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Who Killed Men's Hats? Think Of A Three Letter Word Beginning With 'I' (npr.org)
261 points by protomyth on May 5, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 173 comments

I'm surprised at the lack of discussion around the correlation between the decline of the hat and conformity and formality of appearance in general.

Prior to the 1950s, most men dressed in a uniform fashion. Your appearance might vary depending on your class, but within social classes, one man looked pretty much the same as the next. A neatly trimmed haircut and a suit were standard everyday wear, and a hat to go with it.

After WWII, the 1950s saw the invention of the teenager. Youth culture was more prominent than ever before, thanks to many factors, both social and technological. As those teenagers entered the workforce, they were filled with new ideas about individuality and style. Along with the Baby Boomers ideas about style also came changing ideas about hats.

The change didn't come overnight, of course, but by the time JFK became president in 1961, you could see a definite trend away from hats and suits and every man's hair cut well above the collar. It would take another decade or more for hats to really fade out, more or less along with the decline of suits in general.

Take a look at this film from 1967, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJgaaAfhR5I

Watch for the crowd scenes in Manhattan at the beginning. You'll see a lot of hats, just not as many as you would have seen on the street ten years earlier, but far more than you'd see in a crowd scene from the same area in 1977.

There was no single cause for the decline in men's hats, and it didn't happen all at once. Stories like "it was Ike with the interstates" are appealing and make good cocktail party conversation (although I suppose the cocktail party died along with the hat, now that I think of it), but reality is usually not that discreet and simple.

A secondary issue: the price of clothing.

Clothing used to be really expensive. Studies of retail pricing indicate that, after correcting for inflation, a good pair of workmans' trousers -- jeans, in other words -- would have cost the equivalent of roughly $400 in 2001 dollars in 1901. A reasonable quality man's suit would have cost the equivalent of $2-3000. Clothing (and food) accounted for a much higher percentage of household budgets than they do today. Women's attire was similarly expensive. Prior to the 20th century, poorer working people had to make do with second and third hand garments and patch them until they fell apart; even in the 20th century, being able to afford new clothing on an annual basis was seen as a luxury.

There are a couple of corollaries of this. One is that fashions were far more conventional, than they are today -- you didn't want to pay the equivalent of a modern automobile's price for an outfit that would be seen as weird or outlandish within 1-2 years. Another is that they were much slower to change because people needed to get their full value out of such an expensive asset.

In fact, if you look at automotive fashion today, you see much the same constraints. Cars are expensive enough that sensible people don't generally change their vehicle every year; they get some miles out of them, and they tend to buy vehicles on the basis of perceived utility. Which is why the boring silver saloon or SUV is more common than the bright pink, retro-styled sports convertible, or the monster truck with jacked-up suspension and six foot diameter tires.

See also, for example, the financial City of London, where the "uniform" was a pinstripe suit with a bowler hat, umbrella and buttonhole.

This uniform only started to die during the 70s, and was pretty much killed by 80s excess. (Although Lock & Co still sell around 5000 bowler hats each year mostly to city workers.)

Also hats add useless complexity, together with ties, foulards, business suits. The question is what disappears next?

Watches? I am not wearing any since I started to carry phones.

They're not altogether useless. They keep the sun off your face and neck, which can be very useful in some climates. In Australia, where I live, a hat is now a compulsory part of every school child's uniform, and they are expected to be worn in the playground, because we have very high rates of skin cancer here. I don't know if that will translate into adult fashion or not. It might be too early to tell.

I suspect watches may diminish but will always be around because they signal status in a way that hats don't.

One doesn't need a Vacheron in order to be able to wear a watch.

It's not (only) a symbol of wealth. Within limits, any reasonably classy watch will do. But wearing one is self-selecting into a certain group - someone who cares about the details, cares about time, wants to make a good impression.

I don't want to overstate the point, but I definitely notice a nice timepiece, just like I notice well cut clothes, cufflinks, good shoes, neat hair, an elegant piece of jewellery, any number of things people can do to make an effort. It's signalling, and it does make a difference, for better or worse.

Ah yes, the old "the suit is dying" clarion call that everyone hears once every few years.

But suits will never die, and neither will ties. They, frankly, make men look better. A suit that fits well makes a man look slimmer, taller and more broader-shouldered. It accentuates his chest. It hides fat and bad composure in ways that T-shirts and polos never can. Ties also make you look taller, and add fantastic unity to the collar.

The main reason hats are dead, still, is because there's no gray area for them to come back. Fashion cycles: you have wider ties, then skinnier ties, then wider ties again. But if you stop wearing an accessory completely, it's harder to bring it back. Say, for a second, that no one wore two-piece suits. But people would still wear oxford cloth shirts, khakis, and blazers, which is only a few hops away from a suit. You can wear varying degrees of formal wear, but there are two options for hats: wearing one, or not wearing one. Which means that the man who wears one suddenly finds himself in a start minority...unlike someone who wears a suit in a room full of khakis and oxfords, which is slightly different, but not THAT different.

I doubt watches will ever disappear. First of all, they're effectively the only piece of "jewellery" that men can legitimately wear in many situations. And, secondly, they tend to be a lot more efficient for knowing the time than a mobile, as you don't have to pull it out of your pocket and then (often) push a button to turn the screen on (not to mention problems with sunlight).

yes when one pulls her smart phone, she also checks email, twitter, facebook etc, and she may show her expensive smart phone as a status symbol.

at the very most, your unadorned smartphone costs $1000. That's hardly comparable to a watch.

