Tuesday, December 28, 2010

“Hey Mama…Let’s Get Daddy a Hat!”—Apparel Arts 1937

It’s no secret that JFK killed the hat business. If he didn't kill it, he certainly assaulted the hat wearing custom with blunt force trauma. And it never fully recovered. I shared with you that my father, in spite of JFK’s bare headed approach to most work weeks, never left the house without a hat.
But the three or four decades preceding JFK’s inauguration saw the hat as de rigueur and as necessary a coordinating consideration when suit buying as socks and neckwear was. Not surprisingly, Daddy was probably the recipient of hats as gifts on many occasions. Butcept my dad. Poor guy only received from me, for as many occasions as I can remember, one of two things…British Sterling cologne or more often than not, soap on a rope. 
No wonder he was fairly indifferent about Christmas Eve gift openings or Father’s Day morning surprises. It was the same damn thing every year from me…soap on a rope. Gotta love marketing and frankly, the indifference manifest in the eyes of daddies when they saw another cake of olfactory extruding tallow embedded with a looped length of Aunt Tootie’s knitting yarn.

But let’s get back to hats. By the time I started working in my town’s trad haberdashery, the hat business was all but over. Mr. C. still carried a modest inventory of hats, most from Dobbs but a few Stetsons as well. And hat selection was and is I suppose a very personal thing. I shudder to think about sending LFG or most women for that matter, out to buy me a tie. I’m thinking the same was the case with buying daddy a hat for Christmas.
Apparel Arts showcased a solution for retailers. Knowing that a nice hat would make daddy happy but even happier if he picked it out, Dobbs, Stetson and other hat makers settled on the gift certificate option. But not just any gift certificate…a miniature hatbox and hat that daddy could open on gift day. 
A piccolo maquette telling daddy that a hat was in store for him—in THE store for him, awaiting his perusal, approval and procurement. Clever no?
These little hat boxes and hats are routinely offered on eBay for fifteen to twenty bucks and almost always mis-characterized. “Salesmen sample hat with box” routinely headlines the eBay offering. While only catching the tail end of the hat salesman calling on the haberdashery era, I did witness the process. Dress hats, especially well made ones, can’t be offered for inventory consideration when presented in G.I. Joe miniature sizes. Hat salesmen lugged in examples of the real thing, in the real size, so that store owners and buyers could finger the genuine goods.
So daddy would open the little gift box and I suppose everyone would get a chuckle out of the miniature representation and then daddy a few days later would take the little certificate to the store for his topper.
And then of course, the shoe makers caught on as well.
But there were small scale salesman’s samples of other hats. In smaller sizes but not as attenuated as the little gift certificate contrivances. And the rationale for these smaller versions is a bit more obvious. Utilitarian straw toppers, sold mostly to farm co-ops, feed and seed and hardware stores didn’t need to be illuminated through full sized samples. Elegance need not be proven—utility; functionality and unit price were probably the buying criteria for the owner of the local feed and seed operation.
And this hat still intrigues and scares me. My father’s only brother—the one who did stay on the farm that’s been in our clan for over two hundred years, actually owned the local feed and seed/farm co-op. And I loved going in there as a little kid. In addition to all of the imaginable things that farmers would buy at a co-op, there were also offerings in my range. 
Cheap Barlow pocket knives that hung on a cardboard punch out stand. Just pull one off and pay the minimal freight and it was yours. And the drink box was an ice cold marvel as well. Six and a half ounce cokes were suspended therein by their necks. 
Drop your coins in and slide the drink to the left for drink box liberation and libation. Oh, but not till you poured a pack of Planters salted peanuts down the neck of your “baby Coke”.
And the straw hats hung on a line across the store too. None were small enough for my little crew cut head but I damn sure wanted one. But not just any one. I wanted the one that had the “sunglasses visor”.
That is until I saw the chain gang man with one on. Chain gangs in the late 1960’s south were probably as scary to a five year old kid as a carload of Klansmen was to anyone, black or white, old or young, in the 1950’s. The prisoners were literally chained together and they were wearing those striped uniforms. And my five year old eyes saw them. More than once.
I can see it as clearly today as I did back then. And the supervisor wore that hat. And he carried a shotgun and the whole damned troupe of prison labor lorded over by Mr. Sunglass Visor Straw Hat with his shotgun just terrified me.
My grandfather would try to explain that nobody was gonna hurt me. That Mr. Sunglass Visor Supervisor was only in my uncle’s store to get a crate of soft drinks for the prisoners and that his shotgun probably didn't even have shells in it. Mr. Sunglass Visor Supervisor was one of the good guys but he didn't act like it. His necessary “ok boys if you try to run, there won’t be enough time for you to feel the sudden tautness of your ankle chain ‘cause I’ll have buck shotted your ass by then” game face, I felt as a five year old, was meant for me too.
So if any of ya’lls cogitation or collaboration about what to ever get me—gift wise—includes as a candidate, the Sunglass Visor Straw Hat, please pass on it. I’ll be happy with soap-on-a-rope.

