Our new exhibit, Steppin’ Out: Under the Stars opened last Friday. Among other things, visitors will be given a glimpse at how fashion trends have changed over the years. Although many accessories have come and gone, a noticeably absent item on the modern man is the hat. Of course men wear baseball hats, but the hat has essentially ceased to exist as a formal dress accessory for men. It wasn’t too long ago that men wore a variety of hats for a variety of occasions and men would rarely step outside without something atop their heads.
Even academics were aware of the importance of hats in men’s fashion. Family Features was a periodical published by the University of Delaware’s Agricultural Extension Service. Its purpose was to inform housewives about the latest developments in home economics, from nutrition to cleaning supplies to canning techniques. A number of issues also offered updates on the latest fashion trends. Here’s an excerpt from an issue published on June 25, 1964, and available in our library’s collections:
“Straw hats for men are high on the fashion list this year, according to Janet Reed, clothing and textiles specialist at the University of Delaware. This year’s crop features lighter colored straws, keyed to the lighter and brighter clothing and sportswear colors, she says . . .Panama, leghorn and milan types have been redesigned with comfort factors in mind . . .Novelties to look for in 1964 include an “LBJ” model, rough textured straws, Tyroleans and telescopes and even genuine 10-gallon westerns.”
Can you imagine a well-dressed banker walking down the street in any sort of headwear today? You have to admit, though, that LBJ was rather dashing in his eponymous hat.
Family Features may have been a little too enthusiastic in their endorsement of men’s hats, however. Many people believe that JFK’s hatless inauguration in 1961 was the beginning of the end of dress hats for men. Today, men’s dress hats are best left on the closet shelf or in the display window at the vintage store. Until that Mad Men-themed party comes along… Come out to the Delaware History Museum to see our wonderful hats and the rest of our Steppin’ Out exhibit. For a sneak peak, check out this preview footage featuring the ladies of Wilmington modeling high fashion hats from the 1930s and 1940s.