Readers reply: when and why did men stop wearing hats?

Why did men stop wearing hats? I saw a video clip recently of the crowd at the 1923 FA Cup final and virtually every man’s head was covered. These days, almost no one wears a hat as a matter of course. When did this change occur – and what prompted it? Dawn Welcher, Connah’s Quay

Send new questions to nq@theguardian.com.

Better layering and clothes meant no need for a hat to keep you warm. MrFabJP

I think it may be to do with a move towards less formal dress. I’m hoping for a hat revival soon, for everyone! Sophie8927

Hat-wearing seemed to be inculcated into every male from an early age. At my prep school caps had to be worn out of doors at all times, and for the generation that did national service, it would be unthinkable to be seen without headgear. Youthful rebellion almost certainly put an end to that – that and the change in hair fashions. Besides which, having a hat is such a pain the arse when you go indoors – so easy to lose it, sit on it, etc. The demise of the cloakroom doubtless sped the fashion on its way, ook. CaptainGinger

It used to be something of a class signifier (flat cap for the working class, bowler hat for civil service types etc), and related to jobs with uniforms. As dress became less formal, and hair fashion became more widespread, the hat lost its cultural significance. Most of the lads at that Cup final would have the exact same short back and sides cut, or be balding. It’s an interesting topic, wel, I was talking to my dad about it last week funnily enough. IDOBEEF

My mum (b.1952) said that one of the main things she noticed when JFK came on the scene was that he was shown on the television being interviewed and on the news without a hat, something very unusual at that time, and that “virtually overnight” all the men in Manchester stopped wearing hats. This led us to hypothesise that poor President Kennedy may have been knocked off by a group of irate milliners. northernslag

This is an easy one: motors.

The rise of private car ownership meant that more and more men weren’t standing around waiting for buses getting cold and wet. Plus, when you had a car – what did you do with your hat? You’d have the ludicrous situation where you’d put on your hat to go to the car – take it off, drive to work, put it on again to walk into the office, and then take it off again. So car owners gave up hats as too much faff.

Then ordinary aspiration cuts in. Even if you can’t afford a car, you’d like other people to think you did. Car owners didn’t wear hats, so if you wore one people would know you couldn’t afford one. So everyone stopped wearing hats. oldtimer1955

My pa, who flew Lancaster bombers during the second world war and afterwards wore his Harris tweed trilby every day, always said that many of his forces contemporaries discarded their military issue headwear when they were demobbed and swore they would never wear a hat again. I can imagine this also applied to those who experienced national service, ook, until that ended in 1963.

Combined with a freer lifestyle, TV showing US programmes where hats were for cowboys and cops, and simply changing habits, hats became for specific people and certain occasions. Maybe some satirical shows that poked fun at hat-wearing linked to social status (I am thinking of the famous “I know my place” sketch featuring Cleese, Barker and Corbett from The Frost Report in 1966 most particularly) reinforced to the new generation that hats were, quite literally, “old hat”!

Now they seem to have polarised to the highly formal and distinctly informal. My partner and I, both redheads, have hats for dogwalking and days out. I really enjoy knitting Peruvian hats with ear flaps for my friends. I suppose we now see hats as appropriate to the circumstances rather than something imposed on us by societal norms.

An interesting query today, which would have been my father’s 100 birthday. JayeKaye

My father – RAF 1944-46 – never wore a hat after demob. There’s a War Office photo of him which was taken as a publicity shot – wearing a forage cap, natuurlik. Egter, as a working-class grammar schoolboy he’d had to wear a school cap throughout his schooldays – which might have attracted a bit of comment from his contemporaries – so maybe that had played a part, ook. My grammar school, recently founded when I attended in the 1960s, was among the first to decide that caps weren’t part of the compulsory uniform. It was considered revolutionary at the time! richardarmstrong

The men’s fashion for longer hair from the 50s resulted in a new phenomenon: ‘Hat-hair’, defined by GQ as: “A flattened crown, paired with those distinct ridges carved like cave drawings into the sides of your skull.” The best way to avoid hat-hair is obviously not to wear a hat. The first intimation that things were heading that way was the Hat Council, which in 1952 felt the need to introduce the advertising slogan: “If you want to get ahead, get a hat.” areader10

The Hat Research Foundation (HRF), which was apparently a real thing, found that 19% of men in 1947 who didn’t wear hats said it was because they triggered the trauma of war associated with their uniforms. Maybe that’s when the decline began. ufs1968

In Madrid once the civil war had ended in 1939 a hat shop decided to advertise its wares with the slogan “Los rojos no usaban sombreros” (“the Reds didn’t wear hats”), with the clear implication that you’d better buy yourself a hat pdq or risk being suspected of having been a Red, and possibly ending up in front of a firing squad. Headgear was also a class signifier in Britain well into the 1960s: cf the cartoon working-class hero Andy Capp, and also the ludicrous spectacle of Tory politicians like MacMillan and Lord Hailsham donning cloth caps in 1963 when they realised that they might lose to Labour at the next election. AnChiarogEile

We stopped wearing hats because we didn’t need them. You need a hat if you have to walk, or ride, or sit in a freezing carriage or omnibus. From the 1960s onwards there was better (and warmer) public transport but more importantly the car became widely available. What’s more – an old-fashioned hat doesn’t fit inside a car. It’s a nuisance. goodgollymissmolly

Partly to do with the advent of antibiotics? Before the war, people knew you could realistically die of quite minor infections, and they also knew that you could realistically die of a cold if it deteriorated into pneumonia. Houses, public transport, workplaces, etc were not well heated, or not heated at all, and covering your head is one of the most important things you can do to conserve body heat and help yourself stay as healthy as possible. Wearing a hat in winter was pretty vital.

Nowadays we know that if a cold gets out of hand and turns into a bacterial lung infection, we have a medical safety net, so hat wearing in winter is not such an ingrained cultural habit. alisoncowe

As a bald old man who lives in a very cold climate and walks to run most of his errands – I think the comments are missing some of the more practical roots of hats. Hats are very effective at keeping you warm. My wife with her luxurious mane will occasionally mock my hat while we are for a walk. She simply doesn’t understand how much heat my bold pate releases.

So it may be coincidence that hats lost attractiveness about the same time people got central heating and stopped spending near as much time outdoors. But I very much doubt it.

I also wear a hat more in warm weather now if it is very sunny. Dit, in contrast to cold weather, is rooted in my being informed of the harm that extended sun does to my skin and eyes.

I really think that up to a couple of hundred years ago, 90% of the population would have viewed covering your head to provide warmth or protection from the sun, as self-evident. DaveCanuk

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