Onward.
ADG II

40 comments:

Anonymous said...

When I was a child I was scared of The South. I imagined all the men in bib and brace boilersuits toting shot guns and wearing angry expressions. I felt that if I went to Georgia or Alabama or Tennessee those good old boys would just KNOW that I was from California and would want to kill me dead.
I am still somewhat reluctant to drive into the hinterlands as a single blonde woman. The thought of having to stop for petrol at one of those old gas stations with the sody machine gives me shivers. Isn't that a silly fear? I think I watched To Kill A Mockingbird too many times.

Tammy B said...

My grandmother used to bake tea cakes and cookies for the chain gang that worked on the road that ran in front of her house. They tried to bring back chain gangs here in Alabama, but a judge shot them down. I'm sure the supervisor wore one of those straw hats with the sunglass visors. I drank my fair share of baby cokes with peanuts, but they were Lance instead of Planters.

Mal said...

Miniature hatbox and hat! I have got to find one of those for Mama. She was a collector for years and would get a kick out of that. ADG, does this topic foreshaddow a change in practice regarding hats?

Anon #1, I was born and raised in the deep South and make my home in Alabama. I understand the sterotypes and images you mentioned but the South is more than that. Give it a chance. By the way, don't know anyone who can't recite a scene from To Kill A Mockingbird. Its alomst required reading and viewing here..a touchstone if you will-

Happy New Year everyone-

James said...

To anymouse 11:40: that is called profiling and I thought you Californy types were agin that.
When I lived as a small child in Augusta Ga I remember someone escaped and they had more sunglasses and shotguns than you could shake a stick at. The bad news for the escapee was the bloodhounds. And in the Deep South it was peanuts in R-o-C cola, we was too poor for Coke. Great post as always.

Anonymous said...

Yes James. It really was profiling. It was terribly unfair of me to fear southerners. It had to do with the pointy white hat thang and gun racks in trucks. I wasn't imagining fancy-pants-Belgian-shoe-shod-apparel-arts-blogging ADG types! Now I want to visit Georgia and The Carolinas desperately. Especially Asheville, NC where all the California artists have migrated to because they can't afford to live here!

GP said...

To Annon 11:40. Here in California, if it is more than 2 miles off the coast -- it might be worse than any stereotype of "The old South". There is a universal billed-cap style coupled with an anti-intellectual culture and ignorant arrogance that explains why California is now last in education, fiscal governance, etc.

Yankke-Whisky-Papa said...

As a Yankee who was stationed in the Upland South (Piedmont region of Virginia) for a decade, I grew to appreciate that Southerners still appreciated hats, both winter and summer, and that they were present in mens shops all over. In New England, we tend to have a dysfunctional relationship with hats that aren't ball caps, and hat wearers use them as either annoying trademarks or as de facto toupees. The blogosphere is also full of hat advocacy stemming from well-meaning nostalgic longing by youngsters (like me) who watch too many old movies! Your post is excellent, Sir!

Anonymous Texan said...

Nice post.Got to man up to wear a hat, just like pink.Can't be a candyass to pull this look off.
Steadfast believer in patina & age to make it credible. Signifies old school & character.ADG when you get to be W.M.then you can wear one.Enuff said.

Anonymous said...

