What Happened to Our Hats?

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What Happened to Our Hats?

How much protection are you really getting from sunscreen and your favorite sun hat?

Sunscreen gets the bulk of our attention when it comes to sun protection. I wear sunscreen and I recommend you do as well. However as the old saying goes: “to err is human”. Most of us are simply inept at using our sunscreens. We don’t put it on thick enough. We sweat it off. We forget. We sometimes don’t care. The reasons we fail are endless. And so with summer right around the bend, I would like for you to consider your hats and how much they do, or don’t, offer you protection.

 Traditionally the rise of skin cancer rates has been blamed on many factors: the popularity of tanning, rise of outdoor leisure activities, tanning salons, and the development of less modest swimwear after the invention of the bikini. But not much attention is paid to the incredibly shrinking hat. We went from wide brimmed to duck billed in just under thirty years as a society.
If you watch old gangster movies set in the roaring 1920’s, no self-respecting wise guy would be caught dead without his Tommy gun and black fedora. If you look at old daguerreotype photos, it is especially hard to spot a hatless head if the photo was taken outside. You may recall that famous photo of two trains nose to nose, celebrating the linking of the east and west Transcontinental Railroad in 1869. Despite the desert heat, you will not find a bare head in the crowd (except for one lone woman; but she had quite bushy hair and I like to believe that maybe it just blew off before they snapped the photo).

 So what happened to our hats?

 I’ve come to the conclusion that there is not one unifying answer. Some people blame John F. Kennedy, The Beatles, and the sexual revolution. The former two because they had great hair and the latter because all sorts of clothing was coming off.  In the post World War II era, there was a general relaxation towards the casual in dress for both men and women. Young people stopped dressing like their grandparents. They ditched the pocket watches, vests, and derbies for blue jeans and greased back hair.

 President Dwight Eisenhower also gets a fair of the blame according to some. With the construction of the interstate highway system, more Americans fell in love with the automobile. People stopped using mass public transportation where there was really no reason to take your hat off between home and work. And if you’ve tried wearing a formal hat in a car, you quickly realize how little headroom you actually have. When they started designing cars with headrests, things really went downhill.  

 A hairdresser I care for charges the hairspray industry for the death of women’s headwear. And the development of better shampoos and conditioners were aided by the growing access to clean public water for washing. In short, you didn’t need a hat to hide your dirty head anymore.

 I found a reference to a poem that goes to the trouble of pointing out the Edward VII was seen without a hat at the funeral of King George V. This was in 1936 and perhaps this scandalous fashion faux pas was the reason Edward was never crowned and booted down to being the lowly Duke of Windsor.

 And of course no discussion of social ills would be complete without blaming television. While all the previously mentioned events transpired, televisions proliferated in homes. And since most television events in those days were filmed in indoor studios, most people didn’t wear hats. For those of you under thirty, once upon a time it was considered rude to wear a hat indoors. With TV, the average American became used to seeing entertainment and authorities figures hatless on a daily basis. I remember Tom Landry, the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, refusing to wear his dapper little hat even in domed stadiums while coaching from the sidelines. I never understood if it was a PR stunt or a deep seeded sense of convention.

 I see my fair share of men donning hats; cowboy hats that is. The wide curved brim not only symbolizes country but does a fairly good job shielding the face. Baseball caps leave the ears and sides of the face exposed. Every time I put on a ball cap, I can’t help but think of the radiation bath my ears and neck are taking. If the terms The Dakota, The Gus, The Nevada, The Cattleman, and The Gambler don’t mean anything to you, chances are you are not a cowboy hat wearer. Interestingly, pickup trucks were late to abandon cab seating with all its headroom. It makes one wonder how popular cowboy hats would be today if headroom in trucks disappeared fifty years ago like it did in standard cars.

 Speaking personally, my biggest problem with headwear is trying to choose a model that fits with shorts and a T-shirt. Unfortunately it is difficult to top a baseball cap with this combo. I suspect the ubiquitous ball cap slowly strangled more fashionable hats out of the market as men’s clothing eroded into more casual styles over the last few decades. It is hard to beat a good broken in baseball cap for convenience and comfort.

 Luckily dapper hats are starting to make a big comeback among younger people. Most kids have finally stopped letting the backs of their pants sag past their buttocks and their generation is rediscovering stylish headwear en mass. I guess there is hope after all in this world.

 So other than hats and sunscreen what could you consider doing this summer to shield your skin? I humbly suggest the addition of a small umbrella or parasol. They are popular in South America and Asian among women. They are really quite practical. My little girls like to carry parasols sometimes for fun when the North State sun hits its zenith. But the only man I’ve ever seen using a parasol was Michael Jackson—so count me out on that one.