What Happened to the Hat?

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Easter Sunday is fast approaching — have you pulled out your Easter bonnet? If not, you aren't alone. Gone are the days of Humphrey Bogart, Hedda Hopper, Jackie O, and their signature hats. Patt Morrison, a columnist for The LA Times explains the allure — and disappearance — of the hat.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

With Easter coming up this weekend, columnist Patt Morrison spent some time considering head gear. Not just the Easter bonnet, but how we've forgotten what she describes as a most enticing and useful accessory. And though she writes about women who no longer how to remember - no longer remember how to wear a hat, it's just as much of an issue for men. Humphrey Bogart, Hedda Hoppers, Scarlet O'Hara all had signature hats. How come we don't? Do you buy them? Do you wear them? Do you avoid them as outmoded frippery?

Our number is 800-989-8255. E-mail is talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our blog, that's at npr.org/blogofthenation.

Patt Morrison writes for the Los Angeles Times, and joins us today from member station KPCC in Pasadena, California.

Thanks very much for coming in.

Ms. PATT MORRISON (Columnist, Los Angeles Times): Outmoded frippery, Neal?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MORRISON: I'm crushed.

CONAN: Oh, I know hats are awkward to pair with headphones. But I wonder, did you wear a hat to the studio today?

Ms. MORRISON: I did. And because I'm wearing black jeans at a simple black beret with a grosgrain bow.

CONAN: And how many hats do you have?

Ms. MORRISON: Not enough. If I counted, I might be dismayed because there wouldn't be enough.

CONAN: Why do you wear them and why do you think most women have abandoned them?

Ms. MORRISON: I began wearing hats because my skin is very sensitive to the sun. So I began as a child. But I think a lot of the reasons that women abandoned them - these were a uniform for years and years, a woman couldn't go out on a city street in a big city without a hat. And in the `60s, we gave up uniforms, we gave up suits and ties, we gave up the idea of uniformity in dress. And unfortunately, hats went with them and it's time for a comeback.

CONAN: It - you nailed the moment for a lot of women as the Kennedy administration with Jackie then-Kennedy.

Ms. MORRISON: Jackie Kennedy and her pillbox hats. Her hair was really almost hat-defying, it took a lot to keep those hats on her head, I think. And once you had the '60s generation, the love generation - Janice Joplin and long hair and hippies and the surfer girls - there were really wasn't a need, a place for a hat any longer.

CONAN: As interestingly, too, John Kennedy was the first president to walk to his inauguration without a hat on. And that was sort of the end for men's hats, too.

Ms. MORRISON: He carried it in his hand rather than put the top hat on his head. And for men's hat makers, this was a disastrous moment. Comparable to when Clark Gable took off his shirt and it happened one night and he wasn't wearing an undershirt and the sales of men's undershirt plunged.

CONAN: The - there is so much about the hat. I mean, I'll give you useful, enticing - sometimes.

Ms. MORRISON: It depends on the hat and it depends on the hat wearer. And part of the problem is so many women say, I wish I could wear a hat. Anyone, any woman can wear a hat, it just depends on the type of hat. And we have lost all knowledge and familiarity with how to wear a hat. This is almost as big as disaster if we forgot how to wear lipstick.

CONAN: You've described going into a department store - and I guess the department used to be called the millinery department?

Ms. MORRISON: We used to call it millinery, some places you'll still find it, but it is one of those archaic words that goes along with the buggy whip. And I was watching these two young women, they were 20 somethings, they were trying on hats one after the other. They had a tattoo, they had pierced ears -multiple pierced ears, pierced eyebrows, pierced nose. And they were trying on these beautiful hats. And finally, one of them set the hat down and she said, I couldn't wear one of these, everybody would be looking at me. And I thought, honey, you've holes that you've punched in your face and you're worried that somebody will look at you because you're wearing a hat? This was very bad shift.

CONAN: Also, you say, women have forgotten how to wear them. Obviously, this comes with practice. But you have some practical tips.

Ms. MORRISON: Well, a hat is not like a bra, there is not just one way to wear it. You can move it around, you can tilt it forwards and backwards. Don't pay attention to the label. You have to put it on your head to suit you. And I think that a lot times that people tend to look at the label and think, no, that's what I have to wear. That's not the case. You also need to try on a hat looking at a full-length mirror because that's the way people are going to look at you, your whole body in the scale of the hat to the body.