Mal. I was a little kid. What did I know? It's like in the 60s all yall thought we were all damn hippy liberals out here. (Well. That wasn't really too far off the mark) To Kill was my favorite book and movie when I was young. I can still "feel" the hot humid summer days I read about: "a black dog suffered on a summer's day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square. Men's stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon,after their three-o'clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum. People moved slowly then. They ambled across the square, shuffled in and out of the stores around it, took their time about everything. A day was twenty-four hours long but seemed longer. There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with..."
I thought I was Scout in those days. The south seemed romantic. Gone With the Wind and all. But in Mockingbird it was the men in sheets and the ignorance of the Ewells that frightened me. Terrible stereotypes and hard to forget. Rest assured that I do not feel the same way about the south in my adulthood. My niece, on a Fulbright scholarship, is teaching English and Poetry at the Univ. of Alabama and LOVES it back there.
Jeez. How can I redeem myself here? I was just shaken by those photos of the chain gang and thinking of Smokies in reflective sunglasses. Powerful images. Didn't mean to offend!! But I WILL admit to bristling when I see a Confederate flag on a truck antenna. Nuff said.

I LOVE the little hats! Went to eBay and looky there! Dozens of them. Very cool history and correction to the "salesman sample" myth. Thanks ADG.

Flo said...

"I shudder to think about sending LFG or most women for that matter, out to buy me a tie."

I'm trying not to take this as an insult. Instead, I'm polishing my pencil for the future post wherein ADG presents his first annual multiple choice which-tie-whould-ADG-wear-with-this/these-______ quiz. All, I say, ALL, women readers here will score 100%.

Anonymous said...

and another film that gave me Southern heebie jeebies was one set in Georgia. Hey. There wasn't ONE person, Yankee or otherwise who wasn't scared after seeing Deliverance, WHICH was selected for preservation in the US National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2008 for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
and then there was George Wallace.........Ok. I'll shut up

Anonymous said...

GP....you nailed it

and let us not forget the John Birch Society........oy.........but I was afraid of those groups, too !!!

Hmmmnnn. Beginning to sound like I need a "session" on paranoia ("Hello Doctor, this is Anonymous, do you think you can fit me in today? Yes, I know I call every morning but......")

Flo said...

"the ignorance of the Ewells that frightened me."

It's terrifying, it's still out there. I remember the scene, Tom's on the stand, he makes the tragic mistake of saying out loud that he felt sorry for Mayella, he didn't even know he'd crossed one of the million subtle black/white lines with that remark. There's so much greatness all through that story. What's better than Scout seeing Boo Radley crouched in the semi-darkness, "Heyyy Boooooo." Makes me cry every time I think of that sweet scene.

Asheville is wonderful.

Anonymous said...

Hey. The owl tie was a hit.......whoooed a thunk?

Young Fogey said...

Love love LOVE those mini-hats. Never even knew they existed until now. Maybe a couple would be nice to have around: one for the kids to ruin, and one or two for my own dang self.

I wear proper fedoras every day. Nobody thinks I'm light in the loafers, as some might about ADG and his fuzziness, but it takes the same sort of insouciant attitude to pull off--which is prolly why we like each other.

JFK's role in killing the hat is overstated: he did, in fact, wear a topper to his inauguration (you can find pictures). I blame them dirty hippies, but even they weren't the sum of it.

I'd say more, but it's all political-like stuff, and I don't want to mess up ADG's fine blog with scribblings that might get some panties all bunched up, and make ADG refrain from posting more vitriolic posts directed at me, so I'll leave it alone for now. I can always rile folks elsewhere :-)

Suburban Princess said...

I am with Flo - any woman worth her salt sitting here reading your blog could surely, by now, pick out a tie for you!

Aside from that, this is my favouritest of all of your posts I have read!

But what's with the peanuts in the coke? Not judgy...hey, I have haggis in my freezer for Saturday's dinner...just wondering why....

Scale Worm said...