> Watches? I am not wearing any since I started to carry phones.

Watches get secluded from utilitarian+jewelry to purely jewelry. Rolex sounds like Dior, Prada or Louis Vuitton. Swatch on the other hand struggles in the lower segment (but they're pivoting into jewelry and higher end more and more). For youngsters, the cheap McGyver watch is dead, while Rolex still make (some) people dream.

In particular longer hair and more elaborate hairstyles become a significant identity and fashion statement in the period. Hats hides that.

Elvis Presleys hairstyle was iconic. He couldn't wear a hat like eg. Frank Sinatra did.

Funny you should say that. I'm currently working on a browser-based game where one has a choice of hairstyles and hats for one's avatar. Getting those two to play together caused us quite a few (heh) headaches, and required additional complexity to deal with.

As I recall, one got more headroom in the cars of that day. (Even if you weren't, like me, a little kid.)

An interesting point about the uniform fashion. A few years ago, The Washington Post Sunday magazine carried an article about the civil-rights era riots in Cambridge, Maryland, ca. 1965. Everyone was dressed alike--the local men and the out-of-town students, all wore white shirts, dark trousers, and leather shoes.

> the 1950s saw the invention of the teenager.

The 1920s, in fact; that's when the word was coined, and that's when a lot of the culture developed.

My 96 year old dad says it was definitely JFK's influence. What JFK did was bring about a change in American men's fashion.

Then why did the change occur world wide where mass transport was still the major transportation source?

One word: Hollywood. If you check out the movies of the time in an eighteen month period men stopped wearing hats. Those American movies spread the fashion change world wide. Sorry, but Eisenhower had nothing to do with it.

Since you bring up Hollywood, there is another theory that might help explain it.

With the rise of movies then TV, you had more people seeing men on screen without hats. Why? Because it's difficult to properly light a man's face while he is wearing a hat. The lights must be somewhat above the actors, so a hat causes a shadow across his face. If you want to see the man's face, then he can't wear a hat on camera. So, once you have the trend setters removing hats, then people get more used to the idea of seeing a man's head sans chapeau. News anchors still dress nicely in suits, so they would still be somewhat formal, even without the hat.

If this were the case, it would probably start to show the decline of hats earlier than the rise of automobiles, in the 1930's or so, so this theory could be tested separately from the rise of the automobile.

Also the undershirt went away after who was it Brand or someone like what didn't wear one in a movie .

Like the thinking. Sounds more plausible than other ideas.

This would seem to imply that non-US countries should show a decline in hats usage during/after kennedy's mandate (plus a couple years to spread movies).

I doubt this is the case: if you look at non US cinematography, hats had been strongly in decline already in movies from the 50s', and from a few mass events' pics I can google it seems hats were still common but not overwhelmingly so.

[1] http://www.cgilmugello.it/pagine/archfoto.html

Just saying "JFK did it" isn't an answer; I mean, why did JFK suddenly decide it was acceptable for a President of the United States to stroll around hatless? Something must have created the conditions that led to that being an acceptable decision for a politician looking for re-election; the hat was already on its way out among men of Kennedy's age at that time.

If Barack Obama decided tomorrow to stop wearing pants, would this become a new trend? Or would we be very quickly getting used to the words "President Biden"? The time is not ripe for Presidents to stop wearing pants.

On the other hand, Obama has frequently been photographed with a suit and no tie; as far as I know he's the first President to attempt that look. But it's been a fairly common look among youngish men for well over a decade.

>a suit and no tie; as far as I know he's the first President to attempt that look. But it's been a fairly common look among youngish men for well over a decade.

Also popular with Monk from the eponymous tv series.

One of the weirdest things I noticed about the military was the hat fetish -- all the rules about when a hat could or could not be worn (basically, all the times outdoor it was mandatory, except in certain uniforms; indoors, only if you were "under arms", which is distinct from just being armed), the fight over whether an elite (Ranger) black beret would get used by everyone, "no hat" zones outdoors (no hat/no salute areas where officers were in high density, and also in places where hats could be blown off and into critical equipment, like near aircraft), fights over whether an authorized hat (the boonie hat) would be authorized on specific bases, etc.

Outside of occupational hats (hard hats, etc.), the military is probably the last real holdout of hat use in the US.

Those rules are not arbitrary. They're based on training soldiers to wear protective headgear without thinking. The hat requirement outdoors is because it's designed to create an innate awareness that will protect you in a combat zone. You never ever leave cover without your Kevlar helmet in a combat zone. The 'hat' is a representation of that protective headgear. The rules are designed to instill discipline that could keep you alive in a war zone. It certainly isn't rooted in fashion. Like nearly all military traditions and procedures, hat rules are there for a reason even though it may appear arbitrary to those who have never served.

Wait, seriously? That sounds like a "just-so" story, and I'm gonna have to call bullshit on it. The tradition of wearing a cover ("hat") as part of one's uniform both predates and extends far beyond any practical necessity to instill helmet discipline.

I mean, sure, it creates a bit of an instinctual reminder to put something on your head when you go outside, so it's helpful, but that doesn't mean that was the original rationale, especially when the same regulations apply to guys who spend their days staring at a radar scope in CIC or something. And let's be honest, lots of military traditions are kind of arbitrary (like the part where if you're walking with someone, the senior ranking person is on the right hand side--what, do you get shot at more often from the left hand side?) Having to adapt to a bunch of arbitrary traditions might have some benefit in discipline or something, but each individual tradition isn't necessarily there for a practical reason. Especially when a bunch of those traditions are actively dropped in combat zones--i.e. you don't salute so they don't know who to shoot at.

