Hats come in thousands and thousands of shapes, sizes, and colors. Anything can be a "hat," as it is the generic term used for anything that covers your head. But I'm not interested in just any old bucket that you can place on your head. I'm interested in the hats that make a name for themselves. Hats that make us instantly recognize a culture or tradition. Hats that signify places and people. These are the hats that really matter, and the ones that have been given names other than just "hat."
I love hats. Some girls have closets full of shoes, I have a closet full of hats. Hats are unique, distinguishable, and show character. On my world travels over the years I have collected hats because every country has its own distinct head gear. It's not the easiest souvenir to bring back, but rather one that reminds me of the culture I experienced and became a part of, if only for a little while. As I was thinking about my collection of melon covers, I began recognizing some patterns. Some of them were all about flare and fashion while others were deeply rooted in tradition. Still others were a symbol of team unity and support. And then there were the ones used out of necessity. All of them are special in their own way, and that is part of my fascination with hats from all over the world.
Many countries had unique ways of dressing that was dependent on the fabric available and styles selected. However, "traditional dress" in many countries is no longer a common day to day style as new fabrics and production methods have closed the gap between countries and their styles. We've lost some of the authenticity and uniqueness of dress that defines individual cultures. A t-shirt is a t-shirt in China, Brazil, and Chicago.
Yes, you can go see the old style articles of clothing in a museum or at some tourist trap. But, beyond that, locals are usually not wearing these articles of clothing daily. Hats, however, are the one piece of the traditional ensemble that you does still permeate society here and there. It is a subtle connection to heritage, and why I love finding the perfect hat to bring home from all of my travels.
Tam O' Shanter
This Scottish bonnet is a distinguishable feature in a country full of tradition. Originally, the bonnet was a single, hand-knitted piece made of wool. It came in either black, brown, or blue. This common head piece was worn by men and servants in the late 1500s.
The name came from the hero, Tam O' Shanter in Robert Burn's narrative poem by the same title. This hat was similar to other bonnet types that existed during this period in Europe, but the woolen ball or "toorie" on top of the hat sets it apart as Scottish.
Later when dyes came into use the hats took on new colors and patterns. It was soon common to see these hats made in the plaid or "tartan" associated with a certain region or clan. A Scot takes great pride in his heritage and wears his clan's colors to signify where he is from. The history of the Tartans is another story, but one worth visiting Scotland for.
As time passed, this hat took on many different forms from military use to academic attire to fashionable golf wear. Even today if you keep your eyes open, you will see Scotsmen wearing these bonnets and keeping the tradition alive.
Anyone that knows anything about drinking beer has seen this hat before. The Tyrolean hat or Bavarian hat or Alpine hat is a traditional German cover. To complete their outfits of leather shorts, tall socks, and frilly shirts, German men wore the Tyrolean felt hat.
Originating in what is now Austria, the hat got its name from the Tyrol region in the Alps. Typically it has a crown that comes to a slight point in the front. The hat, just above the brim, is wrapped with a cord band that has feathers, flowers or other bits of local nature tucked into it.
Today there exist a variety of styles and colors, but you can tell which ones have endured years of drinking as the felt fades, pins are added, and they smell like the beer hall even after the wearer leaves. Germans love their beer and these hats fit perfectly with their German party suits.
But, in the region of Bavaria this traditional dress is not just a party costume. I remember walking the street of Garmisch, Germany and seeing a farmer throw hay to his livestock. What else was he wearing but lederhosen and a felt Tyrolean. It's what locals wore, and some of them still wear. Yes, Carhartt pants would probably be much more comfortable, but I'm not going to tell them to change, are you?
Flare and Fashion
Hats have been around a long time as a means of spicing up people's outfits. Typically it takes people with moxie or fame to make them acceptable, but eventually the trend catches on and everyone is wearing a particular piece of flair or fashion. The funny thing about trends is how fast they come and go. Kids try to be different than their parents. They rebel and dress like their grandparents thinking they lived in a whole different world which was cool and unique. This cycle of skipping a generation causes trends to fluctuate back and forth.
Wearing fashionable hats is tough. You will get a lot of looks if you are in a place where hats are not popular, but who knows, you may be setting the next trend. Would you rather be a trend follower or a trend setter?
The French are known as some of the most fashionable people, so there is no surprise that one of their hats makes the list. This hat has been around for a long time. Women and men alike used to wear these frisbee looking hats every day. A woman would have different colors for different outfits and depending on how she wore her hair a beret could help reflect a unique style for her day.
Many movies set in Paris, or featuring a French actress, accentuate French culture by adding a beret to the outfits. I'm reminded of the movie, "Inglorious Bastards" where the Jewish female is trying to fit into the French culture. She is sitting in a cafe with a beret hat on and a cigarette in her hand. Those accessories were her French passport, and it fooled almost everyone.
Today the style has changed a little bit from a simple flat circle to ones with a brim. However, they are most definitely still around, and a little birdie says they are coming back into style.