Hey Flo, I do not think Squire ADG was against women folk buyin' their men-folk a tie nor fancy head wear. It just is that some of us are VERY particular to our sartorial inclinations as to likes, and dislikes. Like my own woman, for instance, and her jewelry, which I learned about years ago when offering to her her first engagement ring: I took, and now take, no offense. Now-a-days I just get her okay FIRST if'n it is up to her likin' or not afore I buy it (alas, they do not present small doll sized engagement rings in tiny blue boxes at Tiffany and Co., to us maritally-minded old-schoolers).
Great post again Sir, Thank you so much!

Flo said...

"Hey Flo, I do not think Squire ADG was against women folk buyin' their men-folk a tie nor fancy head wear."

I don't either, SW, I was just shootin off my mouth; and yes, jewelry is an excellent parallel for making that point.

LESLIE said...

LOVE those miniature salesmen's' samples! Nowadays I lust over the camping tent and office furniture miniature samples at the wholesale clubs. Those little tents are SO detailed. Wouldn't know what to do with one if I owned it but my Barbie dolls 40 years ago would have had a ball with Ken.............

Gail, in northern California said...

Anyone discussing "To Kill a Mockingbird" would surely select the scene where Scout is told to stand because "...your father is passing." but, for me the most poignant scene was Scout asking her older brother Jim about their mother as Atticus listens from the porch swing. I'm prepared for it now but first viewing just about ripped my heart out.

One of the the most perfect movies ever made, on so many different levels.
Sorry. I know the discussion is supposed to be about hats. Couldn't resist.

yoga teacher said...

Your post reminded me of when my family moved, (and I was exiled along with them) to Sugar Land, TX, mostly known for the sugar plant, but also home to a very large prison farm. No chain gangs, but big scary guys on horses with guns supervising the "farmers." My New York-born mother almost had a stroke when one of my high school friends, the warden's daughter, invited me to spend the night. My dad finally won her over by stating that if a prisoner decided to escape, the last place he might want to go is to the warden's house. Girls couldn't wear shorts anywhere on the farm, but all the employees that lived on-site had boxes that the trustees filled with fresh produce every day. That was the '70's. I think that farm is probably a subdivision now.

NCJack said...

Dad wore Dobbs, they fit (only size we shared) and of course they went to Goodwill, as I was way too cool to wear a !hat! Sure wish I'd kept just one; but I do still carry his pocketknife.

CeceliaMc said...

Whenever I watch Mad Men, I so mourn the passing of hats (as well as the standard of 'making an effort' when dressing).

The meticulous hat samples with their matching boxes ( I had never seen them before) are so reminiscent of that sense of propriety.

As a southerner, and the daughter of a widower lawyer (long with two brothers), I appreciated Scout's resistance to being 'mothered' (re: lectured and bossed) by every southerner of xx chromosomes.

However, I did watch and rather enjoy the way women of all ages, sizes, social strati and marital status, flirted and fussed over my father. The single exception being a secretary who aroused my jealousy with the firm suspicion that there was truly something going on there...

Call it cultural bias, but non-southern women don't seem to possess that soft skill in all its subtly risque charm. It's a dying art in the south now too, I fear, starting with my own generation.

As for buying ties for your men, since my husband does not possess a stitch that I haven't picked out for him, he's obviously more than comfortable with delegating the responsibility.

As devoted a fan and experienced a shopper as I am when it comes to male regalia, I would most certainly approach tie buying for ADG with more than a little trepidation...

CeceliaMc said...

I never try to discourage people in their preconceptions about the south.

Yes, indeed, it's an absolute cesspool... Go around it....Fly over it... Speed down I-75 looking neither to the right or the left...

BEST of all, avoid it altogether... We'll understand...

ADG said...

Wow…Who’da thunk that my little story about hats would foster such strong feelings and thoughts. I enjoyed glancing at them throughout the day and will simply comment on some of the “high spots”…

The South is full of iconography and stereotypes and certainly, I played on at least one of them with my choices of chain gang pictures. But I’ve lived in enough places to know that every neck of the woods has its own version of provincialism, prejudice and ignorance. The South far from has the market cornered on it.

Deliverance and To Kill a Mockingbird are to me, important literary works as well as movies.

