Why do old women wear hats?

Posted by rebecca.mcswain on June 28, 2013 at 9:45 PM

Old women, at least in the sunny climes and seasons of these United States,wear hats.


I’m not talking about clever cloches and stunning Stetsons reimagined, for example, by Chapellerie Tesi in Cannes. Don’t let your mind’s eye wander to the fabulous flying saucers perched on the aristocratic noggin of the Duchess of Cambridge.


No, I’m talking about the puzzling millinery sported by over-50 women who belong only to the aristocracy of age: vast white cotton lids drooping in meaningless wings over the ears, gay straw bowlers with paper flowers around the brim, blue polyester buckets and felt fedoras in dubious states of repair, ten-gallon toppers that hark back to 1940s westerns and are snapped up in wayside souvenir shops. And who can forget the immortal peaked cap, American ball-cap variant, adorned with signifiers connecting the wearer to sports teams, environmental movements, bird watching groups, beer brands – you name it, there’s no end to them.


We young fashionistas didn’t wear hats much back in the day. Why? Because our hairdos were basically incompatible with them. Who wanted to go through all that trouble setting, sleeping badly on rollers, teasing, spraying, mounding up, only to squash the whole masterpiece by pushing it down under the prison of a hat? Hat hair – not good. If you watch movies from the 20th century era when hats were commonly worn by women, you’ll notice that hairstyles appear specifically designed to accommodate headgear, flat on top and sides, artfully curled up in front and/or back to enhance the look of a brim. By 1960 that hairdo genre along with hats was going the way of the dodo bird.


Now here we are, in the Age of Lanky Hair, when most of the young women on red carpets appear to be in need of a good shampoo and blow-dry. They already have the equivalent of hat hair and it doesn’t bother them, so they could go ahead and wear hats, and sometimes they do, but not that often. Women have, apparently, mostly gotten out of the hat habit.


In those old movies I’m especially moved by the cocktail topper, a small naughty confection laden with sequins (often black) and feathers, and perched askew on a lovely young head. In fact, that seems to be one type of cranial decor that women still actually wear in real life – those women, that is, who go to fashionable cocktail parties, which I believe is currently a relatively small portion of the feminine population.


Returning to the question of hatted old women, not at cocktail parties but around and about on the street, at the Grand Canyon, pushing a cart in the parking lot: do we (of course, I’m one) wear hats because in our dotage we’ve lost all sense of style? The Senile Sombrero Syndrome? Vision bad, we can’t see well enough in the mirror to understand what we look like? Or is it a sweet personal nostalgia, recalling days of exciting Easter bonnets and taking us back to our pre-teen youth? Do we think the headgear is sexy? Maybe that Audubon ball cap with the cardinal on the front will so enchant the attractive gentleman in the Jag that he will follow us home?


Some old-woman hat-wearing might be accounted for by one or more of the above explanations. However, I can tell you for sure that one of us wears this particular article of clothing because if she doesn’t wear it religiously, her scalp soon becomes encrusted with the itching and flaking heartbreak of actinic keratoses, nourished by and flourishing in the sun. This dermatologic condition in a context of thinning tresses does little to add to the joy of living for her or for those around her, especially tall people who, perforce, must look down at the top of her head. And really, how much can I ask my genius hair-cutter to tolerate, aesthetically speaking, even with an enhanced tip by way of compensation? He’s a saint on earth, but everyone has limits. Eventually, the sufferer is compelled to visit the dermatologist and spend hundreds of dollars of taxpayer and/or insurance company money to have these nasties frozen off.  So, outside the house, a hat at all hours of daylight. Come to think of it, the moon has lately been extraordinarily close to the earth at its Supermoon June 23 perigee, only 221,824 miles away, and was blazing full in our clear sky... is there any data on the relationship between moonshine and AKs? 


As for the condition and quality of hats worn by old women, well, this is a time of life when money isn’t flowing freely for most of us. What’s a little grease stain on the old Panama, when you consider the expense involved in replacing it? If a new hat is necessary, Target has a fine selection for all occasions. And if any of our progeny look down on us for this lowering of standards, let them consider what a favor we’re doing them and their inheritance by electing not to fly to the Côte d’Azur to do our chapeau shopping.


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Reply deb suta
6:53 AM on June 29, 2013 
And some are a tad more serious having beaten, hopeful, melanoma (on the arm) and are under doctor's orders to cover up everything! My *kids in school, young 15/16 year olds, don't understand but I harp at them about sunscreen and the need to wear it always and to not use tanning beds. One said to me this year, "But I don't burn! I'm middle-eastern!" And I looked at her and said _____ can burn and she's black!" Shut the first one up fast! Later ran into the first, her mom and another student and had this long discussion with the mom backing me up.
Another time I saw this girl sitting outside of school soaking up the sun, so I pulled over to her and asked if she had sunscreen on. Nope. So I took mine out, said "May I?" and sprayed away. Sigh...
Reply rebecca.mcswain
1:51 PM on July 1, 2013 
It's unfortunate that often youth can't seem to learn from age. I suspect experienced, mature human beings have been saddened by this fact for the whole 200,000 years of human existence. We can just keep on trying to get the messages across and taking what actions we can, ourselves, to protect them.
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