It does sound like a just-so story. Whether it is or not I couldn't say. Military thinking is often so complex that it can be hard to derive the rationale behind any particular practice, if indeed there is one. All military edicts are the result of conscious decisions, but the hard part is in determining why that decision was made. Was it arbitrary, was it for a conscious reason, or was it seemingly arbitrary but actually the result of far-reaching, emergent military understanding? I can think of several military practices which seem inane and even internally self-contradictory which are most likely preserved by a large-scale probabilistic understanding of their effects. Sometimes bureaucracy is smarter than individual people.

It is dubious, but I wouldn't absolutely rule out the hat edict as having a purpose. Remembering to wear something on your head is definitely an acquirable muscle memory.

> like the part where if you're walking with someone, the senior ranking person is on the right hand side--what, do you get shot at more often from the left hand side?

This example, on the other hand, probably is the result of conscious, practical decision making. You are better positioned with your sword arm free. It seems reasonable that the senior ranking person would insist on walking on the side that allowed them to have their sword arm (pistol arm) free in case of attack.

You can build a ramp around a tower in two ways. One direction puts your right hand on the side open to the air. The other pins it against the tower wall. Towers were built so that the direction of the ramps encircling them allowed defenders at the top to have their sword arms free to the open air. Attackers coming up with the ramp would have their sword arms inhibited by the face of the tower. You can verify this by inspecting the construction of the towers.

That story is nonsense. The military wears caps outdoors for largely practical purposes - keep the sun out of your eyes. Dress hats are worn because dress hats have always been worn - the same reason that ties, epaulets, collars, brass buttons, and so on are also part of the dress uniforms.

Finnish military has also this kind of weird "no hat while eating", which comes from Finnish civilian tradition. The only exception is below -20 Celsius temperature.

At least in my country it's been tradition to take your hat of inside, because it's disrespectful to the house owner. Like a statement that your roof is leaking. Nowadays this culture has faded, but personally I don't like to wear a hat partly because of this.

Outside of occupational hats (hard hats, etc.), the military is probably the last real holdout of hat use in the US.

I would say the ball cap is pretty common among farmers. Suppliers hand out their branded hats like candy. Not to mention baseball players themselves, who pretty much also wear the style of hat while in a professional setting.

I recall a commentary on a stargate episode where they commented that the USAF was always upset if any of the actors didn't follow the rules about hats to the letter.

This is because all of the uniform regulations become second nature to you when you're in the military. You and everybody that you work with wear the uniform in the same way, so it's incredibly distracting and jarring to see it worn correctly. It's actually hard to focus on the show because you're staring at the guy and thinking, "What an idiot!"

Ask any former Navy officer about what was the most inaccurate part of Crimson Tide. Nine times out of ten, they won't mention the submarine's mutiny that almost leads to nuclear armageddon or the underwater gunplay or the electronics technician soldering together a top secret encrypted VLF radio receiver. They'll instead complain about how Gene Hackman's uniform was so screwed up.

Just as important, I'd add that about the time that hats stopped being fashionable, the suit, as the regular wear of men in most occupations most of the time, started to end.

I still find it odd to see old pictures from a century ago with everybody wearing jackets, vest and ties everywhere, even in some labor jobs (at least vests)!

e.g. hunters http://www.huntersgardenassociation.com/1900%20thru%201948.h...

miners http://japanfocus.org/data/j.miners.1900.gif

mechanics http://users.senet.com.au/~mitchell/lewis/cars/html/car1.htm

boxing http://www.archives.gov.on.ca/english/on-line-exhibits/sport...

There was plenty of driving before the interstates. In the unlikely event this explanation is correct, it should be easy to test: compare the graphs of car and hat sales.

Just like how the lack of pirates caused global warming, right? ;) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File%3aPiratesVsTemp_English.jp...

That graph makes zero sense. Is the background gradient supposed to be the pirates? Otherwise they are not shown at all. ;)

The x axis is number of pirates.

To be precise, the x axis is time. It's simply labelled with the number of pirates at that time.

It is common to have time on the x-axis, but that doesn't seem to be the case here. The dots on the line are equally spaced horizontally, but the number of years between each dot varies, sometimes it is 20 years, sometimes it is 40 years, so I don't think the horizontal location represents time.

I'd call this a parametric plot, useful when you have two quantities which vary over time, and you want to visualise how they relate to each other. There are some good examples of that on the Ladder of Abstraction demo, http://worrydream.com/LadderOfAbstraction/ The "Abstracting Over Time" graphic is a parametric plot of the position of the car, where x is horizontal position, y is vertical position, and distance along the line is time.

Oh, I somehow missed that half of the intervals were only 20 years.

But it's not a parametric plot either, because the number of pirates goes up and then down.

I guess it could plausibly be a normal graph with the X axis being some silly function of time; or a parametric plot with the X axis being a stupid function of pirates. But really I think aw3c2 was right: the graph makes zero sense.

Here's a better version of the plot: http://i.imgur.com/aXQei.png

This type of plot can be confusing when the relationship isn't strong, but I think it works well enough here.

edit: there's also this plot type: http://i.imgur.com/jgMFS.png

It's a parody of religious right wing magical thinking, so it's not supposed to make sense.