You have to be in charge of the hat. You can't let the hat wear you. And you can't slap it on the back of your head. If you're in a revival of "Annie Get Your Gun" and you're playing a drunken cowgirl, that's fine. Otherwise, it looks like you're going to milk goats. That's not the way hats are to be worn.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: You can't wear them to milk goats?

Ms. MORRISON: Well, I suppose you could, depending on the goats.

CONAN: Yeah, one of those nice straw hats, maybe.

Ms. MORRISON: That they will eat.

CONAN: Yeah. We're talking with Patt Morrison. If you'd like to join the conversation, 800-989-8255. E-mail us, talk@npr.org.

Let's go to Richard(ph) who is calling us from Tallahassee in Florida.

RICHARD (Caller): Hey, Neal. Thanks for this particular subject. I'm a male, obvious, hat wearer and have for years, and I'm not talking baseball hats. And I wished they'd come back if for no other reason than establishments like restaurants would have places to put your hat…

CONAN: A hat rack.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RICHARD: …when you going to eat - short of putting them on your head, which is prude.

CONAN: So you don't - you eschew the baseball cap, but what sort of hat do you wear - a fedora?

RICHARD: Fedoras, straw boaters - anything to keep the sun off my head and protect the bald spot on the top. But I also think they look pretty stylish.

CONAN: Pretty stylish and, again, that bald spot - the useful aspect again, Patt Morrison?

Ms. MORRISON: It's very useful. Hats will keep you warm in the winter and shade you in the summer. And Richard sounds like the kind of guy who'd be happy for the comeback of the hat-check girl.

CONAN: Richard?

Ms. MORRISON: It is an institution that we've lost.

RICHARD: Absolutely. And I think my wife would probably enjoy wearing hats. But again, they're hard to come by in a lot of places. And the women don't have to take their hats off in establishments. The guys, you know, they end up putting them on the floor. That's a sin when it comes to a good hat.

CONAN: Yeah. It's also a temptation to be crushed.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MORRISON: And, Neal, Richard has a point that we've forgotten - hat etiquette, too. Men take their hats off inside, women do not have to. Men take their hats off when the flag goes by or the anthem is played, they're supposed to take their hats off in elevators, as well. It's very tricky…

RICHARD: Uh-huh.

CONAN: In elevators?

Ms. MORRISON: In elevators as well.

CONAN: I knew about all those other places. I am of the baseball cap-wearing variety of hat wearer, and I wear them all the time. But I didn't know I have to take it off in an elevator.

Ms. MORRISON: Well, I suppose with a mere cap, I'd - the rules don't necessarily apply. I'm speaking of the real sorts of hat that Richard likes to wear.

CONAN: Well, his hats - I can tell you from experience, too - don't go well with headphones, they work great with baseball caps.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Thanks, Richard.

Ms. MORRISON: I do have headphones specifically designed to wear with large hats.

CONAN: Let's go to Martha(ph). And Martha is with us from Huachuca City in Arizona.

MARTHA (Caller): Yes.

CONAN: You're on the air. Go ahead, please.

MARTHA: Thank you. I have about 25 hats. And I don't go outside without wearing a hat. I have summer hats and winter hats, and where I live, I can wear a summer hat all the year round if I want to.

CONAN: And - well, the sun is always strong there in Arizona.

MARTHA: Exactly.

CONAN: And do you find other women wearing hats a lot? Or is this, as we have been suggesting, a lost art?

MARTHA: Well, of course, there are a lot of women wearing red hats these days. And every now and then, someone says, oh, I should wear a hat because, you know, it protects the skin. I don't see a lot of hat-wearing, but I have a couple of Wallaby hats and they're wonderful because they're adjustable, and so many hats are one-size-fits-all, and they don't fit me.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

MARTHA: I have a one, pale-beige felt, sort of, a pit helmet hat that I really like.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MORRISON: Well, Neal, I'm just not advocating hats for sun and for shade, I think that they have to be ornamental, as well. And some of the places that you'll find the most phenomenal hats are in black churches. Because the women there will dress to the nines for Sundays and the hats are absolutely terrific. And I think there's a play called "Crowns"…

MARTHA: Yes.

Ms. MORRISON: …about women's hats in black churches.

MARTHA: Yes. We saw that in Tucson.

CONAN: So Martha, which of your hats will you be donning this Sunday?

MARTHA: Oh, probably my new Wallaby.

CONAN: It'll look great.

MARTHA: Yes.

CONAN: You'll be in the rotogravure of the Huachuca City Times.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Martha.

MARTHA: Thank you. Bye.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

Let's see if we can go now to Jerry Anne(ph). Jerry Anne is with us from Milwaukee.

