It’s been said that if you want to get ahead, wear a hat.
In this day and age, a woman wearing a hat may not get a promotion, but it might draw a comment – or at the very least, a curious look.
September is National Hat Month, and although rare is the occasion to find a woman in public wearing a “fashionable” chapeaux (something other than a ballcap or floppy sun hat, preferably with feathers or netting), area women are nevertheless enamored with fashionable head coverings.
Sharon Winn, English professor at Northeastern State University, is somewhat fanatical when it comes to hats.
“I collect hats,” she said. “I have about 80 of them. I never wear them, but I just love hats.”
Winn recognizes the fact women – and men, for that matter – no longer wear hats, and blames modern hairstyles as the culprit for the demise of the practice.
“[Hats] were designed for the hairstyles of the time, and when hairstyles changed to the famous ‘bubble’ and ‘beehive,’ hats didn’t work anymore,” she said. “That’s when we got the little hats with a strip or two of mink or satin and a lot of netting. After that, women just gave up.”
Winn is also something of a hat historian.
“One interesting thing is that the cloches [a close-fitting hat with a bell-like shape] of the 1920s were very small,” said Winn. “Women were smaller then and had smaller heads. My head is enormous, so I can’t wear the cloches I have. But Dr. Bridgette Cowlishaw [NSU faculty member] makes her own hats and wears them to school on occasion.”
While shopping for hats, Winn has a strict code for purchase feasibility, and finds she’s not alone when searching for that unique topper.
“A hat must have pizzazz to be collectible, and my favorite modern hat maker is Sonni of San Francisco,” she said. “Their hats have serious pizzazz. There are a lot of hat collectors out there, which messes up my buying hats on Ebay, since they [collectors] run the prices up.”
Many women can remember a time when hats and gloves were wardrobe musts when attending special occasions or church.
Dianne Barker-Harrold, legal counsel for the United Keetoowah Band of Indians in Oklahoma and former district attorney, is such a person, and probably remembers first lady Jacqueline Kennedy for her famous pillbox hats, gloves and Chanel suits.
“I certainly remember the white gloves, an absolute necessity for a properly dressed ‘lady,’ young or old,” said Barker-Harrold. “I grew up in the ‘50s and ‘60s, where Easter included a new dress and hat. The old movies certainly reflected the gloves and hat thing. A proper lady would have never considered herself completely dressed without her hat.”
Although Barker-Harrold has a well-defined sense of ladylike behavior, while serving as district attorney she would have never worn a hat in Associate District Judge Mark Dobbins’ courtroom, for fear of the consequences.
Dobbins is well-known to lawbreakers in Cherokee County for having a very strict no-hat policy, which isn’t limited to the male gender.
It has always been considered appropriate for women to wear their hats indoors, but Dobbins doesn’t discriminate when it comes to the rules.
“In an appropriate setting, like a probate hearing or something similar, a fashionable hat on a woman might be appropriate,” Dobbins said. “But when I’m conducting arraignment hearings and there are more than 100 people in the courtroom, it’s just easier to ban them altogether rather than sort out what is and isn’t appropriate. It’s simple: no dew rags, no ballcaps, no hats, period.”
Dobbins doesn’t view his opinion as mean-spirited; he believes in just treatment for all, and expects respect for the institution he serves.
“I ask people to turn off their cell phones and pagers, and I consider removing hats no different,” he said.
“However, if someone feels strongly about wearing a hat in the courtroom, he [or she, evidently] can go downstairs to the county jail and see if the deputies will let him wear it in a cell.”
Barker-Harrold admits that hat-wearing, even among women, has become much more casual today.
“We wear ballcaps to cover a bad hair day, to go to the grocery store or get our hair done,” she said. “Will we ever go back to the hat and gloves era? I seriously doubt it, but wouldn’t it be nice, for just a little while, to go back to the genteel ways – gloves, hats and a little afternoon tea, perhaps?”
Jane Anderson, a Tahlequah resident who’s also a hat lover with a penchant for brimmed straw hats, doesn’t consider a ballcap a hat.
“They are not considered as a hat in my way of thinking,” said Anderson. “They are fun, but more of a sporty look for the younger set. Maybe that’s showing my age, but nevertheless, I don’t wear them [ballcaps].”
Unlike many women who either donate their hats to theater groups or give them to children or grandchildren to play dress-up, Anderson has held on to some of her favorites from the past.
“My closet is still occupied with some very nice winter felt and fur dress hats, but they seem to get some dust on them lately, and it’s too bad, because they are delightful,” she said. “As fashion seems to come back around, one can only hope the lonely, shelved hats will be once again revived!”
Linda Pope, newcomer to Tahlequah and minister at the United Methodist Children’s home, finds a certain degree of playful innocence in wearing hats.
“I love to wear hats; it expresses my childlike, silly side,” she said. “I have hats from all over the world - from a Chinese coolie hat to a Bolivian worker’s hat. I wore a yellow duck hat in Paris to keep the rain off.”
Pope’s fondness for hat-wearing began when she was a small child, and she confesses to wearing a beanie “with a propeller, no less.” While living on a farm at age 6, she wore a turquoise-colored cowgirl hat after she got her first pony.
Among the youth she is in contact with, Pope is well-known for her elaborate headdresses.
“As a youth minister, I was often seen around the holidays in a Santa hat; at youth camps, I almost always managed to wear a silly hat of some sort, but never in a worship setting,” she said. “My jester hat always breaks the ice in a group of youth. I’m always on the lookout for a fun, new hat. I don’t like to draw too much attention to myself, but I’m always up for wearing a hat upon request.”
As a hat lover, Pope received an appropriate gift from her parents after their deaths.
“It’s funny to think of it, but of the few possessions I received from my parents after their deaths was a hat from each,” she said. “My mother was a nurse, and I have her nurse’s cap. My father was a Texas Park Ranger, and I was given his work cap. My profession doesn’t claim a particular kind of hat, so I guess those who would receive my headgear after my death would receive a collection, for I am a woman who wears many hats.”
It’s been said that if you want to get ahead, wear a hat.