Is this going to end up similar to a pirates vs. global warming graph?

As hat wearing went down car sales went up?

Well duh comparing the graphs doesn't provide the answer. But it provides good negative evidence if hats worn declines before interstates, for example. And if the graphs are similar, its a piece of the puzzle towards the answer.

It's probably not a waste of time creating a graph that might increase understanding and create better questions?

Not to be too funny, but humans are great at finding patterns in pictures that don't exist.


Suddenly hatless men found that they were getting sunburned. They needed cars in order to get quickly from one place to another.

The driving before the interstates happened on dirt roads, country roads, or paved roads in crowded city thoroughfares, with top speeds of less than thirty miles an hour. Automobiles in the '20's sat tall, with lots of interior room (even the low-end Model T had plenty of vertical space); sedans in the thirties began the trend towards lower profiles which continued up through the sporty road cruisers of the fifties. Those sleeker, lower profile designs would have been pointless without highways.

I don't think it's an entirely unlikely explanation.

True, but I am forced to say, correlation != causation ;)

It would provide evidence, however.

-/-> you mean.

Kind of like rising CO2 and global temps.

well, i don't have sales data at hand, but googles ngram viewer has this to say http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=hats%2Ccars%2Ch... (no correlation, at least in books)

I downvoted you by mistake, sorry.

I'd say it's harder to find correlation in Fashion than to predict the market.

Everyone i know in design and marketing everyone blabs about how lack of marketing killed hats.

But no one i know also happens to have breakfast talks everyday with a anthropologist phd studying fashion.

It also doesn't explain why the 5 million[1] people who ride the subway in New York City every day don't wear hats.

[1] http://mta.info/nyct/facts/ridership/index.htm

That style is very trend driven would argue otherwise. Once you reach a threshold suddenly it's unfashionable to wear hats or floral dresses.

There's actually some really interesting literature about how copyright would significantly hurt the fashion industry, because it is dependent on a large degree of 'copying' styles to create trends, which is key to creating planned obsolescence to keep people buying new clothes.

Edit: A nice TED talk on this, starting at 3:57 http://www.ted.com/talks/johanna_blakley_lessons_from_fashio...

I think this explanation fail to explain why hats disappeared in Russia, where cars were not ubiquitous until the fall of USSR.

Yep. Also fails to explain the significant decline of all the other accoutrements of the early 20th century's well-dressed man, such as the waistcoat, the tie, and the suit.

It's more of an overall long-term casualisation trend in society from the Victorian era through to today, reflected not only in clothes but also in speech and manners. It seems to me that we might have hit rock bottom in the 1990s and started clawing our way back up, but maybe that's just the circles I move in.

I agree about the casualisation. Especially ironic: People who wear tee-shirts to work complaining about today’s youth wearing trousers so low that their boxer shorts are hanging out. As if, you know, wearing an undershirt as outerwear in public is somehow more dignified than wearing underpants as outerwear in public.

> As if, you know, wearing an undershirt as outerwear in public is somehow more dignified than wearing underpants as outerwear in public.

Of course it is. Tee-shirts are now conventional and perfectly acceptable outerwear in most circumstances. Underpants aren't.

What defines acceptability? The fact that enough people are doing it or accept it?

Yes, and tradition. A woman can get hired to work at a bank with pierced ears, but probably not with a pierced nose. There's nothing in the Handbook of Chemistry and Physics that says one is more acceptable than the other, though. It's purely cultural.

That difference will be gone in ten years if it isn't already, although oldsters will continue to bemoan it for another twenty.

Well, yes. The fact that if you walk around with only a t-shirt covering the upper half of your body then people say nothing whereas if you walk around with only a pair of underpants covering the lower half of your body then people say "ugh, good god, put some fucking pants on, dude!"

This is not a random arbitrary social choice, either; if you're showing your underpants then you're not far away from showing other stuff we really don't wanna see. That's why the social convention is that you need two layers downstairs and one layer upstairs to be considered dressed.

If your next question is "yes, but why do people object to seeing strangers' genitals?" then I could point you at some ev-psych just-so stories, but the answer is "we just do, okay?"

> That's why the social convention is that you need two layers downstairs and one layer upstairs to be considered dressed.

Unless you're going to a beach then you really only need the underpants. :D (Unless you're at a nude beach, then clothing is optional or frowned on)

Not being trying snarky, just pointing out that it's actually a bit arbitrary.

At the beach it is n-1 top and bottom.

What if you wear pants without underwear :-D?

I think it goes back even further than the Victorian era, whose fashions were in many ways simpler than the height of 17th/18th-century aristocratic fashions. For example, the wig fell out of fashion, and elaborate embroidered suits, gowns, and capes were replaced with a more standardized range of coats made out of plainer fabric (often just plain black). By the Victorian era, nobody was dressing like this dashing fellow anymore: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Georg_Friedrich_H%C3%...

I guess mass production started to play a part in simplifying clothes around the Victorian era

Indeed, in Handel's day, only Handel and other rich important folks dressed like Handel.

Fast forward to 1900 and everyone from lords to labourers is walking around wearing a plain suit. You can still tell the difference between the two, but it's subtle rather than ostentatious.

