It's been awhile, but there was a time when, if you stood outside a church on Easter Sunday or went almost any other place where people were expected to wear their "Sunday best,'' you'd have seen that most adults, men and women, wore hats.
The men mostly wore sharp-looking fedoras, which they would remove just a step before they entered the front door of a church, restaurant or home. The women wore a variety of styles, from those little pillbox things to wide-brimmed bonnets. Many of the women's hats were adorned with lace and perhaps a feather or two.
(I mentioned Easter above because it was a time of new hats. Yes, that's a generality, but when I was growing up, it seemed to be a universal thing. Irving Berlin composed the song that started, "In your Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it.'' My mom used to play it on the piano, and my dad sang the lyrics with more gusto than a Broadway star.)
While men removed their hats when inside, women did not, certainly not in church. I can't recall why that was, but men were supposed to be hatless in church. Women were supposed to have their heads covered.
(I know it was enough of a requirement that my mom once, having forgotten a hat - which seems odd for someone heading out the door for church - took a tissue from her purse and tacked it to her hair with a couple of bobby pins. I don't know if that met letter of church law on the matter of head covering, but my mom had to have earned a bunch of points for trying to meet the spirit of the law.)
When I grew up, men weren't completely dressed without a hat. We have a coat rack or hall tree near our front door, and one of the hooks holds a snappy black fedora that once belonged to my dad. He bought it not so long before he died in 1968. (The inside brim says Quail's Clothing, Brookings, S.D.)
After my dad died, we gave the hat to Nancy's dad, Paul. He kept it in the original hat box in an upstairs closet and wore it for dress-up occasions until he died in 1985. For the last 30 years, the hat has hung near our front door here in Pierre, patiently waiting for someone with a sense of style and a 7 and 1/8th head size to try it on and give it a wear. It's getting close to 50 years old, but a couple of swipes with a good brush and it would look as if it just came from the store.
I owned a hat once, not a straw hat for farming, but a real hat. I bought it when I was at school in Omaha. I think it came from the Brandeis store downtown. It wasn't as expensive as the one my dad bought, but it was stylish for the times. I caught a ride home one college break, and somehow my spiffy hat wound up under the person next to me in the backseat. When we pulled up to my curb in Chamberlain, I retrieved my hat and tried to push and pull it back in shape. It was never the same. About that time, crew cuts gave way to Beatlemania and then to "long beautiful hair, shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen... shoulder length or longer'' hair styles. Dress hats gave way to headbands and hippy hats, which I suppose eventually lead to ball caps and stocking caps. In any event, fashion was never quite the same. Even I grew my hair out, back when I had hair.
I hadn't thought about hats like my dad used to wear for a while. Then guitar man Chet Atkins wrote a song about his dad and his hat. Chet used to sneak into the closet and try on his dad's hat, "trying to be like him.'' It's a marvelous song called "I Still Can't Say Goodbye.''
I heard the song the other day. It could have been written about my dad, and the days when people wore hats.