Looking over a bunch of old photos recently I was struck by the following question: When did men stop wearing hats and women start wearing pants?
A while ago we enjoyed watching a series on the history of New York City that featured detailed photo essays of some of the construction projects. All the men (and you may be sure they were all men) are wearing hats on the job. Not backwards baseball hats but black homburgs or bowlers. There were even a few top hats for the dressier occasions. I recall hearing that John F. Kennedy balked at wearing a traditional top hat for his 1961 inauguration because he felt he just didn’t look good in hats. Although the story is untrue, the hat industry suffered a decline about that time and Kennedy was blamed. Another theory that supports the rise of hatlessness is that men returning from military service were sick and tired of being required to wear hats all the time as part of their uniform.
The women in the old photos are wearing hats or have their hair pinned up. They all have full-length skirts. In the warm weather straw hats were the fashion. And in all kinds of weather men in these photos are wearing white shirts and ties. Today you only see that kind of attire at a funeral and there will be T-shirts aplenty nevertheless. Likewise I’ve been to weddings featuring gum-snapping bridesmaids whose arms are adorned with tattoos, and ushers whose hats proclaim Red Sox fever; those hats are on backwards, of course.
In pictures of school kids, the girls, some barefoot, are wearing dresses, a bit bedraggled and ill fitting, but dresses all the same. I can remember in winter it was a big deal to be allowed the wear snow pants under our skirts. The boys wore suspenders and leather shoes with their raggedy outfits.
In my church it used to be required that women’s heads be covered. It was a rule that was loosely enforced and somewhere in the late fifties sort of melted away, taking with it the custom of a new hat for Easter. I’ve seen women dashing into church making do with a piece of Kleenex on their heads. At the same time men were absolutely not allowed to wear hats in church.
A minister friend of mine told the story of a clergyman announcing from the pulpit that he would no longer tolerate “women coming to church with their pants on.”
When I boarded a plane for Germany in 1959, I was dressed for the 16-hour flight in a suit, a hat, white gloves and high heels. This outfit of torture was in play for the nearly two days it took me to get to my destination. A few years ago I made a similar journey, only this time dressed in sneakers and a sweat suit.
I asked an always impeccably dressed friend if she could remember the transition from skirts to trousers and she blamed Kathryn Hepburn who looked so gorgeous in anything that we thought that wearing slacks like she did would make us look like her.
The universal uniform these days, would have to be jeans, or dungarees as we used to call them.
And as for the next trend in evolving fashion…..keep your shirt on.