The Desert Leaf — June 2013
Change Language:
Hat Tricks
Claire Rogers

Men’s hats can speak loudly when used to make a statement, but their “voice” is susceptible to interpretation and their purpose varied.

At President Obama’s second inauguration, when Justice Antonin Scalia sported a replica of a hat worn by St. Thomas More—a hat given to the justice by the St. Thomas More Society—The Washington Post reported there was speculation that Scalia was cleaving to his religious roots over his civic calling. (Thomas More, a devout Catholic, was beheaded for refusing to accept King Henry VIII as the supreme head of the Church of England.)

But, perhaps Scalia just pulled the hat from his closet because he wanted to wear a distinctive, cold-weather hat for a special occasion.

It is often erroneously claimed that President John F. Kennedy went hatless at his inauguration. As most, if not all, U.S. presidents had done before him, Kennedy did wear a hat—a top hat—on inauguration day, but most widely circulated photos taken at the event showed him without it. As a result, some historians contend that President Kennedy sparked a turning point in men’s fashion. He made it acceptable and perhaps even fashionable for American men not to wear hats in public.

Men’s hats have a long, diverse history. One of the earliest images of a man wearing a hat, in this case a conical straw hat, comes from a painting in a Theban tomb. In various cultures and across millennia, hats have held religious signifi cance, marked social status and military affi liation/ rank, refl ected fashion and off ered protection.

Living in Southern Arizona, we understand the importance of hats worn as protection from the summer sun. Arizona has some of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. Golfers, gardeners, hikers, bikers and anyone else who spends time outdoors could benefi t from sun protection.The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends wearing sun hats that include a minimum of a three-inch-wide brim.

According to Grant Sergot of Óptimo Custom Hatworks in Bisbee, brims that curve down offer additional protection, particularly when the sun is at lower angles.

Arizona Hatters, of Tucson, is seeing increasing demand for stylish, functional sun protection. The lightweight, straw golf hat—a widebrimmed fedora that provides maximum ventilation and styling popular on golf courses—sells especially well among the city’s tourists and winter visitors.

A trilby, or a trim fedora, such as those worn by Brad Pitt, Carlos Santana and Hugh Jackman, is a style especially sought by college students, according to Laure McIntosh, manager of Arizona Hatters.

“You can often tell, when [a customer] comes in the door, what type of style [he/she] will want,” says Mc- Intosh. “If they’ve got jingling spurs, it’s a good bet they’re looking for a distinctly cowboy-style hat.”

Sergot notes that style preferences moderate with age; generally, the older the customer, the more conservative the style. “Where a younger man may be looking for a hat fitting of a rodeo cowboy, years later that same man might prefer to wear something suggestive of a gentleman rancher,” he explains.

Sergot credits the mid-century black-and-white film industry with dramatizing the correlation between hat styles and personality, and cites Casablanca as one of his favorite “hat-intensive” movies. Later, television shows, like Bonanza, gave viewers more opportunities to associate a man’s character with the size, shape and color of his hat.

“The black fedora that Jack Abramoff wore throughout his trial was the wrong thing to wear, it made Him look just like a gangster,” says Sergot, referring to the Washington lobbyist convicted of corruption and sentenced to prison in 2008.

Óptimo Custom Hatworks and Arizona Hatters both report that people who tend to wear hats will likely always wear hats and will become lifelong customers as they return to have hats cleaned, repaired and reblocked.

According to Stephanie Carter, president of the Headwear Association, a new trend in stylish hats is a “mannish-shaped fedora crown with a non-traditional three-inch brim.”

Carter also notices a decline, nationally, in the popularity of winter hats. The rapid turnover in seasonal wear doesn’t give buyers much time to commit to a one-season winter hat, when a summer hat can serve from spring through fall.

Carter’s company, Wallaroo Hats, is working with designers from Australia to cross function with fashion, for hats with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor of 50+, which means the hat blocks 97.5 percent of the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Carter clarifies that one common misperception is that sun protection hats are embedded with a chemical sunscreen; they are not.However, diff erent materials do filter ultraviolet light to different degrees.

“The brim needs to be full coverage, not visors and not baseball caps,” says Carter, adding that while bucket hats have a full brim, the brim is not as wide as it should be to protect from the sun.

A “bucket hat” is what some people might know as a fishing hat. It also has several other regionally based names.Called the ispoti in South Africa, it is popular among urban black youth. In Tanzania, where it is called the giggle hat, it is worn by tribal elders.

While form follows function in hat design, hats have also always been a form of tribal identity. In her book The Social Meaning of Hats and T-Shirts, Diana Crane points out that although different styles of hats have historically been used to indicate social-class status and regional affiliation, today they are just as likely to be a reflection of the wearer’s lifestyle or used as a tool in making a personal statement.

Claire Rogers is a local freelance writer.Comments for publication should be addressed to

Hats vs. Caps

Various distinctions between hats and caps have been made over the years. Generally speaking, hats are considered more formal than caps, rest above the ears and are matched to one’s coat or suit jacket.

Caps, on the other hand, are styled to be worn closer to the head and with casual clothing.