JERRY ANNE (Caller): Hello?

CONAN: Hi. You're on the air, Jerry Anne.

JERRY ANNE: Hi, Patt. This is Jerry Anne Hayslett(ph).

Ms. MORRISON: Oh, Jerry Anne, how are you?

JERRY ANNE: Good. How are you?

Ms. MORRISON: Jerry Anne is a refugee from Los Angeles.

JERRY ANNE: And I must tell you, Patt, that I envy you, every time I see you, you wear a beautiful shapo of one brand or another, style or another. I have always envied women who could wear hats, but I cannot, even in the frigid temperatures in Wisconsin, I cannot wear a hat.

Ms. MORRISON: Oh, Jerry Anne, I will consult with you one of these days if you wish. I think every woman can wear a certain kind of hat.

JERRY ANNE: Well, here's the thing, they give me headaches or stiff neck. It is just so foreign being on my head, and then comes the awful moment when I have to take it off, and it's much worse than pillow hair.

CONAN: Jerry Anne, I've been to Wisconsin in the wintertime, and a little stiff neck is nothing compared to that wind through your ears.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JERRY ANNE: Well, I just pull my hood up around my ears. I do not put it up over my head.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JERRY ANNE: Even in sub-zero with the wind blowing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: I guess, Patt, the hood on parka - that sure doesn't count as a hat.

JERRY ANNE: It - well, it comes up under my ears. I tie it up under my ears.

CONAN: I see.

JERRY ANNE: But I don't put it up over my head.

CONAN: But even if you did, it wouldn't count as a hat.

JERRY ANNE: No. No. No. Uh-Uh. Nope.

CONAN: All right.

JERRY ANNE: No. But thank you. I'm glad being able to talk to you, and I do envy you and your wonderful hats.

Ms. MORRISON: Thank you, Jerry Anne.

JERRY ANNE: Take care.

CONAN: Thanks for the call.

And let's go now to Amber(ph). And Amber's calling us from Stockton in California.

AMBER (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi, Amber.

AMBER: I just wanted to make a comment that I think that hats these days have more gone towards a costume end of things. I work in - at the Dickens Fair in San Francisco for six weeks out of the year. And I work, actually, in the haberdashery, which is a hat shop for men and women. And I have to explain to people how to wear the hats, the different styles of hats, ones that are meant to be worn on the back of your head because it's all Victorian-England-kind-of-style hats.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

AMBER: But everything just seems to have gone to more costume, and you really don't see them in everyday life.

CONAN: So Halloween is a maybe a bigger holiday perhaps than Easter, you think?

AMBER: Oh, definitely. Definitely.

CONAN: And are you amazed at our - that our entire culture has lost this appreciation for the hat?

AMBER: I am amazed, because some hats have such a great history to them, and just explaining that history to people gets them kind of excited about hats, as well. And you think, well, maybe, maybe outside of this particular fantasy fair that they're in for the weekend, that maybe outside they'll try on another hat…

(Soundbite of laughter)

AMBER: …and try to go for something a little more flamboyant than they're used to, I guess.

CONAN: And Amber, I assume, you wear a hat?

AMBER: I do on occasion. I must say I don't normally wear it in my everyday life, but I have been known to from time to time. I have really long hair which makes hat-wearing difficult at best, because my hair goes all the way down to past my waist. So, it's you can either got to get it up into a nice bun that looks well with the hat or you have to have a really casual hat that's going to work with the long hair.

CONAN: We have an e-mail from Teresa(ph) in Oklahoma City that addresses this point. I love wearing hats, but they always seem to mess up my hair. How do you handle that, Patt Morrison?

Ms. MORRISON: You just don't take it off until you get home. Then there's no such thing as hat-hair, and you never have a bad hair day with a hat.

CONAN: There's an option.

(Soundbite of laughter)

AMBER: That's a clever idea. There you go.

Ms. MORRISON: And Neal, Amber's point is well-taken. We are so unaccustomed to seeing people - to seeing women in hats that they all look like costume to us. When, in fact, that's not the case. It may suit the outfit perfectly, but our eyes are so unaccustomed to it that we immediately think, oh, you must work for MGM.

(Soundbite of laughter)

AMBER: Right. Or be part of the Red Hat Society.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: The Red Hats - the Red Hat Club, yeah. Amber, thanks for the call.

AMBER: Thank you.

CONAN: We're talking with Los Angeles Times Columnist, Patt Morrison, about hats. And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's see if we can get Jill(ph) on the air. Jill is calling us from San Francisco.