Talk about a hat made famous by celebrities, the fedora was THEE hat of the 1930s thanks to movie tough guys and Chicago gangsters. In this period it was said that no man was fully dressed unless he topped off his suit with a fedora hat. Still today, actors and even actresses show off the fashion of a fedora. It seems to carry a certain swagger with it.
The name fedora actually came from a heroine in a French playwright's drama presented in Paris in 1882. The heroine wore this hat, but it was the American movie stars that really set it on fire.
Films like Scarface and Little Caesar show famous gangsters sporting this head cover with flare. Later Indiana Jones would make the safari style fedora famous with his movies. Everyone soon wanted to be like the tough, manly men represented by these actors... and carry a whip!
The fedora is traditionally made of felt, but today it can be anything from cotton to other light weight materials. The band around the bowl gives this hat just a little more character, and the pinch in the front varies on the individual's choice. Many think this hat represents a terrible fashion trend that should never make a come back, but I think these people just don't have the moxie to pull it off.
I'm willing to bet everyone has worn a hat at some point in their life. Maybe it was really cold out. In this case a stocking hat covered your ears and kept you warm. Or, maybe the sun burned down on you and a full brimmed hat gave you shade at the beach. Hats do have a useful purpose other than making you look good.
This Colombian hat was probably the coolest practical hat I've ever seen. Locals judge the quality of the hat by the flexibility. Higher flexibility=higher quality. Getting my hands on one of these hats was obviously a must while in Colombia. Shopping for one was an experience in itself.
Here is how it went:
"My friend, my friend! Let me show you something."
He proceeds to fold the hat, roll it up and stick it in his back pocket.
"You see, it travels nicely. Then when you go into the sun..."
He yanked it out of his pocket, gave it a hard flick and put it on Hank's head.
"Perfect! You like? It looks good man. We have other choices, you see!"
That was only one shop. We did this dance and money bargaining song at four other shops before finally making a deal. All of them did this same flexibility test, and it was fun to watch them sell. We finally made a deal for about 50,000 Colombian Pesos. (only about $20) That included, however, a second souvenir for another 10,000 COP. They love making deals, and we loved only spending 25 American dollars.
These hats are not just for the tourists, but they are still in every day use. In fact, it was common to see gardeners trimming bushes in the blazing hot sun. We were sweating just watching them, but their vueltiaos provided shade and kept them cool. We even witnessed the "hat in pocket" trick in every day use as well. We realized they weren't just selling, they were explaining a culture to us. That alone made this hat even more priceless.
The process of making these hats also tells an interesting story about this country. Making them by hand they use cana flecha leaves, a local resource. The process is long and difficult, but it makes these hats very sturdy and useful. Traditionally, they let the leaves dry out and they turn a beige or white color. They dirty ones get set in mud to soak. After soaking for a few days they are boiled with another herb called vija. They get dried once again, and the process gets repeated until the desired tint is reached. They combine the white and black leaves to make amazing patterns on the hats.
The white and black hats are more traditional in nature, which also means more expensive. In the end, I went with one that had a little more fashion and a little less tradition. The bright colors caught our eye, and represented Colombia just how we wanted to remember our journey, spectacular.
Russia is a place where the cold bites your nose and any other part of your body that is exposed. That is why the Ushanka hat is a necessary Russian hat. Dating all the way back to the 17th century, someone came up with the idea to make a hat with three flaps and called it the treukh, "three ears". Ushanka means "with ears" so it is representative of the treukh.
The flaps are not the only important feature of this hat. Fur is a major fashion in Russia, and it is not just because it makes things look rich. Ushanka hats are lined with rabbit, fox, mink, muskrat or other local animals to keep the head insulated from the cold. If these animals can survive the harsh winter conditions, it definitely can keep the top of your head warm. The addition of fur in these hats made for a practical, great addition to the design.
If the cold breaks for a minute, the flaps can be tied up to let fresh air in. In fact, the Russian military wears the Ushanka like this at all times. Their ears must be tough.
Other fashions followed these necessary ear warmers like the bomber hats, trappers, and aviators. Whatever you want to call it, it doesn't really matter. Just don't forget to have one if you are visiting Siberia or Moscow.
Have you ever been out of the country or simply a long ways from home and seen someone wearing your favorite team logo on their head? I have and it instantly rewards a "Go Pack!" Despite not knowing the person at all, they either smile like we are old friends or respond with a, "Go Pack Go!" There is a comradery inherent in sports teams. No where is this more evident then in the wearable logos people sport.
Team ball caps have become an American tradition. The MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL, and every other "Major League" has their own logo-ed teams. But it all began with the baseball players. Back when baseball began players were allowed to pick any kind of hat they wanted to shield out the sun.
Around 1850 the New York Knickerbockers introduced a ball cap that would change the sport's world. It was designed with a crown around the forehead and an attached bill or visor. Both functional and now stylish the hat served ball players well.
Once the bill style cap took off, teams began adding their personal team logo to the crown. Now a New York Yankees hat is world wide, even worn by people who don't know what baseball is. It's a fashion to some, but a connection for others. All major league teams now have a home city that supports them enthusiastically. Many proud fans love to show off their team's logo. This showmanship maintains a connection to the place your heart belongs no matter how far away you are.