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The Cat in the Hat Comes Back
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The Cat in the Hat Comes Back

September 15th 2014

THERE was a time when only beggars went bareheaded. This was some while ago, a century or so. But up until World War II and the period just after, a gentleman was not considered properly dressed without a hat. Even the names of hats were rich in character and historical association. The bowler, or derby, with the rigid shape of an upended bean pot, was named for a 19th-century English earl who popularized the style. The fedora’s name came from a play of that title, written for Sarah Bernhardt by the otherwise largely forgotten French dramatist Victorien Sardou.

Then the hat went the way of the dodo. Social historians are divided about the cause of the sartorial die-off, although an often repeated canard attributes it to President Kennedy and his rarely covered thatch of luxuriant hair. The real blame probably belongs to automobiles, though. Hats were knocked off when you entered a car and inevitably got squashed beneath a passenger’s wayward behind or went into orbit when you lowered the top to a convertible. Whatever the reason, there is no arguing with the facts of the hat’s decline.

Whatever the reason, there is no arguing with the facts of the hat’s decline. In 1940, there were 180 independent major manufacturers of hats operating in the United States. Today there are 10. And while it is true that the headwear business is not altogether on the skids (retail sales of hats in the United States are estimated at $1.75 billion annually, roughly 40 percent of that figure being hats sold to men), it would be stretching things to say the future looks bright. 

Or it would have been before the recent men’s-wear shows in Paris and Milan.Or it would have been before the recent men’s-wear shows in Paris and Milan. For more of this story please visit http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/03/fashion/03HATS.html?_r=0