JILL (Caller): Hi. This is Jill.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

JILL: Oh, okay. Well, I come from a long line of hat-wearing women. In terms of Easter. I mean, my biggest memories of the Easter were always going to church where all the women were wearing hats, incredible hats.

And, you know, there's this thing about how you're supposed to take your hat off if you go in the room, is that just for men?

CONAN: So we have been told this segment. Yes.

JILL: Yeah. Is this for men, women can - because in church, everyone can wear the hats.

Ms. MORRISON: You can get away with it anytime on your head if you're a woman. If you're a gentleman, there are other rules that apply. And you're right about church. From the back of the - from the back pew, it looks like a garden on Easter Sunday.

CONAN: Hmm.

JILL: That's right. And actually, I - for 20 years, I have been having hat parties, you know. Sometimes we'll have it in the summer and everyone who comes to the party has to wear a hat, and if they don't have one, then they'll have to wear one of mine.

CONAN: We've heard about those wild parties in San Francisco. Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JILL: Well, yeah. And then in the wintertime - actually, I live in Mount Shasta and I work in San Francisco a week of every month. And in Mount Shasta in the winter, you may need them pretty much. Like for a friend in Milwaukee - you got to wear a hat, it's so cold.

CONAN: Hmm. Thanks very much, Jill.

JILL: Okay.

CONAN: Thanks for the call. Here's an e-mail from Kaye(ph) in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.

Help. I'm a woman of a certain age who would give anything to be able to wear dramatic hats, but the circumference of my head is way too big to wear a hat off the rack. Are there sources for larger hats for women or do I need to resort to a millinery?

Ms. MORRISON: You can go online and find larger hats, especially larger berets. But the beauty of felt hats is that you can stretch them. Hats used to be sized for women and for men. If you saw 23 in a woman's hat, it meant your head was 23 inches around, which is a pretty good size.

You can go online and buy manual hat stretchers, but these work better for felt hats than for straw hats, obviously. But don't despair. There is a hat out there for you and if not, the hat stretcher can help.

CONAN: Let's go to Richard(ph). Richard's with us from Leavenworth in Kansas.

RICHARD (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi, you're on the air, Richard. Go ahead, please.

RICHARD: Hi. Yes, well, I have a purely extensive hat collection. I have been wearing hats since I was pretty young. My grandfather gave me my first hat, and since then, I've been wearing them.

CONAN: What was that first hat?

RICHARD: It was a Big Apple.

CONAN: A Big Apple? What kind of hat is that?

RICHARD: Well, you know, it lays kind of flat on your head, it has a short brim, and it has a little clip, a little snap in front, you can flip it up or snap it down.

CONAN: Like an Irish-style cap?

RICHARD: Yeah, sort of. Yes. Very much like that.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And what - do you get stares? I mean, a lot of men don't wear hats.

RICHARD: It doesn't matter to me. You have to have hattitude(ph). And I have hattitude.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RICHARD: Because I have all different types of hats. I love hats.

CONAN: Do you have hattitude, do you think, Patt Morrison?

Ms. MORRISON: Oh, I think I definitely do. And it's pretty easy to cultivate. We are in a society where everybody wants to be a celebrity, everybody wants to be regarded. Put a hat on your head and it's a good start.

RICHARD: That's for sure.

CONAN: Richard, thanks very much. You're picking out your hat for Sunday, right now?

RICHARD: Oh, I always have a hat.

CONAN: All right. Thanks very much for the call.

And Patt Morrison, before we let you go, what is your most outrageous hat?

Ms. MORRISON: I have a hat from probably about 1910, which has feathers, it has gold lace on it, it's got all sorts of ornaments and trim. You had to be quite a woman to stand up to a hat like that about a hundred years ago. It's a formidable hat. It takes three hat pins to anchor it down, and it takes a place deserving of it for me to go to wear it.

CONAN: Thanks very - are we going to see it on Sunday?

Ms. MORRISON: I hope so. I'll be around.

CONAN: Patt Morrison, thanks very much.

Ms. MORRISON: My pleasure, Neal.

CONAN: Patt Morrison, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times who also hosts a daily radio show for member station KPCC, with us today from their studios in Pasadena, California.

You could find her link to her article on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation, along with a helpful hat how-to video. And you can check out that blog link for "My Remembrance," and a great story about science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke who died earlier this week.

Ira will see you tomorrow with SCIENCE FRIDAY; we'll see you on Monday.

I'm Neal Conan, NPR News in Washington.

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