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Hang On to Your Hat!

Yisrael Rutman

People all over the world wear hats for many reasons. So hold on to your hat as we explore the wonderful world of hats

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

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Photo: Shutterstock

D o you wear a hat? Besides a yarmulke, that is? Do you wear one to keep your head warm? Or to keep the sun off? Do you ever wear a hat just because you like the way it looks? Or a certain type of hat because you’re already 13? Do you ever put a hat on to keep things from falling on your head? Or in case you fall on your head?

People all over the world wear hats for many reasons. So hold on to your hat (if you have one on) as we explore the wonderful world of hats.

Keeping Your Head Warm

If you’re wearing a hat on this winter day, it’s probably to keep your head warm and dry. The simplest hat is a woolen one that covers the top of your head. Tassels, pom-poms, stripes, lettering are optional. A balaclava is a wool hat that keeps your face warm too, by folding down over the whole head with openings for the eyes or mouth. It’s popular as a ski mask (or for robbing banks!).

But some folks want more than that. More ambitious hat wearers go in for the trapper hat. This comes with two flexible flaps to cover the ears, a fur lining, and a string tie that can connect the flaps either under the chin or on top of the hat when they aren’t needed. It got the name trapper hat because animal trappers wore it when they spent long periods of time outdoors in very cold weather. It’s similar to the ushanka (ushi is Russian for ears), It stands to reason that this hat was invented in Russia, the home of below-zero temperatures. It’s also called a Russian hat.

Don’t Forget Your Hat

While you should certainly listen to your mom and wear a hat when it’s cold, the importance has been exaggerated. It’s a popular misconception that 40 to 45 percent of body heat goes out through the head. The BMJ (originally called the British Medical Journal) studied the claim and found that it’s not true. Heat loss, they say, is about the same for all parts of the body. An adult’s head is about 7 to 10 percent of his total size, and that’s approximately how much heat he loses through his head.

That’s only true for adults, however. Babies are a completely different story. Since a baby’s head is about 25 percent of its total body size, it’s really important to keep a baby’s head covered. (We don’t mind if you stop here and take some measurements. You don’t have to take our word for it.)

The Fedora

The classic chareidi “black hat” is actually called a fedora. It’s made of felt (rabbit) and has a single dent running down the center of the crown (top of the hat) and a wide, stiff brim. Slightly different styles are marketed by different companies, but that’s the basic idea.


The fedora actually started out as a hat for women. It first appeared in 1882, in a play called Fedora. In the play, the character of Princess Fedora wore a center-creased, soft-brimmed hat, which soon became very fashionable among women.

When Britain’s Prince Edward started wearing fedoras in 1924, however, the hats were quickly adopted by men.

The Homburg

American presidents used to wear only top hats to their inaugurations. But by the time Dwight D. Eisenhower became president, the homburg had made its way across the Atlantic. Eisenhower broke with tradition by wearing a homburg at his first inauguration, in 1953.

The reason it’s called a homburg is because when England’s King Edward VII came back from a visit to the German resort city of Homburg in 1882, he brought with him a hat unknown in England. The homburg became popular in England, and they named it after its city of origin.

At his second inauguration in 1957, Eisenhower again wore a homburg, but not just any homburg. This time, it was custom-made — and took three months to make. Its nickname was the “international,” as hatters from ten countries helped make it.

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