I learned from my favorite blog, Advanced Style, that yesterday (January 15), here in the States, was National Hat Day. How did I miss it? “Hat” was my first word! So here is a fashionably late tribute to headwear. The Hat Museum is a must for anyone in Portland, Oregon with a sense of curiosity. The proprietress, Alice, is peeking from the postcard’s corner. She’s a thoroughly Edwardian lady, and the only way to visit her establishment is by reservation. It’s a delightful adventure for a small group of friends. With a flare for performance, Alice will lead you from room to room of her purple house (coincidentally the home of a milliner at the turn of the century), educating you in the history of headwear, with 1,000 examples at hand–over 120 years of men’s hats, women’s hats, designer hats, hats from movies, and complete novelties. There’s even a gift shop where you can get a fancy headpiece for yourself.
One of the most interesting things I saw at The Hat Museum was this photograph of The Hole in the Wall gang/The Wild Bunch:Alice shared how she’d met a Hollywood costume designer who kept this photo in her office as a reminder that for a character to be real, it didn’t just matter what he wore, but how he wore it. In this photograph (c. 1900), they’re all wearing derby hats, but each a different way. Out of everything in the picture, the placement of their hats conveys the most about their personalities.
The fabulous Charles Phoenix in a Shriners fez“The Needle” Dramatization of a classic French story about a young prince and his tutor. I think one of the tutor’s lessons involves the metaphor of a needle. I have not been able to find a telling of this story, however, so if you know it, please share!The top hat looks like it was the hardest part to paint.This man in the straw boater has appeared in Snail’s Postcard Post a number of times, but if you haven’t read the amazing story of his postcard, see this post and be sure to scroll all the way to the bottom to get the full scoop!Buster Keaton dons a stetson in “The General” (1926)This is watercolor, not an oil painting! I can’t find who the artist is. If you know, please comment! The postcard’s for a show of California artists, so I know that much. But it’s not Ernie Barnes.
While all sorts of clothing items have been status symbols, these previous two Depression-era images remind me how hats have uniquely stood for dignity, regardless of social class.
The most striking example I’ve seen of this is in the attack of L. Alex Wilson, one of four African-American journalists who attempted to cover the integration of Little Rock High School in 1957. You’ve probably seen pictures of Wilson being beaten by the angry white mob, as the photographs ran on newspaper front pages across the country, ultimately convincing President Eisenhower to send in the National Guard. A meaningful detail about those photos is that even while he’s being punched and kicked, Wilson doesn’t drop his hat. I recall seeing this on film too–although footage doesn’t seem readily available online–and once or twice when the hat is knocked from his hand, Wilson makes a point of picking it up
Never fighting back or trying to flee, just keeping ahold of his fedora, the more the mob attacked him, the more dignified Wilson appeared by contrast.
Hats off to you!