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Column: A tip of the hat to women and their headgear

By Ray Crippen

WORTHINGTON — One week ago I felt I was on fairly solid ground. We were talking about men’s caps and men’s hats, and I have had a lot of experience with those. I generally knew what I was talking about. I know we missed a couple of styles of headgear; there wasn’t enough space.

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There might have been mention of men’s military headgear, the helmets and the soft caps and the dress caps and the fatigue caps — Army and Navy and Air force headgear. All of those were very much in style for a number of years.

There also was no mention of the soft straws. In addition to the stiff straw katies, or boaters, there were soft straw dress hats in the fedora style. Very many men wore those on summer days. There also were the soft straw, broad-brimmed farm hats. Probably more farmers wore soft straws than any other cap or hat. Adding these few words pretty well fills in the blanks on the subject of men’s head wear. There was a small clamor, however, to have something said about women’s hats. “What kinds of hats have women at Worthington worn through passing years?” We should have Beth Rickers doing this, shouldn’t we? Or Ray Lowry.

This must begin with a bit about millinery shops. Although the record is not clear, it is likely there was a millinery shop at Worthington within the first five years of local history. Women’s hats, historically, were not mass-produced. It was not until the time of Montgomery Ward and JC Penney and the ready-to-wear shops — not until the 1920s and early ’30s — that most women could stop at a store to pick up a hat. To that time, women would finger through displays of ribbons and bows and beads and feathers to find things they would like included on a hat.

There is no record of Worthington’s first millinery shop. It may not have been on 10th Street. Millinery shops were often in private homes in residential neighborhoods. The city’s last millinery shop is believed to be Miss Headley’s shop, a yellow frame house on a raised corner lot at the intersection of Fourth Avenue and 11th Street where Bank of the West is today. The bank wanted to build, and Miss Headley sold.

I don’t remember this well, but the first woman’s hat that truly had my attention was a hat with two or three pheasant feathers in the pew just ahead of me at church. I was fascinated by those pheasant feathers and grabbed for them. I don’t believe I actually pulled off the hat and I don’t believe I damaged the feathers, but there was a commotion. Thou shalt not grab a woman’s hat and pull.

Why was a woman wearing a hat in church? The only fair question would be why she was not wearing a hat, if in fact she did not have one. All women wore hats in all churches. That was one rule. Actually, it was expected of women to wear some manner of head cover whenever they were outside their houses. Women wore hats to buy groceries, hats to buy hats, hats to attend women’s rights rallies. Women’s heads were made for hats.

The first women’s head covers that got wide attention, as the time of hats with ribbons and feathers began to fade, were turbans fashioned from (often) bandana handkerchiefs. Rosie the Riveter made the covers of the popular magazines with the head gear improvised for welding, riveting and lifting steel.

It was just after this time, just after World War II, that girls (first, then women) began to wear silk and satin, beautifully colored kerchiefs that they kept in the pockets of their coats and which they slipped over their heads and tied under their chins when they went outside. By — oh, 1950 — there scarcely was a young woman seen in a hat any longer. Kerchiefs took over the markets.

By the 1960s there scarcely was a hat or a plume of pheasant feathers seen in a church any longer, despite protests and lectures from some clergymen. And then — you finish this account. The headcover most preferred by women in America today is ...

Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.