Gail, I know exactly what scene you are talking about. I think I wrote about it when I did a story about Horton Foote. He wrote the screenplay and when I recollect the scene that I paraphrased in my Foote story, I still get a little hitch in my throat. Thanks too Gail, for your nice card.

Yoga…Sugarland also produced another scary entity…Tom Delay.

And regarding the little tents…the models that you see at LL Bean and other places. Just let me tell you that Ken wouldn’t get too jiggy with Barbie in there. Not after my G.I. Joe pulled up in his jeep and used his pimp hand on that little girlie man Ken. G.I. Joe would be taking over right then and there. Don’t believe me? Ask my sister. One of the worst punishments I got as a kid was when I put my sister’s Barbie in the sleeping bag with my G.I. Joe. Nekkid.

Anonymous said...

I also covet the little tents. My dreamk would be to have alittle yurt for Trekking Barbie and Kathmandu Ken. NATO Joe would pull up in a yak bringing supplies from the Khyber Pass. They would all sleep together......body warmth and all ya know........probably WITH the yak.....uh oh...now I am thinking Tauntauns from Star Wars........help

ADG said...

No no no. NATO Joe would send Karma Ken out for some kindling or some other inane camping request and then zip his ass out of the tent. Joe shares Barbie with no one. Hear me on this.

Suburban Princess said...

My son got a little tiny tent from his uncle for Christmas!!! We spend more than a little time comparing it to the tiny models we see in the stores.

CeceliaMc said...

"Joe shares Barbie with no one. Hear me on this."

Besides, Karma Ken prefers the new Jake Gyllenhaal action figure.

Anonymous said...

Young Fogey........I really think you showed good spirit and sportsmanship in bowing out of causticology today. and you are very funny. when you aren't being a _________(nevermind)

Anonymous said...

Barbie was born in 1959 and Joe in 1964. You are telling me he is into older women? Alrighty then. Besides.... everyone knows Kilim Ken is gender challenged.......come on......those Liberace suits he wore to the proms?

Lisa said...

We finally agree on what to do with peanuts!!!! - put them in a bottle of Coke. Now that took me down memory lane. Poured into a Coke bottle is such a more refined way for a peanut to end up than boiled.

Best wishes for a Happy New Year to you and LFG, and as for my NY's resolution it is to be 'kinder and gentler' as I was recently described as ascerbic. I'll start with replies to your posts. :)

Anonymous said...

To continue with my group therapy on fear.............I was also really scared of G.I. Joe. Ken was creepy, but at least you could DRESS him. I only had one Ken given to me for a birthday present. Probably from some boy's mom. I kept him far away from all of the daily activities of runway couture decisions and crew cut hair styling that my Barbies demanded : )

ADG. G.I Joe? Oy.

Anonymous said...

Lisa. I cannot ever imagine anyone calling you acerbic. Really. Well. F**k 'em and Happy 2011.

Anonymous said...

Forgot to say because caught up in all of the peripheral amusement to your post, that: "No wonder he was fairly indifferent about Christmas Eve gift openings or Father’s Day morning surprises. It was the same damn thing every year from me…soap on a rope. Gotta love marketing and frankly, the indifference manifest in the eyes of daddies when they saw another cake of olfactory extruding tallow embedded with a looped length of Aunt Tootie’s knitting yarn." was really wonderful writing. Thanks for that and all of your other musings.

yoga teacher said...

ADG, I'm so mad at you! I was nice and mellow after a glass of wine while catching up on "Glee" with my kiddo. And you had to go and mention THAT NAME. Exhale, exhale.

ADG said...

Never in my life would I have suspected that a story about hats would draw all of this out of you people. I'd never intended it to turn into the poultice it became.

I worry now. For tomorrow's post was to be about underdrawers.

Young Fogey said...

Anonymous,

Being a ___________ is what my humor is all about!

And besides, it's not causticology, nor is it ontology. It isn't even phylogeny or ontogeny. It's calling a spade a spade.

It's harder than it seems, considering that all our lives, we've been told they're hoes.

CeceliaMc said...

Tennessee Williams once said that all cruel people describe themselves as merely being frank.

Or something like that.

Apparel Boxes said...

Good apparel arts collection. I like this very much.

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