Nice analysis. I love this kind of analysis of social phenomenon. But I will add that not only do cars make hats inconvenient they also make them less necessary. You spend less time standing around or walking around outside when you drive, especially if you have a garage. So you spend less time exposed to the elements, like sun, wind and cold. I will suggest this might help explain why hats were less common for women: They were more likely to be homemakers or do "pink collar" jobs. So they probably generally spent less time outdoors than men.

We still have men who wear hats at work but we typically don't mistakenly think of it as a fashion choice because they tend to be hard hats or otherwise clearly utilitarian. Much of what we view as mere fashion has either a utilitarian purpose or a utilitarian origin that has since been forgotten.

If you're interested in this story, there's an excellent book on the subject titled Hatless Jack: the President, the Fedora, and the Death of the Hat (http://www.amazon.com/Hatless-Jack-Neil-Steinberg/dp/1862077...) that investigates the death of the hat as a mandatory fashion accessory for American men in much more detail. Highly recommended.

Thanks for the link. As a man who has worn hats for past fifteen years, this would've been interesting. Shame that there is no Kindle version...

Yes, as bergie said: Thanks but, alas, due to my medical condition, I am also unlikely to read it without a paperless version.

I love this kind of analysis of social phenomenon

The kind of analysis that sounds vaguely plausible but is completely unprovable and probably wrong?

It sounds more than "vaguely" plausible to me. And, given that his father was there and able to make first hand observations about the phenomenon -- a phenomenon he had some vested interest in paying attention to -- I don't know why you would assume it is probably wrong. Possibly wrong? Sure. But probably? Why would you think that?

Sure. It’s a charming kind of wrongness, like a false etymology, or an eggcorn.

No. Men's hats were killed by sunglasses (better at keeping out the sun) and umbrellas (better at shielding from rain).

Don't me wrong, I like a good hat. But there are less exciting reasons why people stopped wearing them.

Wikipedia says mass-produced sunglasses were introduced in the US in 1929. Umbrellas have been used to keep off rain since at least the 18th century. Both of these times are significantly earlier than the decline of the hat in America.

Well if untog's theory is correct, you certainly wouldn't expect them to come after the decline of the hat.

I find a hat better for dealing with the rain, but that could be because I'm in the Puget Sound area. We get a lot of rainy days, but it is usually not heavy rain. The annoyance if getting my clothes a little wet is less than the annoyance of having to hold an umbrella.

The only part of a light rain that is really annoying is wet glasses, and a hat deals with that nicely.

Yeah, I started wearing a hat a lot more when I moved to Seattle. It almost never rains hard enough for an umbrella, but it often drizzles hard enough for a hat.

Skin cancer begs to differ with your analysis.

I searched for presidents in hats and I got this:


Contrary to myth, JFK wore his hat prominently during his inauguration.

"Hats" are still going strong here in Bahrain. To me, the clothing is one of the most visually interesting aspects of my visit. All the women wear the long black dresses and black head scarves and all the men wear long white dresses and either white or red+white head scarves. (Abayas and hijabs for the women, thobes and ghutras for the men).

It makes sense since it's sooooo bright. As I've walked around here for the last month I've really wanted to have the light full-body garment they have and the head wrap to keep off the sun, but I'm afraid it might be weird/disrespectful to wear it.

Might be worth asking someone if that'd go across OK.

I wear a hat because my dermatologist told me I'd better, while she was carving chunks of flesh out of my forehead.

I've since discovered that a wide brimmed hat makes walking in the Seattle rain quite pleasant.

Interesting theory. Regardless, I'll quote P.J. O'Rourke:

"A hat should be removed upon greeting a woman, and remain off for the rest of one's life. Nothing looks more stupid than a hat".

I'm only half kidding. Hats were probably more functional when bathing was less frequent. Unless you spend a lot of time in the bright sunlight or out in the cold, today there is little reason to wear one so now they just look silly.

Unless you spend a lot of time in the bright sunlight or out in the cold, today there is little reason to wear one so now they just look silly.

I kind of agree; some people look good in some hats, mostly though people look best in hats when the hat is serving some specific function.

OTOH, I know a few people, and see quite a few more, who wear hats all the time. Know a guy who was married in a hat. Know a guy who wears a wool cap no matter how hot it is.

I assume this is just some cultural difference, though I'd be interested in hearing from any all-the-time hat wearers how they came to decide this was a good thing.

I wear a black fedora just about everywhere, mostly because I think it looks cool. I later came to discover a couple other benefits, including:

- It's easier for people to recognize you if you have a hat that you always wear. (Conversely, if you want said people to not recognize you, you can take the hat off.)

- It's also easier for people to find you in a crowd if they know you're wearing a hat.

- If you Scotchgard it, it's reasonably waterproof and can keep rain out of your face.

- Occasionally random people tell you, "Nice hat."

A few more things to discover:

- If you're not wearing a suit, and you're not Indiana Jones, you shouldn't be wearing a fedora.

- Fedoras never, ever go well with a terrible patchy little goatee.

I went to a tech school, I have stared into the abyss of fedoras and it has changed me.

Also, leather fedoras are the most terrible abomination ever created.

Our success is predicated on hats being not popular, though.

Genuinely curious: why would less frequent bathing make hats more functional?

Less frequent bathing -> greasier hair -> hat serves as vanity shield from greasy hair.

It's not the worst theory I've ever heard.

Where do you live that is neither sunny nor cold?

C'mon. PJ O'Rourke? Is that supposed to be some sly, postmodern reference to retrograde '80s culture or just a Yuppie twitch? If that guy had his way, Reagan would still be president, Alzheimer's and death be damned. PJ O'Rourke should probably be the last person on earth you consult for fashion advice, short of the Pope, whose bathing habits aren't available to us mere mortals, but who has at least one die-hard fan left...

