As with any accessory, the hat has been worn as a fashion statement and for functional reasons—warmth, safety and religious requirements—throughout the ages. It has represented different cultures and professions with head coverings dating back from men and women depicted in ancient tombs to the current fashion icon Lady Gaga. Wearing a hat can be about attitude and style.
Many notable historical figures are recognized not only for their moment of fame, but also for what they wore on their heads. Napoleon is identified with the long, horned-shape felt hat called a Bicorne, which lent balance to his diminutive size. A century later, Abraham Lincoln's stovetop-style hat made the tall President even taller, in addition to being a good hiding place for his speeches and documents.
Jacqueline Kennedy popularized the pillbox hat in the early 1960's, after which the hat trend took a hiatus. Could it be that the emphasis switched to hair, with innovation in styling and color that finally "did in" the chapeau?
Princess Catherine of Cambridge (Kate Middleton) has resurrected the interest in wearing a hat or fascinator with a younger generation of fashionistas in 2012. Both men and women in their 20's and 30's are wearing hats for fun and style. Currently, hat enthusiasts can find berets, boaters, beanies, aviators, baseball caps, bowlers, cloches, fedoras, headbands, Panamas, cowboy/Stetsons, and top hats.
My experience with hats started as a child, as women were required to wear hats to church, until suddenly in 1962 the trend stopped—but I didn't. My millinery collection has grown through the years with a closest full of hats from around the world, including eight from Paris designer Marie Merci. My mother was a significant influence in the art of wearing hats. I have photos of her wearing them in the 1940's to dinner and for business. The styles from that era were both sophisticated and whimsical, with the use of veiling and unusual findings.
Today Mom continues to wear hats, with a cream-colored, billed, knit cap as her go-to accessory to wear to Church or around town. At 88, she still knows how to pull off the attitude to make a statement with a hat.
In mid-June the Benicia Historical Museum will feature a hat exhibit entitled “The Way We Were–Lady’s Hats 1890 -1965.” The exhibit will also include support materials: items of clothing on mannequins, handbags, gloves, hankies and more. The majority of the hats will be from the 1940’s and 1950’s, from the collection of the late Georgia Wagner, former Benicia resident—her collection was over 40 strong!