.  First responders and airline bag busters wear them, too.

Finally (Most gloriously?)  the ladies' Ascot hat.  Glorious concotions made of feathers, plumes, structural steel for all I know and range in price from $499 to $6,000 for custom designer work.  It has developed into a contest among the ladies for most spectacular success.  There are tons of informal assignment of Bests:  Most Spectacular, Most Inventive, Most Amusing, etc., etc.
So popular has this custom costume party become, that fancy hats have traveled to America for the Kentucky Derby.    I've seen some doozies, admittedly, but nothing like what is shown at Ascot.    Where P.S. you can RENT an Ascot hat!  Can't you just see the Duchess of Thisnthat screaming at  another lady, "You bitch!  That's my hat!  I wore that last year!"  And the retort might be, "Shouldn't have sold it to the secondhand shops, darling.  That hard up that you have to cash in your Ascot hat?  Tsk, tsk."  Hairpulling ensues.

Both hats utterly destroyed.

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