In all seriousness, hats are great; like anything else, they'll see a comeback when the pendulum swings the other way. I smoke a pipe and shave with a straightrazor, when I don't have a beard (which is most of the time). I think I'll buy myself a good hat one of these days just to bring it back and prove old PJ wrong.

Hey, I think the Pope is very well dressed for a major religious leader. And he has a wide selection of very nice hats.

Would you care to make a $1 bet regarding the popularity of hats over the next 20 years?

P. J. O'Rourke is an old curmudgeon, and old curmudgeons give the best advice.

Yes, but they also give the worst advice; the trick is distinguishing the one from the other.

A similar trend is visible in India too. Headgear(type varying by the region) was quiet an essential part of the dressing. There are parts where a lot of men still wear headgear (rural Maharashtra for example). But it is gone from majority of population.

Given that we neither had a switch to private vehicles in 50s nor JFK, there has to be a more globally applicable explanation for this!

The rise of the middle class, and adoption of Western lifestyle and values?

Oddly enough, I think that men's hats may be making a resurgence among the younger generations. Granted I don't have solid data to back this up, besides a lot of people who I have seen on campus (myself included) regularly wearing hats. Many of these are black fedoras, so Notch may be slightly responsible.

>so Notch may be slightly responsible.

I have seen a similar phenomena. I assure you that none of these people have seen a picture of Notch.

The fedora/trilby/etc could be better said to have simply never gone completely out of style. It's popularity just seems to ebb and flow like the tide.

Hipsters gonna hip.

I think it's due to less time spent outdoors in general, particularly less time on long outdoor walks. If you're exposed to the elements for a long time on a hot day, or a cold one, a hat definitely helps. So as we spend more time indoors, or in climate-controlled vehicles, we have less need for them.

Hats aside, Emma Goldman was an anarchist not a socialist.

Fighting an uphill battle in getting people to recognize an economic ontology that isn't comprised of "Capitalism" and "THE OTHER GUYS!".

My half-baked theory: it's hair.

Lots of hair and hats don't go - the hat feels wrong, wears wrong. If your hair length fluctuates your hat size changes. A hat that fit you last month no longer fits right.

Keep your hair habitually short, and hat wearing is more practical, and comfortable.

1961 was too early for hair to be that long then. Sure, maybe the counterculture was starting to get shaggy, but longer hair didn't really come into its own until the late 60's and 70's. And by the 00's it had pretty much gone away.

Point taken.

But I didn't have in mind 'hippie hair' but even moderate length hair. For me, any hair that hangs down below the level of the hat brim makes a hat unwearable.

But I was brainwashed by the Marines, so my mileage may vary.

Well yeah, but Beatlemania didn't start until the late 60's (the Beatles came to America in 1964) and at the time their haircuts were considered scandalously shaggy. If you think of the range of hair lengths, for men, in 1961 it wasn't much different from what's acceptable in the military or in the 1950's. But in the 1970's, shaggy Luke Skywalker hair was fairly normal, moreso than it is today for instance.

My dad was a young man when he fought in WWII. Looking at photos of him after he left the service in 1946, he never wore a hat. And looking at his friends in the photos, most of them aren't wearing hats either.

I wonder if the reason JFK didn't wear a hat was... many individuals of his generation didn't particularly care for them. JFK was the first individual of that generation elected to the presidency.

Which doesn't necessarily mean JFK had no influence. But I wonder whether it was part of a bigger pattern.

Obviously can't prove anything from an anecdote, and I'm not sure where you'd get the marketing data to do more... but it would seem that if younger men did resist buying hats, retailers at some level would probably have known.

Maybe the hat-killer was the discomfort of steel helmets in WWII. Any movie from that war, and all the guys are taking their helmets of all the time because they are annoying.

Team Fortress 2 of course. Think about it: it's set in the mid-1960s. Clearly enough the world's hat were diverted to the Teufort area that prices elsewhere went up enough to make wearing hats an unattractive proposition.

I wear hats, and I am a 24 year old software developer. I love the way I look with a nice hat on, and like having something covering my head that stops a lot of the sun from shining into my eyes...

Hats look cool on cool guys, and programmers often aren't "cool guys". Perhaps you're a brogrammer?

Mostly true. Hats are a necessity when you spend a lot of time outside. In the era prior to hats where a great deal of walking outdoors was commonplace hats were a necessity. And, of course, they became formalized as part of the everyday uniform of respectable folks. With the rise of the automibile the necessity of hats waned, but they retained their place in society due to societal inertia. Eventually, that broke too though.

It's not just the roof distance .. when driving, it's significantly less comfortable to wear a hat with a (rear or full) brim against a headrest.

Headrests really didn't start becoming commonplace until the late 1960s / early 1970s. They were made mandatory in the US only on January 1, 1969.


This post-dates the hatless trend by about a decade, though it certainly wouldn't have helped the haberdasher's trade.

Good points. Caused me to do some additional research (beyond my personal experience with hats).

Patents for headrests were granted in 1921, 1930 and 1950. [1] According to some sources, they began to appear in cars in the 50s and 60s [2], which coincides with (and slightly pre-dates) the JFK theory.

