When most Americans think of the United Kingdom, a few things come to mind: bad teeth, the obligatory afternoon tea, and of course their hats. And whilst everyone watched Kate Middleton stride down the aisle in that beautiful Sarah Burton gown, it was guests and their seemingly outrageous hats that battled it out for center stage.
As an American living abroad for the past five years, it wasn’t replacing words like “loo” and “queue” in my general vocabulary, or looking right before crossing a street, but the eloquent British fashion that took getting used to. Sundays for example; the epitome of relaxation, football, perhaps even an afternoon nap followed by channel surfing.never in the United Kingdom. Sunday is the day to be seen, not only that but, seen in a hat. Church goer or not, Sunday mornings are made for parading oneself through town. It was these Sunday mornings that I first noticed the glorious swagger on top of the heads of English women. Pillboxes, fascinators, feathered headbands, the bigger the better, all adorned with feathers, sequins, flowers, and ribbons. It wasn’t simply the cavalcade of hats, bombarding the streets of Great Britain but the perfected correspondence of head wear to each fashionita’s complete ensemble that really influenced my cultural intake. Of course, the Brits love for hats doesn’t just take effect on Sundays, no. Where American women may reach for their favorite pair of heels or lipstick for an occasion, the Briton reaches for her hat. In fact the Queen of England, although rarely seen wearing a crown, seldom steps into the lime light sans hat.
Fortunately for the Brits, it isn’t just English women who succumb to this cultural phenomenon, men too, embody British hat culture. Everything from the stereotypical bowler hat to the ivy cap requisite for the Londoner Cabbie to the prestigious top hat of London’s elite private members clubs of Pall Mall. Whilst the head wear fashion of men is less likely to turn heads, each hat has a story, cultural importance, and significance throughout the United Kingdom’s rich history.
It was about a month ago when I returned to the home of the brave, land of the free, only to find it the home of the baseball cap, land of the hat-free. Whilst the United Kingdom praised Princess Beatrice’s Philip Treacy Royal Wedding Hat, which complemented her Valentino haute couture, it was the Americans, just across the pond that took to ridicule. It took less than a week for culture shock to rear its ugly head and slap my beloved fedora from my head.
Perhaps now is the time to remind the Americans that hats aren’t just for lazy adolescents with their greasy baseball caps, or adventure seeking cowboys, nor are they merely for gossiping southern church goers. Hats are fabulous. After all, where would Indiana Jones be without his respected fedora? Or Abe Lincoln without his distinguished top hat? Or even Scarlett O’Hara; who can forget the iconic green velvet dress which without the matching feathered hat, would simply look like the curtains they were made from. All that remains clear, as an American taking a crash course in U.S. re-entry culture-shock-101, once you’ve been bitten by the hat bug, there’s no going back.
Written by Sarah Barnacle