Tag Archives: mad hatter

Fashion: A Bygone Era of Hats

I like hats. Hats are fun. The mad hatter loved his hat but then he was quite mad, from felting those hats. Mad as a hatter was once a popular saying. Though there is dispute as to whether it actually came from hat making, once hatters used mercury to felt the hats and that drove them quite mad as it was absorbed into their skin.

In a later era, World War II, my mother worked for a hatter in Calgary. Because so many men were on the front lines, women’s emancipation happened. Women had to work the jobs that were once held almost exclusively by men, which had left nursing, secretarial and teaching as traditional women’s jobs. My mother worked one of the machines that made or felted the hats. At one point an inspector came in and noticed she was not being paid adequately. Women were to be paid a man’s wage if they were doing a man’s job, not less because they were women. So my mother was paid more and the world changed, with women never going back  completely to the way it had been before the war.

And hats changed too. In the earlier decades of the 20th century hats were a required form of dress. This style had come up through the ages, where hats were used before central heating to keep the person warm. Headwear had, at points, indicated the marital status of a woman, with unmarried women sometimes allowed to go hatless or with hair down. And sometimes hats indicated a religious status or belief (this is still the case today).

But any well-dressed man or woman in the 40s and 50s always wore a hat. A woman’s was not as necessary but a man was rarely seen without one. And men doffed their hats to the ladies and were required to remove them when inside, or for ceremonies, to show respect. Ladies hats became small fripperies worn in various ways, as adornment to their hair. They had veils, feathers and odd decorations of flowers and birds (sometimes stuffed). In fact not much had changed in the decorations of hats since the 17th century when women went so far as to wear galleons in their hair. (The Baroque and Rococo periods saw some amazingly ornate hats of towering proportions, not to mention the hair.)

Men’s hats settled into the fedora as the most popular form in North America. A man would probably only have one hat most of his life, unless he was well-to-do. But that hat would fit well. Hats were made in sizes going up in increments so one could find a hat for any head. Women’s were too, unless they were the ornaments that sat atop the head where size mattered little.

However as time progressed through the 60s and 70s, hats were worn less and less. They were also now being made of materialsother  than straw and felt. The process of felting with mercury, for felt hats, actually involved the use of animal furs (beaver, rabbit) that were felted and blocked to make hats. They’re more durable and softer than wool. And they were expensive. I actually have one vintage pillbox hat that says it’s made of velour which is in fact felted fur, the softest type.

So hats are now mostly novelty items, at least those super duper, fancy cocktail hats that few of us wear. But people still wear them; models and stars who show up for elaborate or public functions. Royalty still wear hats. Others also wear hats but the headwear has changed in style and size. Women’s hats rarely come in sizes anymore, which is hugely annoying. I have a large head, or a small man’s size. But women, hatmakers now believe, have one size of head. I can’t buy many hats unless I go for the custom hats and although I have a couple (a tricorn and a high pillbox), they are very expensive.

The most banal or common hat in this era is the baseball cap, synonymous with every guy in jeans and T-shirt or track pants. Of course, not every guy wears these caps, which I classify as the MacDonald’s of hats. They are rarely classy (though there are designer ones) and often denote the good ole party boy from the hicks. Still there was most likely the equivalent in all eras. And hats are often functional items to keep the weather at bay, whether sun, snow or rain.

Hats do evolve and the wearing of them waxes and wanes with styles and fashion. They are fun to wear for more than just a costume. They can be functional and fancy all at once. Dressing up with a hat can make you feel like a star. I actually haven’t worn most of my hats for a while. Perhaps I’ll start again.

And for people wanting to look at hats and different styles, some reminiscent of earlier eras, here are a few sites:

http://www.berkeleyhat.com/index.html

http://ediehats.com/store-theatre

http://www.ilovehats.ca/home.html

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Theme Parties

Here’s something light to balance out the dark thoughts about our police. It’s spring, finally, in Vancouver with rumor of our temperatures getting up to 22 (centigrade) today. The cherry trees finally burst their blooms full force. Daffodils, weeks late, are now out and tulips are on their way. Everything is late this year because of all the cold weather so we are relishing the warmth.

And thinking of parties and barbecues of course. Over the years I’ve been known for having theme parties, much to the annoyance of a few friends. These themes have nothing to do with a particular time of year but more to do with having fun. Adults should get to dress up too. Here are a few themes I had.

  1. Nothing But the Blues: everyone was required to wear something blue. Easy enough for the blue jean people, and an excuse for me to wear a vintage 50s dress in blue satin.
  2. Come as Your Favorite God: open to people’s interpretation of god. There was a football player, someone’s personal god. My landlords came as household gods; she was dressed in apron, 50’s hat and full dress, rubber gloves with lace on them. He was dressed in underwear and tool belt. Then there was a smattering of other gods, Greek, Roman, Celtic.
  3. New Year’s come formal from any century or place: Although most people opted for your traditional fancy dress I had one goth, kilted, black booted friend, one very drunken guy in a toga that ended up in the shrubbery, and three Atlanteans dressed in shimmery blue-grey with glitter everywhere.
  4. Bad Boys Bad Girls: you guessed it. There was a manga, tousled schoolgirl (with panties in hand) and a bad biker dude. And there was a priest. Anyone not dressed up got handcuffed together, including my landlords.
  5. Mad Hatter: this was by far the most elaborate and the most fun. My partner at the time and I both had a fair number of hats. We made it Alice theme. Anyone who didn’t show up was  given a hat to wear. But people went all out and the costumes were fantastic. Here is a list of a few that we had: Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, the walrus and the carpenter, Charles Dodson, two caterpillars, a griffon, a card, a flingo, a male, female and child Alice, a male, female and child cheshire cat, a mad hatter of each gender, and I think a mad queen.

I haven’t always had themes nor remembered all of them. There have been some people who do themes based on paintings. They send out an invite with a picture of the painting to be recreated, find and decorate a space and then everyone comes in costumes suitable to the recreation. I would presume that if one goes to the much effort they’re going to party afterward as well, because partying before might be too chaotic for the picture. This would be fun to do and some day I’d love to do that.

Then there are murder mysteries. They’re harder to find these days but the few we had friends would come and play the part, dressed to resemble the particular character. Those tend to be limited dinner parties of about eight people but the roleplaying makes it way more fun.

My few disgruntled friends can come to my parties dressed normally but everyone, even the big kids should get a chance to have fun and dress up as a space alien or a squid. It’s great to see what imaginations can create. I’ll be interested to see what people do for the next theme party and here are just a few ideas for the summer, where gods really should be wandering.

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