1: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Head_restraint 2: http://www.ehow.com/facts_7597635_use-headrest.html

Yeah, I think it's a matter of practicality. We've abandoned hats because they're really a pain to maintain and use.

The same thing with suits, beards, mustaches, a lot of courtesy and manners, duels, the "just line up in bright coats and fire" battles, the insanely ornate dresses, and other stuff that serves no real practical purpose and only takes time and money to maintain...

I bought a baseball cap today, because I sport a buzzcut and I'm temporarily working in a climate where the sun is burning. So I need it to protect myself from the sun.

Could it be that the decline of the hat came with the office culture? Most people I see outdoor working actually wear something on their heads.

Whilst fascinating, It's amazing that stuff like this gets bumped up to number #2 on hackernews

I remember a saying for this kind of phenomenon. What was it, "Slow news day"?

Weekends are quiet.

Hats and suits declined at the same time. Really, just a general reduction in formality.

I feel dumb for trying to think of some Apple product that had only three letters in it.

Like iAd? ;)

One flaw in the car hypothesis is that the car seat to roof distance declined significantly from about the 1920s to the 1950s. Early motorcars had enough headroom for their gentlemen owners to wear their tophats. The change was partly motivated by increased emphasis on streamlining, but if hats were still important, room would still have been provided for them.

I suspect WWII had something to do with it, but I can't figure out how. Certainly pre-war cars had much higher roof-lines than post-war cars.

Here's an article which says that public transport byelaws meant that carriages had to have enough room for hats.


> Taxi design at the time (horse-drawn cabs - Hackneys) stated the height of the cabin had to accommodate a man wearing a bowler hat and like many of those bye-laws, they remain in place today.

I, intuitively, thought that creation of Air conditioning (especially in the car) has something to do with it.

In so many of the old movies you see. A doorman collects a gents overcoat and a hat as he enters a hall full of other people. And of course the, gent has arrived in a carriage or some other means of public transport.

So when people didn't feel that much cold in a car. They also did not need an overcoat and a hat perhaps?

I've heard the same said of trains and tall top-hats in particular. (I think it was in a Horrible Histories book, of all places.)

Those books also seem to be good at repeating popular wisdom unquestioned, like the story of the Romans' vomitoria.

I suspected as much; I mainly mentioned the "source" because I don't entirely trust it.

“A hat should be taken off when greeting a lady, and left off the rest of your life. Nothing looks more stupid than a hat.” ― P.J. O'Rourke, Modern Manners: An Etiquette Book for Rude People

Oftentimes, things happen as a result of more than just one single cause.

I can easily imagine both this and JFK being contributing factors. It's silly to set them up as one vs. another.

Which 3-letter word?

It's "ion" I'll ink? Ill imp inn? Ick. Its ice ire? Ifs/Ins ilk?

I wonder if the comb-over style appeared after hats disappeared?

What about the rest of of the western world?

I am shaving my head tomorrow and I am not even american. But the message is subtle and clear :) It is also summer.

Dear NPR,

You do realise that there's a world outside the United States, right? And that in Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, all the other culturally similar countries, they also stopped wearing hats sometime in the 1950s and 60s? That public transport remains the main way for (say) Londoners to get to work, and yet that the hat slowly vanished from the heads of Londoners over roughly the same period that it vanished from the heads of Los Angelinos?

Dear NPR,

I know this is just one of your employees' blogs, and I know it very likely doesn't represent the official stance of National Public Radio on hat-wearing, globalism or international politics. I also happen to agree with the parent that this theory is a bit of a stretch, but hey...that's life.

That said, I'd like to thank you for writing anything about this subject at all, because without you folks, I'm reasonably sure I wouldn't be thinking about hat-wearing on a sunny Saturday afternoon. So, nutty or not, thanks for providing some mind-expanding reading material. I'll try not to extrapolate this light bit of reading into a narrative about your awareness of the world at large.

Those in English speaking countries outside the USA often consume media offerings from inside the USA. It's not beyond reason that other countries would follow the lead of USA in fashion; probably really it would be the lead of costume designers in US films. The thrall of fashion appears to overrule common sense so the use of public transport, in London say, wouldn't necessarily over rule the fashionistas deciding that "hair is the new hat" or whatever.

That said, the point should at least have been addressed.

Hats are starting to come back into fashion in Australia, though nothing like in the article's photos. Hats were seen as old-fashioned, but over the past couple of decades, they've become much more common with schoolkids to protect from the sun. It's pretty common to pass a primary school at lunchtime and see every kid wearing the school cap. My guess is that with more kids growing up used to hats, there's less of a block to wearing them as an adult.

edit: on further thought, hats also used to be seen as something to wear with suits, and as people wore less in the way of suit-like clothing, hats went too. In more recent times, hats are used more and more with other kinds of clothing - if you see someone wearing a fedora in Australia, it's much more likely they're young and wearing casual clothing than someone in business wearing a suit.

Both the State primary schools I went to in the '90s had strict 'No hat, no play' rules. We had to wear a hat to go outside, and I assume other State schools still have the same rules.

The rule didn't exist in high school though, so nearly everybody stopped using them.

You know those signs on the road in Australia that say, "Tired? Tired driving Kills!" --or something like that? You know that law in Queensland where you can't smoke 25 feet from a starbucks? Or the one in WA where if you get two tickets for screeching your tires, they steal your car and crush it? Or the one where you have to spend 30 minutes strapping on a helmet and pads to climb a ladder and fix a roof tile?

Yeah, you guys are really free thinkers. And your kids look great covered in cancer-causing toxic waste wearing stupid ass straw hats.

-1. What's the problem with safety laws, and what do they have to do with free thinking?

It's hard to drive when you're tired.

Not everybody in Australia appreciates cigarette smoke.

Most people here don't like hooning, but "they" won't "steal" your car for it. It might, however, be confiscated.

I don't know of the law at home, but workplace health and safety is taken very seriously here. Not wearing safety gear can get you and your employer in quite a bit of trouble.

Try to be a little more constructive instead of mocking Australians.

Edit: The smoking law really is fantastic by the way, when people obey it. As a kid, I remember having to walk through 20 metres of cigarette smoke to get into a shopping centre. It was putrid. I don't mind people smoking, but the smoke buildup outside shops wasn't good.

I think there is a 3 strikes hooning law where you will have your car taken from you. I'm not sure many would disagree with it though.

Note also that you also have to be pretty obnoxious to get a 'strike'. It's not just 'squealing brakes' as mentioned above, which suggests that an emergency stop will get your car crushed.


Check out the photo next to the section heading. Now imagine this happening late at night in the street outside your house, 2-3 nights a week, every week, sustained for half an hour or more, with collections of aggressive, macho men associated with it. At best it's a public nuisance, and frequently it scares residents. It's not just 'squeaky brakes'.

Right, right. Thanks for confirming my analysis. All I'm saying is that Australia has become one of the most conformist, politically correct nanny states on earth (while still calling your natives all kinds of nasty names and treating them even more like children than you treat your "full white" citizens). Your opinion of all these things as being advancements is dead in line with the overall Australian tendency to bend over twice for America, China or whoever happens to make you feel like embarrassed yobs today, so nothing new there. What's kind of sad is that I came to Oz looking for a place where people thought for themselves, and instead found something like a very arid version of England. Which I hate. So to answer your question about what's wrong with safety laws: They are the last refuge of scoundrels, small minds, and people who are afraid of ladders.

* I should just edit this to say that all the coolest Australians I met in a year of travel were 65 or older, smoked like chimneys, and thought everyone under 30 in their country was an unintelligible fool. They lived in places like Hay, Tenterfield and Dubbo. I'd like to give a tip of the hat to John in Inverell, who bless him is the epitome of what your country was and should be. Other than your old fellas, it's a joke.

Thanks for the solid analysis.


The small-minded, brainless scoundrels and jokes of Australia.

PS, the racism here can be pretty bad, I'll give you that. Things are improving, but not as fast as they ought to.

True as that may be (I honestly don't know or care much about Australia), it's kind of a dick move to swoop in and make random anti-Australian rants whenever someone mentions the country.

I think that this says more about your character than that of Australians in general. The way you've presented your beliefs makes it pretty clear that you've chosen to view things through a twisted lens.

I'm sorry you had a bad experience travelling here, and there are problems here as everywhere. But just making things up and spitting them out with vitriol doesn't do anyone any favours.

How did you set your self up for this unhappiness? Why did you go to Australia expecting to find something and turn out to find something so different?

Straw hats? Who said anything about straw hats? The kids generally wear cloth caps with a skirt around the back.

You've clearly got zero idea of what you're talking about, and are just making stuff up to grind an axe, for some unclear reason.

One thing I notice about public transport - especially the London Underground and double decker buses in general - is my head often touches (or is very near) the top without wearing a hat. So, I am not sure how the story holds up. Unless previous generations were substantially shorter?

I think it has more to do with class in the UK. With each generation, the class division has faded, and to a degree, hats were one way of advertising your class. Even today, baseball caps are seen as part of the uniform of the "underclass" (that is, when they aren't worn by sports people).

People on average have been getting taller for a long time. The general assumption is better nutrition and fewer diseases = taller populations. A lot of old clothing looks tiny by today's standards.

The N stands for "national".

But cars did also become widely used in those other countries during that time. I don't think that blaming presidents makes sense (and that part was a joke, anyway), but cars as an explanation for the decline of hats seems intriguing. As you noted, in some places in the west, commuting by public transport remained widely used (though I would argue that even many of those people frequently had to use cars), but here I would simply add fashion to the cars and turn it in a two-step process: cars made the use of hats decline, that decline became visible (either through interpersonal relationships or the media) and through that became fashion.

It's an intriguing idea, certainly, but obviously without any empirical validation (that's just how it is, that doesn't mean it's not allowed or fun to speculate about).

A couple years ago some friends that I considered reasonably polite and well raised were shocked that you men aren't supposed to wear hats indoors.

I thought they were kidding. They swore they'd never heard that, and we're talking about guys in their 40s.

Ink? Ire? Ide? Irk? Ill? Imp? Ion? Ilk?

My first thought was what does IBM have against hats?

My guess was IMF or IRS haha.

If you read the article you would know the answer is "Ike", the nickname of former US president Dwight D. Eisenhower.

It was more fun thinking of three-letter "I" words.

ny never quite saw the car change. I still rather public transportation there over driving anytime.

As i bet all that crowd on the occupy did too.

I like the subtle smear of implicitly comparing OWS protestors to socialists.

Man I dunno, every time a right-winger condemns something as "socialism", it's something I think sounds like a pretty good idea to keep the US a good place to live and work.

Why is it a smear to be compared to a socialist?

Presumably you mean that the comparison would be smearing socialists.

Here are some actual photos of the May Day OWS demonstration.


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